Monday, September 27, 2010

BLANKETS: A Comics Masterpiece

If Will Eisner had been born in the 1970’s and grew up listening to The Pixies, he may have been Craig Thompson. That’s jumbo praise, and it’s not given lightly. Barely a half a decade into his career, Thompson is already a fully fleshed writer and artist, a genius of the artform of cartooning.

Craig Thompson’s new book, BLANKETS, published by Top Shelf Productions (bless ‘em) is a mammoth undertaking, a near-600 page graphic novel about first love (and its loss), faith (and its loss), growing up (and away) from both nature and nurture, finding oneself and figuring out one’s place in the universe. Sounds heavy, right? Well, it is, but it’s also poetic and gentle, more about how subtle nuances can shake and shape foundations.

Thompson’s previous book, 1999’s GOODBYE, CHUNKY RICE dealt with similar subjects, but on a much smaller scale and in a more allegorical, cartoony style. BLANKETS is a far more realistic (but impressionistic), semi autobiographical tale. As good as CHUNKY RICE is (and it’s great), it only hinted at the abilities of this artist. Actually, the 2000 Top Shelf Small Batch book, BIBLE DOODLES (now out of print, but well worth tracking down) had more of the swooping richness that defines BLANKETS.

Where some cartoonists would use (and have used) sexual child abuse as the sole theme of a book, Thompson merely uses it (in only a handful of pages) as one of many defining elements of a complex adolescence. The harrowing experience is not trivialized nor exploited, but given a resonance that colors the protagonists feelings and actions as he grows older. It’s rare that comics can color life with its inherent shades of gray rather than the usual stark black and white to which we’re used (even in color comics).

BLANKETS has already received much praise, often compared to the works of Chris Ware, which I think does Thompson a disservice. His work is so much more organic and vital, far from the mechanical sterility and precision of Ware’s work, which frankly leaves me cold more often than not. While Ware keeps the reader at arm’s length, a passive observer removed from the story, Thompson creates a warm, inviting environment. His lush brush strokes, swirling sense of design, masterful characterization and peerless pacing make BLANKETS a completely sensual experience.

I know, I know, I’m heaping superlative upon superlative, but this is not something I often do. The fact is, this is one of the best examples of the comics medium I’ve ever read. If I were one of those nutty zen masters with only ten books to my name, BLANKETS would be one of them.

And Craig Thompson isn’t even 30. Bastard.


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