Craig Thompson, Blankets
I've always had positive associations with the genre of the graphic novel. I have, really. I fondly remember Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns from the late 1980s, for example, and Art Spiegelman's Maus remains one of my persistent recommendations for people, even though I read the two volumes very quickly at a difficult time in my life -- maybe because of that, now that I think of it, but that's another story for another time.
But as I said in relation to Watchmen, I haven't read much of it. In spite of the positive examples of Miller and Spiegelman, I've gotten used to thinking of it as long-form comic books, with an accompanying lack of density, but of course there's lots of academic work to remind me that's just plain wrong.
I've been thinking about this more over the last few weeks, but nothing prepared me for the intimacy, the delicacy, the ambivalent grace of Craig Thompson's semi-autobiographical Blankets. It's just another coming-of-age novel, perhaps, with family conflicts (divorce, religion), personal trauma (abuse, bullying), and the rest of it, but somehow it won't let go of my heart. I know, I know, I'm a sucker for other people's emotions, and my book-passions sometimes wear off with time and distance, but honestly, this is one of the most powerfully personal books I've read in a long time. A long, long time, and I'm not the only one; here's a typically positive review, but with an eight-page excerpt.
I refuse to surrender the outcome of the plot, but the passion between Craig and his beloved Raina is enough to make you cry, long before there's any need to think about an ending of some kind for this almost-600-page novel, even though the Raina story is only one thread (albeit a major one) in Craig's growth toward an awkward adulthood.
Ignore every other recommendation I've ever made: this, this, is a book in which one can dwell.
I'm thinking I may need to read Joe Sacco's Palestine next (comix as long-form journalism), or maybe Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth (first graphic novel to win a major fiction prize, the Guardian First Book Award). Or maybe I should get back to work....