I have had a number of friends read Blankets by Craig Thompson lately, and LOVE it. I read it this morning - it was a beautiful book, technically precise, carefully balanced, perfectly tuned. But I didn't enjoy it. This isn't to say I didn't APPRECIATE it, because I did. It was a wonderful book - if they book was less well done, I would have enjoyed it more, probably. As it was, with all things to tell the truth, it is only fun to read if the truth is something you'd like to know.
If you haven't read Blankets, and you don't like spoilers, stop reading. Seriously. It is a wonderful book, and you should read it. THEN come back and talk to me about it. This isn't a review, so it will do a poor job of protecting your ability to enjoy reading the book the first time.
The real beauty of Blankets, to me, was that, more than any of the comics I've read so far, this book did a pitch perfect job of combining art and text in a meaningful, surprising way. This book is, in my mind, the reason that graphic novels shoudl be written - because art and words both have their own unique power, and the synergy of those two powers creates something neither could create on its own. The most striking example in the book for me is the way Craig visualizes Raina.
The climax of Craig's relationship with Raina comes, for me, on page 337. In a playful/serious allegory, we see Craig as an Eastern Monk, kneeling before a shrine where the idol of his Muse, Raina, sits cross legged like a Buddha, surrounded by vestal fires, and by the curling shapes of Indian patterns. Look closely for a minute at those patterns - because they recur, over and over. Look, first, at the symbol of their relationship, the blanket that appears on page 182-183:
But, again, this theme isn't just something that shows up here and there. The paisley in particular (for me at least) raises it's head over and over as he thinks of her. Shadows of it, of the curve versus the angular, appear in their first meetings, intensifying as they get to their intimate quiet moment underneath the basketball hoop. The psalm on 310-311 is another beautifully realized, and very brazen appearance. The sex scene on 420-423 devolves to the point where the very frames of the comic have a paisley-esque fluidity, and her body itself seems to struggle to curve - the movement towards orgasm is, for me at least a continuous effort of him to wrap himself around that pattern, to work his own slouched angularity into the Eastern curvaceousness that he imagines of her.
But there's the problem. And don't get me wrong, this is totally realistic. But there are two Rainas in this book: Raina the goddess-muse-angel, and Raina the woman. The book is from Craig's point of view, and Craig sees what he needs to see - in his noble naivete, he sees what Raina could be, perhaps. But she isn't. She's a human. She fails to be a goddess, over, and over, and over. Amanda, when she read it, said she just didn't get Raina, like it seemed like she was always changing her mind. I understand Raina, I connected with her in a way that I was incapable of connecting with Craig: because I've been that person. And what she does makes perfect sense - only what she does and what Craig SEES her doing are very, very different things.
In the end, for me, that's what the book ended up being about - the moment where you learn that someone isn't what you thought. And that's why I didn't enjoy it. It was uncomfortable, because I have no idea what it is like to fall in love with someone and find out they don't exist - I had the good fortune to marry a Craig - someone who is unfailingly, completely, exactly who they are. Not that Amanda is perfect, but she is honest, and Craig is the same way - even when he lies, he's telling the truth. I HAVE been the opposite - someone who desperately needed the world to make more sense, someone who made up a story because it seemed to explain things - and then painted over it when it turns out that telling a story doesn't make it so. There's a moment, as I saw all the prints of his blanket seeping into his vision of Raina, that I wanted to shake Craig, physically, and shout at him "Don't you see? She didn't give you a blanket of her, she gave you a blanket of you!" But of course, you can't do that - in a sense, perhaps Craig had to look in someone else to find himself. But for me, this story was foreign, distant - the story that felt present is the story of Raina - who is she in the end? She can't learn what's right, just one more thing that's wrong - and the wrong isn't in Craig, or even in their relationship. Those things were healthy, it's Raina that wasn't healthy - if she were healthy, she could have, perhaps, been what she needed to be. You can only paint the wall so many times, her story whispers, you can only paint the wall so many times. One more coat of paint, now, but still I know. You can only paint the wall so many times.