Riding on a wave of publicity around the publication and phenomenal success of his graphic novel Blankets, Craig Thompson was clearly under pressure to create another book. The trouble with international book tours, however, is that they aren’t conducive to the artistic process, so Thompson instead documented his travels in a series of sketchbooks, collected here in a New Expanded Edition with an additional 32 pages of retrospective analysis.
This illustrated diary charts his progress through Europe, attending book launches and doing media interviews; and also his personal travels, when he ducks south into North Africa, to research what would later become the brilliant Habibi. The trouble is that it’s not that interesting, and Thompson seems acutely aware of it in his writing, criticising himself for his American tourist outlook, the lack of drama beyond a sore drawing-hand and an abrupt cut-off point that’s more to do with publishing deadlines than any kind of closure.
Here the additional 32 pages help a little, but time hasn’t made Thompson any more secure about the book and it feels more of a postscript apology than a meaningful retrospective hindsight.
The art, however, is beautiful and, if you like travelogues, the quaintness of illustration and location still holds some magic, perhaps more than ever in these days of holiday tweets and Facebook posts. It’s just that Thompson is at his creative best wrangling fictional heartbreak and drama into his work, and there’s just not enough of that here to make Carnet de Voyage a Craig Thompson book for anyone other than his most devoted fans.