erasing clouds

Book Review: Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage

by anna battista

How many of us bought a diary at least once in our lifetime before going on holiday somewhere, solemnly swearing that we would have filled up each single page of that diary with words or drawings, to document all the things we would have seen? But then, most of us ended up in getting very distracted during the trip by new cultures, new things to see, new people to meet and possibly by new lovers and, in the end, abandoned that diary at the bottom of their case. There is somebody, however, who managed to fill up that diary during a long period of time away from home, his name is Craig Thompson. Many of us will remember him in connection with two graphic novels, Goodbye, Chunky Rice and Blankets. The latter was the 600 page graphic novel which millions of people all around the world fell in love with last year.

Top Shelf Productions has now released a new work penned by Thompson; it's titled Carnet de Voyage and it's absolutely fantastic. The book is a travelogue written or rather drawn between March and May 2004, during a long trip Thompson made, a trip that took him to France, Morocco, the Alps and Barcelona. Along the way, the author filled the 224 pages of his "carnet" with marvellous landscapes, amazing experiences, faces of new friends and sketches penned by other cartoonists (along his way Thompson met cartoonists Blutch, Mike Allred, Charles Burns and Charles Berberian who all drew a page of his diary for him).

The readers will be enchanted by the details of Moroccan buildings drawn by Thompson, by his precision in portraying labyrinthine Moroccan cities, carved arabesque tiles, towers with tooth-like machicolations, views of minarets and mountains, the modernist confusion of Antoni Gaudí's Casa Batlló and Parc Guell. Readers will also be carried away and think, while leafing through Carnet de Voyage, that they are really living the wondrous experiences Thompson lived, from riding a camel to Merzouga, to exploring markets, from snowboarding on the Alps to falling in love. Some of the scenes portrayed by Thompson are funny and cartoonish, some others make you feel a bit sad, but his drawings are always perfect and mesmerising.

The author portrays himself as a young naive man, successful, but also homesick and lonely because his girlfriend has left him (for reasons he doesn't tell us, but hints at) and quite depressed by a nasty arthritis afflicting his right hand. Thompson calls Carnet de Voyage "a self-indulgent side-project," but the book is actually a wonderful travelogue diary about many cultures and many places, a work with a terrific haunting power.

There's a last thing to add: as Thompson tells us in the "Disclaimer" at the beginning of Carnet, this is not his "next book". Indeed, he's been researching for his next big thing (which will be entitled Habibi) while in Morocco. We can just wait and hope that a new irresistible graphic novel penned by Thompson will be out very soon; in the meantime, don't miss Carnet de Voyage.


Issue 26, September 2004

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