I read this book with Ana. We both thoroughly enjoyed it! Check out her blog for the first half of our review. And then come back here for the second half below!
Ana (continued): I came across a quote about the book on Wikipedia that I wanted to share: Thompson has said that the novel grew out of a simple idea: to describe what it feels like to sleep next to someone for the first time. Isn't that beautiful? Of course, the book does a lot more than just this, but it also captures that feeling perfectly: the tenderness, the longing, the hint of fear, the perfect happiness... ah, I'm getting teary-eyed again just thinking about it :P
Aarti: Wow, I did not know that he and his brother had a sexually abusive babysitter. Where did that come from? Where did he show that? I completely missed that!
I loved the acceptance on Raina's dad's face, too. And then the way he went and apologized to Raina's brother for speaking to him as though he were a child. Really, the whole time Craig was visiting Raina, I thought her father was wonderful. That whole situation broke my heart. He was so lonely and sad and I wished people would hug him.
I did notice the dedication at the beginning of the book! I loved that, too. I thought it was so generous and kind of him not to tell his parents about his crisis of faith because he didn't want to ruin eternity for them. And the way he so awkwardly and sweetly reached out to his brother again and they bonded over drawing. I also thought the way he portrayed his parents was so unbiased. He didn't make them seem crazy. He clearly understood their position and respected their devotion to God. He just didn't feel it himself. I thought that was really kind of him. It is hard to portray people so sympathetically when their positions differ so much from yours on such an emotionally-charged topic. But he did it so well. You can tell that he truly understands both sides of the issue and doesn't judge anyone who hasn't gone through the turmoil he did.
I think this book really made me understand what you meant about graphic novels not being about the pictures and the words, but about the story. Blankets is a sum of both parts- it was made so much stronger by the pictures, but I can't even imagine how he would tell this story in a traditional format and keep this sense of tenderness- almost a feeling of emotional fragility- in the tone. It would tend much more to maudlin, I feel, whereas this format was just perfect with "showing, not telling" (literally!). I thought it was excellent. My GN enabler friend at work is giving me the author's previous book to read next, which I'm so looking forward to!
I also like the quote you shared! I liked that he describes his first love in a way that makes him seem grateful for the experience, not depressed or "we should have been together forever" about it. Clearly, Raina had a huge impact on him and the person he became, but he never feels sorry for himself for it not working out. He never looks back wistfully, but just uses the entire experience to make him stronger. I love that about the book!
Ana: I think it's understandable that you missed it, because it really is subtle! (I hope anyone reading this doesn't feel we're spoiling the book for them...believe me, Blankets isn't really about secrets being revealed). I first suspected when, on page 18, he says he failed as an older brother because he couldn't protect Phil from something. Then there's that scene where the babysitter wants to tell Phil a "joke" and takes him to another room. And then later on, we're given a glimpse of what actually went on in the other room. But it's never addressed directly, and the feeling I got was that this was still a bit of an open wound, and he was saying as much as he could.
But anyway - the scene where he tries to reconnect with his brother really moved me too. I wonder if the fact that they both had this happened to them, and both knew the other knew but couldn't talk about it, was part of what drove them apart. I also LOVED the fact that his relationship with Raina is never remembered with any resentment at all. Like you were saying, the whole book just seems to come from a place of such kindness.
That's fantastic that your friend is lending you his first book, by the way. Amanda mentioned on twitter recently that he has a new one coming out soon. I MUST read everything else he's written. I also got the feeling that the tone of this story couldn't possibly be the same had he used any other medium - and the tone is such a big part of what makes Blankets so special. Honestly, I suspect that very few comics writers explore their full potential the way Craig Thompson does.
Aarti: Well, this is only my second graphic novel, so I can't really agree or disagree with you there! But I think this one makes me want to explore the medium more in-depth than I did after Fun Home. It was fascinating to feel so drawn into the lives of the people in the story, and feel a connection based on my reaction to just one page of panels. I loved the physical act of looking at this book. It was excellent.
And I agree this book isn't really about plot or anything else- it's much more quiet and reflective than anything else. I don't think there can be spoilers :-) But that makes much more sense about his relationship with his brother. I am glad they were able to come back together after that, as they both seemed to benefit so much from their childhood closeness.
Ok, I think that's all I really have to say! What about you, Ana?
Ana: I think I'm done too! I'll just say that if anyone is worrying that Blankets might be too heavy or depressing, worry not - there are moments of humour too. For example, the pee fight Craig and his brother have. It doesn't end well, but the panels before they're caught made me laugh out loud. It's such a little boy thing to do. Even though Craig didn't have a happy childhood, he still manages to capture moments of genuine magic.
Seriously, read this, everyone! Even if you've never read a comic before - or especially if you haven't. I know it's only January, but I can't see Blankets not making my end of the year list. It touched me like few books do.