Carnet de Voyage, by Craig Thompson
I love graphic novels. I find their mastery of storytelling amazing. And don’t let anyone tell you anything stupid, like “Well, duh, it’s easier to tell a story when you can use PICTURES.” That’s so lame: illustrating an entire set of emotions and personalities using just a few pen strokes and dialogue is incredibly difficult. You try it.
I’ve never tried writing or even storyboarding a graphic novel. But that doesn’t stop me from admiring it, and attempting to illustrate my own life with some other medium than the one I’m practicing right now. With that said, I am a terrible artist who can only expect to doodle her way through life with some vaguely witty characters and funny lines of dialog or text.
I am deeply resentful, therefore, of folks like Craig Thompson. But in a good way. To a doodling noob like me, Thompson’s capability to capture so much volume with a few brief lines and scratches is incredible. Some of his drawings evoke so much emotion that the reader stares at the page for a long time, looking at each line and all of the details that compose the page. Thompson doesn’t even waste space; he makes exquisite use of white space in his drawings.
Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage is his real-time telling of his trip from France to Morocco to Germany and back again on a book tour. Along the way we get treated to gorgeous renditions of landscape and people. It’s like someone said, “Hey! Wanna look at my vacation pictures?” only this time, no one sighs or feels compelled to drink more in order to be able to sit through a set of badly shot photos starring family members doing idiotic things like pretending to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa. (Yes, yes, I have some of those photos too.)
The book itself is incredibly self-absorbed, and Thompson spends a fair amount of time lamenting his own crises. Even he gets sick of himself, and his drawings reflect how conflicted he on that front. But Thompson is deeply aware that his constant state of crisis is part of what makes his art great, and, as a reader, I am grateful for it. And, at the end of the day, this internal conflict creates a story arc where there might not otherwise be one. The reader wants to say to Thompson, “You loser! You’re living this really cool life, and touring through these unique land- and cityscapes…don’t mope! Go outside! Do something!” and Thompson becomes sort of an anti-hero, one I found myself cheering for, despite my annoyance.
I am less grateful of the fact that I will never be able to draw like Thompson. But that won’t stop a girl from trying. Maybe one of the most valuable things about this book is that its beauty invites me to try for a Carnet de Voyage of my own.