Review of Blankets by Craig Thompson

25179Title: Blankets

Author: Craig Thompson

Illustrator: Craig Thompson

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

It is a Saturday afternoon and outside, the rain falls steadily on my back patio as thunder rolls overhead. The gray clouds set an ambiance for this story — an intimate portrayal of a boy growing into a young man.

Having finished all 582 pages of the graphic novel in one sitting just minutes ago, I am still trying to make myself back out into the real world. Thompson’s story was able to connect with me on a deep level and I truly applaud his willingness to bare his soul out on the page. We see Craig growing up in a Midwestern Christian household with his younger brother. At school, he suffers the wrath of senseless bullies and teachers who fail to understand him. At winter bible camp he meets his first love, Raina, and they develop a long-distance relationship. This relationship is the heart of the story, particularly the two weeks they spend together at her parent’s house in Michigan.

blanketspic1I could tell you about the technical aspects about what makes this comic great. The art is skillfully drawn and communicates emotion without elaborate detail. The dialog and flow are well-executed and the emotional hills and valleys hit all of the right beats. But frankly, it seems trivial to harp on the technical aspects. This is a story about love. About the pains and struggles of growing up. How reality catches us unguarded, for good or for bad.

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I think those who will enjoy this comic most are those who can identify with the author — a person who dealt with insecurities in adolescence, but who also found a place to leave a mark.  There are moments of forlorn and laugh-out-loud humor as Craig ventures the world, often with the desire to retreat to a quiet place. There were several anecdotes that had me really laughing, particularly a story when Craig’s brother pretended to pee on him. These moments of humor create a nice balance with the often serious tone in the comic.

Even as adults, there are many things we cling to as security blankets. It could be a person or an object or even a memory. At different times in this story, Craig’s security blanket is all three. He finds emotional attachment with his brother and Raina. As a pestered child, he finds security in his drawings and dreams. And as an adult wandering in the cold of winter, he reminisces about the warm memories of his earlier days.

There are many comics I have enjoyed over the years, but very few that I feel the need to own. This is one of those.  One that can be read again and again, tugging at the heart with the happiest and saddest of emotions and sheltering the reader like a nice warm blanket.

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Review: The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

13602241Title: The Underwater Welder

Author: Jeff Lemire

Illustrator: Jeff Lemire

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Top Shelf

Review:

Jeff Lemire’s creator-owned graphic novel, The Underwater Welder, was a pleasure to read. On one level, it is a horror story as thirty-three year-old Jack Joseph confronts the ghost that haunts his past. Even more so, it’s a psychological drama, telling the process of an english major-turned-underwater welder coming to grips with becoming a father. The horrors of Jack’s past interplay with his present fears that will ultimately end in triumph or tragedy for the young man.

The novel begins with Jack having breakfast with his pregnant wife. She is due in a month and Jack has one last diving expedition before he will take time to stay at home with their new baby. While on his dive, Jack thinks he sees another diver and then spies a pocket watch on the ocean floor. This experience becomes even more strange as he loses contact with the ship. He is eventually saved, but is sent home after a doctor shows concern for his health.

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Jack cannot let sleeping dogs lie and despite his wife’s protests, he ventures back out into the ocean to confront this mystery. His father, a neglectful drunk who died in a diving accident twenty years prior, haunts Jack’s memories as he plunges beneath the depths. Jack sees himself in his father and he now fears the man he once idolized as a child is the man he is becoming. On his journey to discover the secrets that lurk deep beneath the water’s surface, Jack must confront his past before he is destined to repeat it.

Lemire is successful on many levels in this comic. It is an entirely new take on a story of a young man struggling to break from his small town upbringing. But unlike most stories, such as those when a young farmer longs to break free from his rural shackles, Underwater Welder tells the story of a man growing up in a town where others expect him to leave. This theme parallels with Jack being unable to break from his emotional connection to his deceased deadbeat of a father. His wife, mother, and diving crew encourage Jack to move forward in life, but his self-imposed constraints bind him to the past.

Jack becomes hallucinatory in his quest, at times a ten-year-old boy, at others in the place of his father. It’s as if the ghost of his father is trying to bind himself to Jack’s soul. The surreal journey brings problems as Jack begins to have long periods of blackout. The baby’s crib remains unbuilt, meetings with the midwife are missed, and when his wife’s water breaks, Jack is MIA.

As a thirty-something father myself, I can empathize with Jack. His escapism from the responsibilities of life are reminiscent of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. And like Rabbit Angstrom, escapism comes with potentially lethal consequences. What makes Jack different from Rabbit is that he never fully deserts his responsibilities and there is a constant internal struggle as he fights to determine what kind of man he wants to be.

Lemire’s art is minimalistic, but the penned lines are effective in conveying emotion and add to the abstract telling of Jack’s quarter-life crisis. At first, much of the art seemed raw and unfinished, like I was looking at sketches of a story board, but as the novel progressed, I saw them as effective. In fact, the murky depths is where we see clarity and colored pictures, but above ground, where Jack should see clearly, is where we sense this incompleteness. The art very much complements the narrative. One example I particularly liked was the way Lemire transitioned the panels from vague to clear when Jack awoke from a blackout.

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The Underwater Welder is an intelligent and emotional novel that hit the right spot for me. For anyone looking for a cerebral story with a psychological or supernatural element to it, The Underwater Welder will not disappoint.