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In the interwoven lives of all families, there are moments and times that will, for better or worse, create lasting memories. Sometimes these memories serve to haunt us for our sins. Other times, they remind us of good days gone by. And on occasion, it is the very nostalgia of those memories that allows us to smile and ache all at once. Whatever these memories, no matter their effect, they serve to mold us into the people we ultimately become. In Craig Thompson's nearly 600-page autobiographical masterpiece Blankets, the reader is taken on a journey through the reminiscences of the author.
Blankets is an ambitious work, to say the least. Though there is really no shortage of autobiographical graphic novels available now, Thompson's painful, funny, sometimes surreal story is second to none. Beginning with Thompson in his youth and continuing through his maturity toward adulthood, the novel chronicles the irreversible emotional scars left by his devoutly Christian parents, his love/hate relationship with his younger brother (which are among the most humorous and touching passages to be found anywhere), his first love, and the gradual decline and eventual loss of his faith.
Thompson's numerous Memory Lanes meet at various crossroads throughout the book, serving to reveal how the author has reached certain points in his life - mentally, physically and spiritually. What is so compelling about all this is how gradual Thompson's many transitions are illustrated. Not unlike Anakin Skywalker's fateful turn to the dark side, Thompson's own conversions are always evident, even at their most subtle moments, and it's possible almost from page one for the reader to see the person that the little, wide-eyed child will eventually become. The joy and originality of the novel is in observing the path Thompson takes to maturity.
The art of Blankets is distinctly Thompson, with a strong sense of his previous work, Goodbye, Chunky Rice, in each panel, although the style is significantly more realistic than in his previous work. Presented in mostly calm, casual, flowing black and white, Blankets has a unique look all its own.
However, where Thompson's brilliance truly shines is in his ability to take those two colors and manipulate them to change pace, mood and emotion. There are moments of surrealist expression and fantastical dreams that crop up throughout the novel in which the fluid black and white art suddenly transforms so drastically that, for a moment, the reader feels as though they have turned the page into another book entirely. Smooth, elegant strokes turn to angular, sharp, vivid splashes and strikes. Predominantly white backdrops turn ominously dark and vice-versa. This, however, is entirely appropriate, and serves to peerlessly convey feelings of depression, anger, confusion, loss, and countless others often lost to artists due to the difficulty in illustrating them. It's a bold move and it pays off marvelously.
Blankets is in a class of its own, with a lot to offer to just about anybody. Reading through, we couldn't count the times we were forced to stop for a moment and realise just how much we could relate to. Rarely does a work inspire such empathy from the reader and the effect is lasting. It is a book that is easily recommendable to all readers, from superhero fans to high art aficionados. Blankets is, in every essence, a masterwork, and its heartfelt story of memories is one that you cannot miss and will never forget.
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