Graphic novels, comic books, or comic strips; however you label it, I love comics.
Like a lot of people I grew up reading the occasional Superman or Batman comic. And like a lot of people I gave it up early on for more “mature” pursuits. Early in high school, however, I realized that comics and superheroes are not synonymous.
Sure, the comic medium developed primarily through its American mid-twentieth century portrayal of super-human characters, and if the recent blockbuster movies indicate anything, people still enjoy these iconic figures. But, to say that all comic books are about superheroes is as absurd as saying that all movies are romantic comedies. And who in their right mind would even want that?
I think we ought to think of comics as a medium through which different kinds of stories can be told. Comics should be thought of as similar to television, movies, and novels. And in many ways, it can be a more diverse and streamlined medium than any of those above.
Think about it. One person, with a lot of skill, and with basically no budget, can make comics. You don’t need to get a producer or studio’s approval. You don’t need to consult with anyone, unless you want to. And as a result, you can tell stories that no one else would allow, and do so completely on your own terms.
Craig Thompson’s Blankets is one of those books that first showed this to me. It was published in 2003 and has recieved a lot of attention over the years. Thompson is a highly skilled artist, and his autobiographical narrative feels impressively honest and personal. The story is primarily concerned with his first experiences of falling in love while in high school and his life growing up in a Christian church. The narrative concludes at the point where I assume Thompson was when he began the graphic novel. He is no longer convinced of the validity of the Christianity he believed earlier in life, but he seems to hold onto some elements as important. This resolution is fascinating in that it isn’t simple or neat: it is fundamentally and unflinchingly realistic.
Blankets is an subtle and thoughtful piece, and I think that speaks to the importance of it. The story could not be told as well or as artfully in another form. Its existence is a sign of the power and diversity of the comic medium as a whole. If you’ve never read a non-superhero comic or graphic novel, Blankets may be a great place to start.
Thompson is going to be speaking at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing this weekend several times, including a gallery reception and book signing Friday evening.
I’ll be there. Will you?
Jake Slaughter is an editorial intern with Relief and will graduate from Trinity International University with a degree in English and English/Communications this spring.