I first saw a panel of Craig Thompson’s illustration in the home of a family friend, Pegi, when I was about 16 (2001 or so). It was a depiction of a baby Moses down the river type scene, but if I remember correctly, it was not meant to imply only Moses. A great thing for a teenage dealing with duality to ponder. Within a year, Pegi gave me a copy of Craig’s first book, Goodbye Chunky Rice. I could relate to the characters and found a desire for grace, both in the story, and in Craig’s ability to produce something like this with only a few more years to his wisdom and talent than I had at the time. Because of that book, a friend of mine and I started saying “doot” as our little signal of a joyful moment to pay attention to.
I read Blankets in 2009, living here in Seattle, when I was in the dregs of the worst period of my life. I was unemployed, soon to lose my highly influential grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and in a less than deep relationship. I read the book on a bleak afternoon, sitting in a former garage-turned-family room, with wood panelling, a perfect setting to relate back to whitewashed Wisconsin winters, where everything and everyone feels further away than they really are. I had a different upbringing from Craig, so I did not relate to the book on the level that I think many other readers did. It was more like hearing a story about someone you had met before. I felt connected to him by virtue of Pegi acting as a mentor to both of us through different types of hard times and creative attempts.
I heard earlier this year that Craig would come out with a book called Habibi. I was very surprised and intrigued to hear the Arabic title. I thought about what he was doing with his career. To be able to depict Blankets so personally, perhaps he could scale that feeling up to people from another culture? It would be a feat.
I want to share a few things Craig said at his talk at the Seattle Central Library. He is as well styled and poignant as his books, while still maintaining a blatancy to his continued investigation of the world and how it makes him feel.
-Drought: in the desert setting of course, but also in love, in spirituality, in sex, and for him, vast stretches of drought in being able to work on the book.
-Someone started asking personal questions about his early religious situation (Blankets, they also referred to his recurring themes in sexuality). He said “Imposed religion can really cut out a person’s own spirituality.”
-He had been turning Rumi poems into panels and quoted “You keep breaking your heart until it opens.” I have found this to be terribly true.
-He referenced the Picture Bible has having influence on his comic panelling and especially certain scenes in Habibi, he met another graphic artist who said the same thing. I had that bible at some point and remember being curious about drawing comics because of it too.
-He said to succeed in writing fiction is to find or arrive at a piece of truth in a pile of lies. Also: “The biggest fiction of fiction is to have an ending since we never get to see endings in our lives.” This one was huge for me. It made me wonder if all the storytelling in the world wasn’t just a coping mechanism we employ to more gracefully handle the idea of our own death.
-On relationships: “They draw out all your deepest issues and neuroses and confront them.”
Meeting Craig was unfortunately brief. The endearing thing he does is draw a character in each book he signs. We paid mutual homage to Pegi and bid adieu.
The book looks beautiful. I will hopefully finish it soon. Here is a visual review: