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Craig Thompson – Carnet de Voyage

Posted on Posted in Illustration

The Christmas rush is over and I’ve finally moved. It’s official… I live in Ljubljana now. Well… At least during the weekdays. During the weekend I’ll still be going home to Maribor. All my friends are still there as well as my girlfriend. So I won’t be staying down in Ljubljana all TOO much ;).

At least I can move home. Craig Thompson didn’t have that option when he moved from Michigan to Portland. That’s how his graphic novel Goodbye chunky rice came in to existence. But that’s a novel for another day.

I’ve always loved Craig’s work. I’ve loved it ever since I read his graphic novel Blankets but his books are hard to come by in my country and the postage from abroad is almost as much as the books themselves. So I usually wait to go abroad to look for his books. This Christmas though, I really got an awesome present.

This year for Christmas my girlfriend bought me another Craig Thompson “book” I didn’t really know existed. He himself called it “not the next book but the book in between the next book”. It’s called Carnet de Voyage and it’s always an exciting feeling when you find out one of your favourite artists has a book you never knew about. I don’t know how this one slipped by me, seeing as it’s posted on his website and on his wiki page but it did. I’m glad it did though because I would probably never have experienced that feeling.

It’s a travel log (sketchbook) of the artist’s trip when promoting his hit novel Blankets. The log covers his trips to France, Belgium, the Alps and also Morocco when he was researching for his next book Habibi. In that sense it’s a perfect link between his two successful books but also offers a glimpse in the artists way of thinking, his lifestyle and especially his personal life and feelings.

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The book doesn’t hold back. Craig pours out every thought and emotion he felt during the trip. His anguish, physical and mental pain but also the highs when he finally finds people that brighten his days and the moments he realises that he overdramatizes sometimes. It’s a travel log of not just the places he visited and what he saw but also what it did to his psyche – at one point even contemplating jumping of a roof of a building.

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It sounds really cliché at first. Oh, a suffering artist lady-da. What’s new about that? Well… Nothing really but its Craig’s honesty and direct approach to the depiction of his suffering that makes it fresh. Not just with words but also with his art. Oh, the art…

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This is where Craig shines especially. I love his drawings and this book is a special collection of his art. Why? Because it’s all sketches that were done on the fly. No photographs to make it easier (he admits he used just one or two and even points out where he used them). All the sketches are genuine and therefore really translate his feelings in that given moment.

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At first his artwork seem very simplistic. Oh, how wrong that is! Trust me. I’ve been trying to emulate that visual style for years (not copying it) and had little success to be honest. Craig’s brush strokes are very precise and he has a certain style with his lines. The strokes aren’t just random even though it may seem like they are. Even when switching from brushes to simple ballpoint pens (that moment is elaborated on in the novel itself) his talent still breaks through.

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I especially love his drawings of trees. There’s something about the flow of the branches and trunks that speaks to me.

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The whole novel is in black and white (as are Blankets and Habibi). The funny thing is I think that Craig excels more with black and white illustration than with colours because nothing distracts from his fluent line work. The contrasts between light and dark, thin and thick lines all work really well in the context of the narrative.

In conclusion I can really only recommend reading this book. It’s not everyday you can get a guided tour through an artists sketchbook and consequently what he was experiencing while actually drawing the sketches. Every artist worth his salt should read this.

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