Craig Thompson’s Blankets is a quasi-autobiographical (the main character is named Craig Thompson, and has the author’s background, but it’s not clear if he actually is the author) coming-of-age story, with the serious flaw that the protagonist never seems to actually come of age.
The book presents us with scenes from Thompson’s rural Wisconsin boyhood and adolescence, vignettes full of all the evident myopia that attends youth. We see Thompson’s first “love” (with a girl he barely knows, but idealizes); we see Thompson’s intense Christian fervor; we see his self-congratulatory status as a misfit and outcast; we see his moderately dramatic family relations. That sounds trite and familiar, and to an extent, it is. But it’s reasonably well-written, beautifully drawn (that’s “drawn” in the most literal sense; this is a 600-page black-and-white graphic novel), and has a good eye for detail in places and minor characters.
The problem, though, is that the story arc the book thinks it’s tracing — that of Thompson’s maturity and growth — never happens. At the end of the book (and throughout the retrospective narration), Thompson remains fundamentally adolescent. He ultimately rejects his Christian background because he realizes that the Bible’s not literally true, he never gets over his snide distaste for what he views as the unwashed masses, and his worldview in general remains as unsubtle and monochromatic as ever. Sure, he reverses polarity in a few places, but that’s just change, not growth — it’s a sort of teenage rebellion against his teenage self, if you will.
Blankets presents a superbly detailed and realistic portrait of what it’s like to grow up different in deep ruralia; but it’s a portrait from the inside, so lacks the perspective it needs to get a wider view; I find myself contrasting it with Adam Cadre’s Ready, Okay!, which possesses that perspective and consequently feels more truthful. But if you accept the limitations Blankets has (and who knows, maybe Thompson meant for the narrator to be unreliable in this sense), it’s a beautiful, intermittently-insightful, and sometimes moving work.