Over a recent weekend, I got thinking about how my four-and-a-half-year-old son doesn’t have a security-thingy, a blanket, a pillow, a favourite doll, or an imaginary friend like most children his age do. Sure, he has favourites (and some long-standing ones), the present one being a graphic novel called The Travels of Thelonious (yes, it’s child-friendly, and a future edition of this column will be on graphic novels for children), but there are no must-have security-thingies without which he won’t: 1. leave the house 2. travel 3. go to sleep.
I am not sure whether I had one, but I remember my cousin, a few years younger than me, having a blanket he wouldn’t leave home without. My nephew had one too, a small quilt that he finally gave up on when he was six years old, and the quilt, according to my sister, was “nothing but a few threads”. I am sure psychologists and social scientists have some explanation as to why blankets and quilts end up being preferred security-thingies—it does seem fairly obvious when you think of the functionality of such things, but there must be some theory around that uses words like womb and makes the whole thing appear more complex than it actually is.
Blankets is also the name of a largely autobiographical graphic novel by Craig Thompson (it was published in 2003). Blankets is, with the exception of Harvey Pekar’s very American American Splendor, Quitter and other such, a rare American graphic novel because it is European in its tone—more about discovering the extraordinary-in-the-ordinary (or writing about everyday things and happenings) than the ordinary-in-the-extraordinary (fantasy, superheroes and the like). Blankets is a story about growing up (yawn!), but it is also about faith, love, partings and, yes, blankets. It reminded me of French cartoonist David B’s Epileptic, which is also a book along similar lines.
The thing about semi-autobiographical graphic novels is that they somehow magnify the intensity of feelings even while dealing with the most mundane things: Thus, a father scolding a child suddenly looks abusive (maybe it’s because the pictures are drawn from the child’s point of view).
To come back to Blankets, the story is simply told, although Thompson takes almost 600 delightful pages to say it: Boy and brother he doesn’t particularly like, grow up sharing bed and blanket; boy meets girl, falls in love, and she makes a quilt for him; boy and girl break up and he puts quilt away in an effort to break free; many years later, he pulls out quilt and realizes that it’s just a quilt. (Fine, I may have simplified things a bit, but that’s really all there is to it).
Sometimes, in graphic novels, it’s all in the telling... and the drawing.
Write to Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org