‘Achingly beautiful’ is how Time magazine described Blankets. It is a story about first love and self-awakening, tempered with regret for a lost childhood.
Craig and his brother Phil, the children of fundamentalist Christians, are growing up in a small town in Wisconsin. A skinny child, not interested in sport or Heavy Metal, Craig is marginalised and bullied at school, and an easy target for the teachers. As is common for those with extreme beliefs, the home and church become a refuge from the evil, sinful world, and they see themselves as the persecuted faithful.
The story revolves around the beautiful Raina, a mutual misfit he meets at ‘Church Snow Camp’, and the first stumbling steps of their romance, which blossoms as Craig stays with her during the holidays. Away from his parents, the pull of fundamentalism is diminished, and his guilty conscience is unable to put up much of a fight.
I have read the book three times now, and every time I also fall in love with Raina. Beautiful, sensitive, intelligent, creative, generous and fun. Is this nostalgia, for the perfect woman who does not exist, except as a memory?
The beauty of Blankets is not just in the story, it is in the artwork as well. Craig is an accomplished artist, and worked for DC, Marvel and many other top publications. He uses brush and ink, working in black and white. His work has a strong line, which is never merely a contour, but a description of form and volume, light and shadow and expression and movement.
Craig communicates so much, sometimes without any words at all. In one scene, Raina’s devoutly Christian father, looking into the spare room one morning, seeing Craig’s bed neatly made, storms into Raina’s room and finds them in bed together, clothes strewn over the floor. Then he looks at the sleeping face of his daughter, seeing such contentment there, and maybe, reflecting on his own failures, backs out of the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
To what extent the hero of the book actually is one and the same as the author is difficult to say. He is an innovative story teller, not content to regurgitate mere facts. That said, it is so well observed that it must be grounded in true events and real people.
In Blankets, the events of his childhood are seen through the eyes of an angy, 24 year old man, and the book is cathartic, as he exorcises his demons and satirises his tormentors. Yet he is not blinded by anger – he has time for an affectionate portrayal of his parents, and he claims that he retains a belief in the teachings of Christ, if not the teachings of the church.
The things we angrily throw away one day, we later return to for comfort, as we realise that the adversity we faced as a child has made us the person we are today. I wonder if Craig would change one moment of his childhood, which has shaped him into a strong individual, and a talented artist and story teller.