Author: Craig Thompson
Illustrator: Craig Thompson
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Format: Trade Paperback
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.
I 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.
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.