You don’t have to be a wannabe cartoonist to harbor some resentment for Craig Thompson.
It does help, though.
Having his first graphic novel (Goodbye Chunky Rice) heralded as a brilliant debut, having his second (actually-novel-length) graphic novel (Blankets) become the poster child for serious sequential art for the year it came out, and then have his freakin’ travel diary (Carnet de Voyage) published… that’s a lot of success, with seemingly little effort. (Especially since Blankets is so much the kind of Great Autobiographical Graphic Novel that I’ve been struggling with for the past several years, which means that if I ever finish it, mine will probably be compared with his… and found derivative.)
But ordinary readers can resent Thompson as well, and they can do so from reading his latest (but not his “next”*) book. Carnet de Voyage is just what the title suggests (if you know French): a journal of his recent travels, which took him to north Africa and to Europe. The resentment comes from reading of his experiences and realising that you didn’t get to do it too.
*Thompson explains in the intro to the book that it isn’t his “next book” following Chunky Rice and Blankets, but just a little snack in the meantime. A 224-page snack.
It’s not that Thompson had a non-stop-party, never-ending-fun vacation. He didn’t. Parts of it were unpleasant… physically, emotionally, or both. The resentment comes from the fact that he lived it.
There was a time in my life when I did a fair amount of travelling. Bicycling England. Northern/Central Europe by rail. A semester in Scotland. The Icelandic coastline by bus. There were times during these adventures when I was miserable, when I was in pain, when I was nervous, and when I was scared out of my fucking wits. But they were all worth it. And reading about Thompson’s experiences… some of them similar, and yet so many of them things I’ve never had happen… I’m jealous. (Especially since I no longer have the means and freedom to travel like that.)
But even without being there myself, I found his journal engaging and educational. He went to places in Europe I missed, and of course did things and met people I didn’t. And Morrocco remains entirely outside of my experience. More than any movie set in an exotic locale, or a staged travelogue, or a practical how-to guidebook, Thompson’s journal shows the places from eye-level, spontaneously. He’s evidently the kind of artist who sketches habitually, and it shows that he can work quickly and confidently and clearly. Sure, snapshots would be quicker, but they’d also be rigid and objective and removed; drawing involves the artist in the scene he’s capturing. (Plus it’s a lot easier to include yourself in the picture.)
Reading Carnet de Voyage brings back a lot of memories of mine - good and good-to-look-back-on-from-a-distance - and Thompson shares a lot of his own. It may not be “the next book”, but it’s far more filling than the “little snack” Thompson dismisses it as.