Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blankets, A Review

Thank God Craig Thompson wrote this graphic novel.  From the characters to the art to the heartfelt plot, Blankets weaves a tapestry that can only be told in pictures.  Published in 2003 by Top Shelf Productions but started in 1999, Blankets is an autobiographical tale of first love, religion, family and school.  There isn't a single dot of ink in this book that I can't relate to.  The novel opens with Craig and his younger brother Phil sharing a bed when they were kids.  Craig and Phil get a bit too noisy and their father punishes Phil (and Craig, who's guilty he let his brother get into trouble) by locking Phil in the cubby hole, a spider-infested hole in the wall next to their bedroom.

We meet a young Craig who starts to experience crises of faith while in Sunday School and he's told that what you do on Earth doesn't matter as long as you have God in your heart because when you get to Heaven, you can be whatever you want.  But when he expresses interest in drawing while he's in Heaven, he is asked why would you want to do that for all of eternity?  Craig grows up and he doesn't fit in at school but comforts himself in the knowledge that he's only passing through.

 While at Church Camp during the winter, Craig meets a very pretty girl named Raina and he immediately falls for her.  They hang out quite a lot while at Church Camp, skipping service and going off to places they shouldn't but what Craig loves the most is sitting with Raina and watching her sleep.  Craig and Raina part ways but keep in contact until one night, during a huge blizzard, she calls him and says that her parents are getting a divorce.  She asks, nearly pleads, for Craig to come visit her which Craig tries to arrange.  After going to school every day, getting good grades and "eating" all his meat his parents allow him to go and they meet halfway at the Michigan-Wisconsin border.  Craig meets Raina's father along with her adopted brother Ben, who has Down Syndrome, and adopted sister Laura who is mentally retarded.  Ben doesn't warm up to Craig and shuns him.  Raina explains that her parents adopted Laura and Ben as a kind of "thank you" to God for blessing them with normal children.

Raina then reveals what she made for Craig.  A homemade quilt featuring patterns she said reminded her of him and of things that she cherished.  Raina also reveals that she wants Craig to paint something on her bedroom wall.  Soon, Raina's mother comes home and from what's shown, she not handling the pending divorce very well and has even given up on marriage counseling saying it's not doing any good anymore.  Craig and Raina finally go to bed, sleeping together, with Craig getting up at 6:30 in the morning and retreating to Raina's sister Julie's old bedroom where he was originally set up.

Craig and Raina spend all day, every day together with Raina skipping school where it is learned that at her school, Raina is slightly popular which unnerves Craig but it doesn't matter because all Raina wants to do is hang out with Craig even when they go to a party hosted by one of her other friends.

Craig meets Raina's older sister Julie and her husband Dave who have been married barely a year and are already talking about getting a divorce.  They have a young daughter named Sarah who they constantly refer to as "The Baby" and its learned that all Raina really wants to do after graduation is take care of Sarah and Laura.  Craig and Raina curl up with his blanket and look through family photos before going to bed.

After an evening of talking about temptation, lust, Adam, Eve, Craig and Phil using their bed as a boat and Raina throwing a tea party back when her family had a pet monkey, they go to bed--falling asleep nearly naked and finally content with where they are in life.  The alarm doesn't go off and Craig and Raina are caught in bed by her father who, while showing how upset he is, doesn't do anything but realize that this is just another nail in the coffin of his family.  On their last day together, Raina is sick.  They spend the day packing and then head back out to the Michigan-Wisconsin border where Craig and Raina say good-bye, hug one last time and he watches as she drives out of his life.

Back at home, Craig falls into the same routine but tries to reconnect with Phil looking at things he has drawn and continuing to phone Raina but as the snow begins to melt, Craig realizes thing aren't the same anymore either at home or with Raina and with three weeks to go until graduation, Craig tells Raina good-bye then burns every reminder of her--except the blanket.  Craig moves out shortly after his 20th birthday.  He returns for Phil's graduation, no longer a Christian.  Craig returns home again for his brother's wedding and rediscovers both his Bible and the blanket Raina gave him and he thinks about Raina again--picturing her selecting the fabric and sewing the blanket together.  But what's so perfect about this novel is the end where even though Craig has lost Raina, his first love, he is still happy and glad that he met Raina.  He was glad he was able to make a mark on her--to be a part of her life despite it being short-lived.  We never learn what happened to Raina and, apparently, neither does Craig.  The whole theme of the book is summed up in the last two pages:  "How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface.  To make a map of my movement--