Sunday, May 1, 2005

COMICS: Craig Thompson's 'Carnet de Voyage'

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My fellow Oregonian Craig Thompson had one of the most acclaimed graphic novels of 2003 with "Blankets," a sprawling epic of young love and faith illustrated in beautiful sweeping linework. His latest book, "Carnet De Voyage", was characterized as a "travel sketchbook," a kind of stop-gap before his next big project. But in its own way "Carnet De Voyage" is nearly as satisfying as "Blankets," filled with Thompson's trademark yearning, insight and that almost insufferably fine artwork.
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Set during three months of research for his next book, Thompson takes us with him on a book tour and sightseeing trek through France, Spain and Morocco, cataloguing the sights and feelings of his trip along the way. He alternates his style between straight-out portraiture, sequential cartoony art and more realistic storytelling. I love travel literature and graphic novels, and the two tastes go great together. Thompson is episodic and expansive, making many foreign friends along the way despite his self-pitying demeanor, or "whining" as he calls it. He's painfully aware of his American gawkishness compared to his suave European pals, and combines a child-like love for beauty with a fear of what's to come.
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I half-expected a book of simple sketches and scattered impressions, but Thompson really fashions a narrative out of his diaries, with a rise and fall and emotionally rich ending, particularly poignant seen as a kind of sequel to "Blankets." That this was crafted "off the cuff" makes it even more remarkable that it reads so fluidly. The lovingly rendered scenes of Spanish architecture and Moroccan market chaos are finely detailed -- so much so that later in the book we learn Craig has developed incredibly painful arthritis due to all his drawing. "Carnet De Voyage" doesn't have pretenses toward being an epic statement, and Thompson's self-aware cuteness might be cloying to some, but I heartily recommend this compact book, as both autobiographical comix, sketchbook and purely as a nice little "souvenir" of another man's journeys.

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