Although I have a love for them, I haven't written too much on here about comics (graphic novels, narratives with pictures, whatever moniker you want to use I still prefer comics). I just finished Blankets by Craig Thompson, which was kind of the "it" graphic novel of the year for '04. Blankets received a lot of critical praise, from expected places like Comics Journal to unexpected mainstream places like The Washington Post.
So I'm a little late coming to it, but so what.
It's a big honker of a book, going past the 600 page mark. A considerable difference from the usual near-minimalist approach most independent comic author/artists take. Basically, Blankets tells the story of Craig. We see him as a child, being raised with his younger brother Phil in a small and very religious town in central Wisconsin. As he gets older, Craig struggles to justify feelings of lust and a love of drawing with his religious upbringing. The summer before his senior year of high school Craig meets Raina at a church camp. Although more confident and outgoing than Craig, she is every bit the outsider he is. The two fall in love, and a large part of the book is made up of a two week period when Craig goes to visit her in Michigan during a fall break from school. These sections are filled with wonderful moments as their relationship grows and Craig continues to question and justify his feelings in regards to his religion.
Thompson's black and white artwork walks a delicate but well balanced high-wire act; most scenes are rendered realistically, but some memories of his childhood and scenes retelling or explaining Craig's thoughts on religion dip into a surreal side influenced by the psychedelia style of underground comics in the 60's. It's an effective blend that Thomson uses to advance his narrative.
The story itself has a Charles Baxter feel to it; although there a wonderful and profound moments, Thompson wisely chose to not force an overly dramatic ending. I came away from the book feeling like I've seen into this person's life, and am the better for it. Highly reccomended for those who enjoy the art form, and also a great introduction for the curious and even for those skeptics who don't regard it as art at all.