Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Conclusion: Another graphic journey to France

I say "another" because I just read French Milk.

Craig Thompson warns the reader that Carnet de Voyage is not his "next book." Following the successful Blankets, Carnet de Voyage is mostly just a travelogue during Craig's 2-month visit to France and Morocco—a trip that was part pleasure, part publicity tour, and part research for his "next book" Habibi (due out...sometime).

What I couldn't stand about Blankets was how whiney the main character was (and since it's pretty much a memoir, that means it was Thompson that was whiney). Initially, this really turned me off of Carnet de Voyage as well, because now Craig was moping about the girlfriend from Blankets that had dumped him (or as I should accurately title her as he did, his "lover"). Here he was across the world seeing lots of exciting things...but he just complained about how miserable his life was, how he'd rather be in Portland, Oregon, than Morocco, and how ill he felt (because he didn't sleep, because he staying up moping, because he was depressed).

Oy yoy. I'm hitting the battery-operated doorbell we have in our office right now that makes a big "wahhhh wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" sound.

So, initially, I was just as annoyed at the voice behind these drawings. But then I thought back to my visit to Spain in 2006, and I recalled how absolutely miserable I was on that trip as well. And it didn't even have anything to do with the trip (except for that whole getting robbed on the first day thing). It had everything to do with Life and all its little details. And when other things are on your mind, it's really hard to completely let them go and enjoy your time in a foreign place; it's easy to wish for comforts of home. I remember walking on the outskirts of Madrid and seeing some hills, thinking the landscape reminded me of California, and wishing I was in California instead of Spain. Now, I yell at that past version of myself and say, "You were in SPAIN! Shutup!"

And then Thompson did this amazing thing where he became really self-aware that he was moping and being a Debbie-downer. Though his brooding was still irritating, at least he recognized he was doing it. And was ridiculous for doing so.

Another reason I'd rate this one higher than Blankets is the art. Thompson's art in this is AMAAAAZING. Because it's just a freestyle sketchbook, he explores a range of styles (probably because of variety of drawing utensils)—from self-aware caricature, to loose sketching of landscape, to detailed brushstroke portraits. His dedication of individual pages to individual experiences added a lot of personalization; otherwise a travelogue of places seen can be nearly the same for everyone who has visited them. His self-mockery while riding a camel, a spontaneous game of laser tag, and a journey down a mountain on a snowboard were some of my favorites.

In this collection of sketches, Thompson had a wonderful eye on the people around him. In my opinion, people are, hands down, the best thing about visiting a foreign place. To see another person in their element, to wonder how they live their life day-to-day, to know that their belief system and value set may be completely different than your own or what you are accustomed to—it's both humbling and fascinating. His drawings of locals, friends, and travel acquaintances provide a much closer look at his experiences abroad. And because he always tried to discover the story behind the person, his experiences seemed more...poetic, or worthwhile, or fulfilling, or [insert descriptive yet subtle adjective here].

According to Thompson's blog, Habibi is on schedule to be completed this summer. I'm anxious to see more of his art, but a little hesitant to read more whining. So hopefully this one won't include the memoir bits about his ex-"lover."

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