Blankets (Craig Thompson, 2003) is the graphic memoir of a boy coming of age in a highly conservative, religious environment. While that setting might be ripe for highlighting the failures of family and community in the effort to be “good Christians,” Thompson does an excellent job of not demonizing those around him and, instead, focusing on his own doubts and how came to fall away from the church. It is also a love story – not one that ends happily, nor one that ends sadly, but one that occurs as many do and serves to shape Thompson’s growth.
In some way this book is all about family. Thompson’s childhood was characterized by abuse; Raina (his teenage love interest) is coping with her parents’ divorce while struggling to take care of her (unspecified) developmentally disabled and formerly abused adopted siblings. Thompson describes his own childhood as “trapped” and “helpless” and sees in Raina the fierce protector that he failed to be for his own brother. It was only in drawing that he remembers the two of them connecting, forging a bond that was otherwise missing in their home: “An entire day would be consumed by drawing, interspersed with fits of running around outside expending our energy. These were the only wakeful moments of my childhood that I can recall feeling life was sacred or worthwhile.”
This sacredness in drawing is at odds with Thompson’s Christian upbringing. We see his parents chastise him for drawing a picture of a naked woman, telling him that he’s made Jesus sad. After being encouraged by his pastor to enter the ministry he burns all of his drawings, feeling the escapism art provides is pulling him away from God, as if he’s performing an exorcism on himself. He is warned not to go to art school by his religious leaders, one teacher relating how his artist brother was required to draw nudes, “which lead to the next logical step. Homosexuality.” A fellow student then relates how in her college art class a student made a sculpture of a female nude, which he proceeded to stroke. In this rampant display of anti-sexuality, anti-physical body stance of fundamentalist Christianity, he is told his only choice is to attend a Christian college. And this is where Thompson truly begins to find his worldview is at odds with those of the church.
Blankets doesn’t end with a definitive view on merging Thompson’s Christian upbringing with the world at large. It’s a wonderfully illustrated look at an influential period in his life, one in which he struggled to find out how to make his mark. In this book, he’s done it.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a book over 500 pages, read a book about religion.]