Comic Page-Spread Analysis: Exploring How Sequential Art Works

BlanketsPages 442-443:

Blankets page 442Blankets page 443

There are five panels on the left (“Panels 1-5”) and two panels on the right (“Panels 6-7”) on pages 442-443 of Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003).  This page-spread depicts a moment in time when Raina’s father discovers her embraced in sleep with her young love, Craig.  Subtle aspect-to-aspect closure is facilitated by increasingly revealing views.  Panel 1 encapsulates many details within the love story – the walls are filled with images in angular mini-panels; Raina’s father is just inside the doorway.  Panel 6 moves in for a medium-distance bird’s eye view of Craig and Raina, with blanket piecework and an exquisite pillow coming into focus.  The sequence of Panels 1 to 6 to 7 includes images (of the embrace) that unwind counter-clockwise, ending with a close-up bird’s eye view highlighting peace and light in Raina’s profile and hair.

Beneath Panel 1, the gutter leads to a tier of small panels showing the father’s juxtaposed set of facial expressions in Panels 2-5.  His face is simple and cartoonish, and communicates his overall reaction in slow motion, almost directly to the reader.  There are stereotypical depictions of surprise and concern, a quick look away (to gather his thoughts?), and a tentative mouth poised to speak.  In Panel 5, the shaft of his speech balloon leads to a suggestion of thought (. . .).  The shaft reappears in Panel 6, effectively connecting with Panel 5 over the central gutter, then wends and propels the balloon – which never reaches the couple.  The suggestion of thought lands in Panel 7 and fades within the profile of Craig’s face.  The balloon is gone and the reader must narrate retrospectively.  Whatever the father had thought is unvoiced, secondary to the bond between the lovers and silenced by his daughter’s happiness.  Raina’s profile is in the center of a white background, dominating the page-spread and vaguely over-layered by Craig’s coexisting silhouette.  Raina’s grace and beauty, with hair and light radiating, are reminiscent of other angelic, transcendent pages/panels and one of the comic’s irrepressible themes: tender hope.

Black and white art allows the reader to react without the influence of color.  Shadows appear around the young lovers (in blanket folds, behind Raina’s father, and emanating from the father’s feet), but their relationship is set apart by faces and skin accentuated with light.

Thompson’s drawing style uses graceful lines when tranquility or loving connections exist, no matter what is pictured nearby.  In Panel 6, the reader is drawn close to Craig and Raina, and they are enveloped in swirls, wavy lines, curls of hair, flowers, and the blanket’s curves.  Such graceful depictions appear in other comics that include tender, loving moments (e.g., at times when a widow thinks of her lover in The Color of Earth (Kim, 2009), or when a man gazes at his wife in This One Summer (Tamaki, 2014, p. 97).

Several themes in Blankets are represented in this page-spread.  Craig’s arm wraps warmly around Raina, but there is a trace of the unforgettable history of abuse in the right-angle of Craig’s arm; it resembles the monstrous jaw held open by Craig’s father when locking Craig’s brother in “the cubby hole” (p. 16).  Raina’s wrist is angled, showing the couple’s connection.  Rejection of certain tenets of faith is represented in the cut-off portrait of Christ on the wall.  Trees appear in this comic in scenes of relief, retreat, hope, and peace; in this spread, Craig’s tree-painting on the wall leads the reader down to a tree-like arrangement of blanket folds on a calm bed.  The “blankets” theme appears literally, enveloping and protecting Craig and Raina.  Just their upper torsos, arms and heads show, presenting their relationship as greatly cerebral.

As a reader, my reaction to this spread acknowledges angularity but is touched by desire, embrace, and serenity.  (I’ve been there and I’ve cherished it.)  For librarians, the spread is an example of the ability of comics to depict realities, yearnings, sweetness, hope, and respite.  For analysis, the spread is compelling because it is infused with the universality of young love amid struggle, such as found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  From the beginning of Blankets, the depictions of life experiences swathed my thoughts and settled into a deep spot in my spirit.

References

Kim, D. H. (2009). The color of Earth. New York, NY: First Second.

Tamaki, M. (2014). This one summer. New York, NY: First Second.

Thompson, C. (2003). Blankets: A graphic novel. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.