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“The Beautiful Ambiguity of Blankets: Comics Representation and Religious Art”, written by the University of Florida’s Benjamin Stevens, provides a great deal of insight into Craig Thompson’s 2003 autobiographical graphic novel Blankets. Stevens’ analysis focuses on characteristics of the novel such as style, the search for identity, the impact of Christianity, and the details within the actual illustrations. This provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the content and the significance behind Thompson’s work.
Thompson’s combination of illustration and dialogue is notable. Stevens’ investigation of the work stresses this fact, noting “the visual and material sameness of ‘image’ and ‘text’ or ‘word’” (Stevens 6). The ability to use both text and a direct form of visual aid is not typical for a novel, but they allow Thompson to go into greater detail regarding Craig’s home life, childhood, search for himself, and his inner conflict regarding his faith. An interesting characteristic of this graphic novel is the fact that no two pages look alike. There is not a set number of panels or words assigned, allowing the author freedom to fully express himself through his work: “Even on the first page of the scene, then, our awareness of Craig’s path, what we have seen him later call his “movement,” depends on the visual, representational, or spatial rather than on the textual, discursive, or temporal” (Stevens 8). The use of his drawings within his illustrations is also intriguing, permitting the reader to have an even greater understanding of his mindset.
Craig’s quest for identity is another important component of the storyline: “An immediate complication of this reading is that the character’s ‘private meditation,’ in the form of his depicted thoughts, is not ‘private’ but presented to the reader or viewer” (Stevens 2). A clear example of this self-exposure is the detailed comic illustrations of masturbation on pages 147 and 148. Craig is comfortable enough with his audience to be honest about even the most intimate of circumstances, granting the reader access to his innermost thoughts. Thompson connects the search for identity with the idea of “stretching” in both the mental and physical aspect: “[CRAIG] I’ve never seen shadows stretch so far. [RAINA] They’re ambitious” (Thompson 245.3). Thompson takes advantage of his ability to display thoughts and emotions in a more complex medium than simply words on a page. He privileges the reader with Craig’s thoughts and desires, particularly in light of his feelings for Raina and his struggle to accept the Biblical teachings he has grown up with.
Craig’s devout Christian parents attempt to force their beliefs on him, yet are very hypocritical throughout the process. Likewise, all of Craig’s interactions within the church have been negative as “Christians” are very cruel to him for various reasons. One of his greatest passions is drawing, which leads to his idea of worshipping God through his art. However, his teachers, parents, and church members all condemn this, going so far as to say that art will lead to things such as homosexuality and Pygmalionism through the process of idolatry. This forces Craig into an internal struggle between accepting a faith that is not lived out amongst its “followers” and choosing to go down his own path of worshipping God in a way that he is the most comfortable with. As Stevens notes, “Blankets is at least ‘art about religion’ if not ‘religious art’” (37). Craig is at a key point in his life as he is attempting to figure out who he is and what he believes, yet he is unfortunately being turned away from everything that he has ever known: “After a short walk in the snow, he wonders whether he might draw “Christian cartoons – | – to win people to the faith” (140.5). Upon returning to face the ‘blank sheet,’ he is depicted as imagining himself drawing a cartoonish version of John 3:16 recited by an offensively jocular dog and featuring a Jesus who smiles brightly despite his crown of thorns and his being nailed, albeit bloodlessly, to the Cross. As Craig abandons that imagination, sighing and leaving the room, the blank sheet and unused pencil are foregrounded, thus emphasizing further how religious art may be unnecessary or impossible: if, per Craig’s fifth-grade teacher, God has “already drawn [creation] for us,” then he has also already spoken it, or the crucial aspects of it, in the form of Scripture” (Stevens 41). Unfortunately, repetitive situations similar to this one eventually drive Craig out of the church completely.
Craig Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel is complex in content, yet simple in appearance. The beautiful mixture of human experience and divine understanding provides a thought-provoking story, suitable for a wide audience.
“The Beautiful Ambiguity of Blankets: Comics Representation and Religious Art.” 2009. University of Florida Department of English. 12 March 2013. <http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v5_1/stevens/>.
Thompson, Craig. Blankets. Marietta: Top Shelf Productions, 2004.
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