In preparation for doing a juice fast (more on that story later: spoiler! It’s like having your own butler bring you feelings of smugness and health) I went to the library and carted a stack of books home.
One of the best things about our new office is that it’s just up the road from John Harvard Library, which has a varied graphic novels selection. I’d gone in hoping that the entirety of Fables would be patiently waiting for me, but luckily they weren’t. I got a bunch of new stuff: 100 Months, which I’d seen at the British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition; Blue is the Warmest Colour (because so far I’ve entirely failed to watch it on Netflix); some Alison Bechdel (never read her books, only panels accompanying Bechdel Test posts); Blankets by Craig Thompson which rang a bell for some reason, and Please God, Find Me A Husband! by Simone Lia which had lovely illustrations and opened in Leicester Square.
My mammoth reading session is going to have to wait til next week because for Reasons I completely failed to read more than two. (I read the first chapter of the Charlaine Harris, but it lacked the crack-like quality of Sookie Stackhouse).
But OH! What a two they were! Blankets and Please God, Find Me A Husband are memoirs – I am a complete sucker for a comics memoir – and both delightful, inspiring and made me think about them well after I’d closed the cover.
Shelf Worth: 4/5
I felt oddly ashamed picking this off the shelf, as though I was setting off a klaxon saying “Unmarried Woman Takes Self-Help Book Home To Find Husband, Oh And It’s About God Too And It’s Not Even Sunday”. Oh sod that, Simone Lia is completely brilliant and I’m thrilled to have found her. She draws in a similar vein to Gemma Correll and has a sense of grounded optimism about her writing that I really like. Also, the story – a memoir – is just charming.
Lia wrote this about a couple of years in which she decided to try and go on an adventure with God. It starts in 2007 when she has just been dumped, by email, by someone who sounds like a complete arsehole. At 34, she starts thinking that if God wants her to get married, he’d better get a move on. The book opens in Leicester Square, with her trying to find a sign that God is thinking about her. Her sign turns up in an INXS song bursting out of a pub next to the Odeon which is drawn just wonderfully. Comic artists who are also writers (and vice versa) are so lucky.
She is a wonderful artist, and captures London landmarks, a Welsh convent, and the Australian Outback as convincingly as she draws herself, her friends, and how she imagines her chats with God going. It’s chatty but never unbearable or “Are you having a nice time?” self-conscious.
Lia is so funny and self-appraising. This is a lovely book that really struck a chord with me. She’s honest about the things that confuse her in her faith – hello! She writes and draws her friendships absolutely beautifully. The message running through to the climax is uplifting, feminist and quite surprising. Hugely recommended, as his her excellent website.
Shelf Worth: 4/5
I am apparently the last person in the comics reading world to have heard of Thompson, who has won a bunch of awards including plenty for Blankets. At nearly 600 pages, this is a gorgeous monster of a book. “I wonder how this was serialised?” I thought while reading it. Answer: it wasn’t, it was published all in one go and I hugely recommend you read it that way too.
A withdrawn high schooler, Craig is constantly battling with himself, his faith and the fundamentalist religion his parents have brought the family up in. At church camp – it turns out church camp is no kinder to outsiders than secular camp – he meets Raina, and is completely entranced by her.
As friends, they persuade their parents to let him visit her family for two weeks in winter, when Michigan is carpeted in blankets of snow and nothing seems real. Raina greets him with a gift – a handmade quilt where each patch reminded her of him (this and they’re not even dating! Her friends must love her at Christmas.)
Thompson flashbacks to the brothers as children, when they had to share a bed – more blankets – which duly became house to games of make believe, pirates, and one hilarious awful scene where they both get carried away and end up in a peeing fight, much to the horror of their sin-focused mother.
There are small hurts committed by the parents that leave scars, and much bigger ones – the most awful flashbacks are ones to a babysitter who sexually abused Craig and Phil. Those memories are drawn as beautifully as ones of Craig and Raina, in giddying whirls of black and white. Where the abuse is the nightmare, he and Raina is the dream.
Thompson makes his comic-self a character that you really root for, without turning him into an ideal. Unlike many teenage characters looking for a girl/answers/help/self-esteem, Craig has values that ground him – and sometimes trap him. These aren’t Captain America values that make you bulletproof to criticism and make people admire you, but individual ones. and Thompson perfectly captures the claustrophobic nature of trying to stick to your own beliefs in the pressure atmosphere of school, and the vertiginous sense of loss that can come when haven’t actually lost anything yet.
I also loved the scenes focusing on Raina’s family: her divorcing parents, her ghastly sister and brother-in-law, and Laura and Ben, her two siblings with Down’s Syndrome. Thompson observes so well, and it fleshes out Craig and Raina so the growing romance doesn’t take over everything.
Blankets a great book about growing up, addressing what’s important to you, and learning that what you are told isn’t always the same as what is true. And if you’re a Narnian snow obsessive like, the snow scenes are great.
Really looking forward to reading the rest of my pile now!
3) On another note, I found this in my pile of online bookmarks – Notes on the Art of Poetry by Dylan Thomas. It isn’t in any of my books of his (she says plaintively) and it’s sensational. I love how perfectly he crashes words together. This, I think, applies to any book, not just poetry.
I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.
Oh Dylan I love you, even though you were a bastard.