In “The Beautiful Ambiguity of Blankets: Comics Representation and Religious Art,” Benjamin Stevens writes about the religious symbolism and metanarrative aspects of Craig Thompson’s Blankets. Early in his essay, Stevens discusses Thompson’s use of panels, the absence, in spots, of borders, and other aspects that draw attention to Blankets as a graphic memoir working within the language of the genre. Stevens points out that the visual “devices themselves become objects of attention” in Blankets. Today, I want to look at a couple of these devices, namely the borders and shape of panels and the deconstruction of some of those panels.

Throughout Blankets, Thompson changes, ever so slightly at times and more pronounced at others the aesthetic of the text. One such way that this occurs is through Thompson’s configuration of panels. Some pages have rigidly bordered panels. Others have panels where words or images break the border. Others have bending and curving panels. Others don’t have any borders at all. These varying constructions convey just as much meaning in Blankets as the visuals and text, and it is on some of these panels that I want to focus.

In Part V, Raina asks Craig to sleep next to her in her bed. On the page where she asks him this, Thompson draws three panels. The borders of the top two are broken in different spots with Raina’s words breaking the border in the panel on the top left and their image breaking in on the top right. A solid panel surrounds the bottom panel. Typically, when we see Raina and Craig in embraces or intimate poses, Thompson does not use borders; instead, the panels flow together over the page or the one panel takes up the entire page.

Here, though, a rigid border encompasses Craig and Raina as she states, “I want you to sleep with me.” Raina’s request catches Craig off guard, coming into contact with his religious convictions. The next two pages contain twelve panels depicting Raina and Craig talking about sleeping next to another and about setting the alarm so he can wake up and go to the guest bedroom before Raina’s parents see them. Each of these panels has rigid border, but in some, the word balloons pierce the border.

The final panel of their discussion shows Craig, alone in the wordless frame, looking back at Raina’s bed as he appears to be wringing his hands together in anguish. Here, the panel has rigid borders, highlighting the tensions that Craig feels within himself. He sees even sleeping next to Raina as a sin against God, and the rigid panels highlight this. They are straight and bold. Amidst the rigid panels, some of the word balloons pop through, signifying the breaking down of Craig’s religious upbringing.

This breaking down becomes more pronounced when we see Craig getting ready for bed. Over the course of these two pages, the panels’ borders become curved, weaving over the page. In his mind, Craig recites numerous verses that comment on temptation, sin, and one’s focus on God. One panel depicts Craig removing him pants as he thinks about the last section of I John 2:15-16: “For all that is in the world, the LUST of the FLESH, and the LUST of the EYES, and the PRIDE of LIFE, is not of the FATHER, but is of the WORLD.” Craig stands next to the bed, and the wall behind Craig, where Raina’s poster reside, becomes engulfed in flames, signifying the harm that Craig perceives as awaiting him if he lies next to Raina.

Juxtaposed against the straight and rigid panels, the curving panels, like the speech bubbles breaking through the panels, points to the shifting perspectives within Craig’s thought process, his questioning of his religious upbringing. For Craig, everything does not appear simple and straight anymore; instead, it curves in varying directions, making new shapes and creating new avenues.

The next page carries on this same theme. As Craig pulls out his pajamas, the flames still lick at the background, and a horde of the damned stare at Craig, their forms distorted in anguished agony. Here, Craig quotes Proverbs 6:28 over the course of two panels: “Can a man take FIRE in his bosom, and his clothes not be BURNED? Can one go upon HOT COALS, and his feet not be BURNED?” Craig struggles with his faith and his desires, and these conflicting parts of himself collide in these panels, reshaping his perspective and his outlook.

The final curved panel shows Craig, sweat dripping down his brow, arms crossed in tense confusion, flames rising from the bottom. The background consists of Galatians 5:16-17: “This I say then, walk in the SPIRIT, and thou shall not fulfill the LUST of the FLESH. For the flesh LUSTETH against the SPIRIT, and the SPIRIT against the FLESH: and these are CONTRARY the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the SPIRIT, ye are not under the law.” The words appear not within a thought bubble but as a background that encompasses him.

Craig’s faith warns him against the “lust of the flesh” that will take him away from God and the spirit. The words cause him to feel anxious, and the bending of the panels highlights this anxiousness and this struggle. While the borders of the panels bend over the two pages, the final borders of the final panel are rigid and straight. Raina, off stage, tells Craig, “Hey. Nice pajamas.” He turns his head, a drop of exasperated perspiration still on his face.

The next panel is a full page image of Raina, appearing as an angelic deity surrounding by other angels who look Raina, descending from the heavens. Craig, in the bottom left, has his hands clasped together next to his chest as he thinks about Song of Solomon 4:7,9: “All BEAUTIFUL you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you. You have stolen my HEART, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my HEART with one glance of your eyes.” While all of the other verses that Craig thinks about warn him against the desires of the flesh, these verses highlight the beauty in love and the beauty he sees in Raina.

Stemming from a book that focuses on sexual intimacy, Craig’s use of Song of Solomon joins his faith to his desires, and this appears in the image itself but also in the borders of the panel. The curved panels disappear and now the border is again rigid, as if everything has been straightened out and doubt no longer exists. However, there is some bleed through the panels in a couple of spots with the lines from the clouds that Raina rests upon. These piercing of the border present a question about the reality of this experience, something that I will discuss in the next past. The movement from rigid borders to curved borders then back again are structural cues that highlight Craig’s internal struggle to reconcile his faith and his desires.

Next post, I want to look at a few more scenes from Blankets. Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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1 Comment on “Panel Structure in Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”

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