During the wintertime, I like to shut myself in my room and read some of my favorite books. I often come back to Blankets, a graphic novel by Craig Thompson.
Blankets is a coming-of-age story about the author’s experience growing up in an Evangelical Christian household in the Midwest. When Craig meets his first love, Raina, he must find a way to reconcile his romantic afflictions with his religious upbringing. It’s a wonderful story about love and religion, and the purpose we find in both. The writing is eloquent, the imagery exquisite, and the story consistently makes me cry. All around, a beautiful book.
When you grow up in the American Midwest, snow makes up more than half of your lifetime. Thus, the graphic novel primarily takes place during the wintertime. Snow becomes a recurring motif throughout Blankets, often used to depict a shift away from religious beliefs towards earthly connections. A couple images take precedence: freshly fallen snow covering landscapes, and rounded snowflakes.
Many scenes in Blankets occur outdoors in freshly fallen snow. While visiting Raina’s home, they traverse out into the fields of snow together. Amidst the snow banks, their relationship is simple. They revel in each other’s company, sharing romantic glances and exchanging flirtations.
Towards the end of chapter seven, Thompson describes the world after a large snowfall. He writes, “the day shone brilliantly white. Sky and earth became one, trees outstretched their naked limbs, snowdrifts shifted shapes — washing away to reveal tufts of briar” (445-447). This short passage encapsulates the idea behind the snow-covered setting. Each snowbank covers up everything sharp and unwieldy in the world, smothering it beneath a blanket of snow.
As far as the illustrations go, Thompson utilizes lots of blank space to depict the snow. In fact, Craig and Raina are often alone in the panels. For example, on page 461, the panels show the young couple against the white of the paper, with either no panel framing them or distant trees to indicate a landscape. These panels are mainly empty, except for the two characters. In the snow, the world vanishes, leaving the two of them to focus fully on one another.
Snowfall and sweeping snowscapes symbolize how Craig feels when he’s with Raina. The snow washes away the rest of the world and covers up anything unpleasant, creating a peaceful plane of solitude where Raina and Craig can simply exist. It’s a metaphor, used to depict Craig’s affection for this girl, and the way she drowns out their surroundings when they’re together.
Next, we come to the rounded snowflakes. These flakes look like a circle with divots at the top and bottom, and lines extending from the center out towards the perimeter. Frequently, Thompson uses these flakes to symbolize angel wings or halos, in addition to falling snow. In chapter seven, Thompson indicates the sound of falling snow softly hitting the ground using these same images.
The flakes first appear on page 42, in Craig’s dream of heaven. This establishes them as a symbol representing the idea of “heaven” and the feelings tied to it: peace, tranquility, painlessness, and so on. Throughout the graphic novel, these snowflakes pop up most commonly with Raina. Sometimes they serve as a halo or wings, other times they just appear around Raina as she enters Craig’s line of sight.
Connecting these two ideas, Thompson establishes Raina as the center of his affection and wonderment. At first, he’s awestruck by the concept of heaven, but as he spends more time with Raina, she becomes a sort of “heaven on earth” to Craig. Around Raina, Craig is unafraid and at peace — the same way he felt about Christ in the beginning of the graphic novel. Thompson compares falling in love to a religious experience, where you become filled with hope and awe, finding peace in the shared connection.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.