The authors of most comics and graphic novels have, for the most part, a distinctly secular viewpoint. So it was a bit of a surprise when I picked up Craig Thompson’s Blankets and read quotes from the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes. The book, in fact, has more scripture in it than any other graphic novel I’ve read outside of the Christian genre, with illustrated quotes from Ecclesiastes and stories from the gospels. But this isn’t a story about faith that saves. Rather, it is a story about faith lost.
On one level this 583 page autobiographical tome is the story of the author giving up his first love, twice. On another level it’s an indictment of how much of Christianity turned its back on art and culture.
According to this story, the author grew up in a very strict Christian home with parents that took God’s word very seriously. Everything else seemed to fall to the wayside. When Craig is young, he and his younger brother Phil share a bed in a poorly ventilated upstairs room that is freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer. But his parents seem oblivious. His love for drawing is discouraged by his Sunday school teacher who sees it as pointless “since God has already drawn everything for us.” When Craig suggests that his family should recycle, instead of burning their trash in a barrel, he’s told that the Lord will return before that’s an issue.
To those outside of Christianity, their behavior probably appears bizarre, even abusive. But to those of us raised in the Christian community, it’s all too familiar – a faith that seems completely detached from the world, reveling in its own irrelevance.
Torn between both his desire for artistic expression and his desire to be a better Christian, Craig is wracked with guilt. And, of course, he’s a misfit in school as well as church.
Finally, in high school, on one of his trips to church camp that occurs every year during school Christmas break, he meets a group of fellow outcasts. Among them is a girl named Raina who understands and relates to him like no one else he’s ever met. Their relationship grows as they stay in contact after returning to their respective homes in separate states.
Then Craig talks his parents into allowing him to spend two weeks with Raina at her home in Michigan. Their relationship grows as Craig clearly idolizes Raina. But by the end of the trip the relationship is already beginning to deteriorate. Afterward, they keep in touch through phone calls and letters that become less and less frequent. Craig finally breaks it off, burning everything Raina ever gave him except for a hand made quilt blanket.
Their relationship was never very deep. With several hundred miles between Craig and Raina, it didn’t have a chance to grow. Craig’s relationship with Christ was much the same. As sincere as he seemed to be, he couldn’t go deep in the religious environment he was raised in. The church community he was part of never tried to apply the teachings of scripture to real world situations. They gave simplistic answers to complex questions and did their best to hide from the world around them.
By the time Craig is old enough to seek out answers on his own, he simply stops looking once he finds something that seems to refute his church’s teachings. When his pastor is unable to satisfactorily address his concerns, Craig concludes that all of Christianity is wrong. So Craig breaks up with his other first love, Christ.
How many other people, who were raised in church, could tell similar stories? As Christians, we need to do a much better job of making our faith relevant. We need to be able to face the tough questions. That doesn’t mean we’ll always have the answers, but the time is long past when we can simply ignore the issues.
Autobiography has become common in the graphic novel field, and Blankets is an outstanding example. Since it does contain some sexual content, it’s probably not for young readers. But it shows the power of a well told, personal story that’s paired with quality art. It’s something we can learn from. As Christians, we have stories to tell that are just as powerful – stories of redemption, of hope, of truth. And it’s time we tell them.