“It simply is what it is” – Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson

cdvct.pngCraig Thompson is familiar to us, of course, as the graphic novelist responsible for Blankets (recently reissued), Habibi and Space Dumplins, as well as one of our all-time faves, Good-bye, Chunky Rice. As with Blankets so again here – this is a reissue of a 2004 book, composed partially while Thompson was travelling, undertaking promotional activity and researching for what would become Habibi. We say ‘partially composed’ not because it was finished later (although the reissue does contain pages composed many years later) but because it (a) proved to be a somewhat troublesome distraction while he was travelling/promoting/researching but also (b) depended on an agreement put in place with his French publishing house to move at pace and get the sucker in shops while he was still astride the globe like some kind of Colossus.

All of which hopefully demonstrates the somewhat ad hoc nature of proceedings. If 030305_carnetdevoyage03you’re new to Craig Thompson, you would not start here. This is a book for fans, interested in process, charmed by Thompson’s self-deprecating humour (much of which is in evidence), desirous of a glimpse behind the creative curtain, as it were. There is, it should further be said, a kind of Wes Anderson, circa The Darjeeling Limited about proceedings. We begin in Paris, where Thompson is familiar, staying with friends, liaising with his publisher, distracting himself with the attentions of various pretty girls, dealing with the end of a recent relationship. Later he travels to Morocco, feels sorry for himself, and lonely, latches on to various tourists, draws pictures for people until his hand hurts, sketches buildings and cats and camels. Later still, he is back with friends, skiing by Mont Blanc, passing on snowboarding tips, indulging in the briefest of flings, gearing up for some heavyweight promotion in the company of Joe Sacco and Chris Ware and the like (oh and occasionally he asks buddies to do the odd page here and there too).

As you’d expect it’s slight, and slightly rushed, obviously, composed on the back of cregcamels, whilst suffering from diarrhoea, sometimes a day or two after the event described, at a gallop to meet the deadline set. There’s charm, too, obviously, because Thompson is interesting and capable and his preliminary work is worth sharing (see also Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings or Seth’s Vernacular Drawings). Unlike the comparable Tomine and the Seth books, however, Thompson’s book is arguably more admirable whilst at the same time slightly less effective – admirable because it was an experiment, to produce a book ‘on the road’, far from the usual sedate environment in which he crafts his books; less effective because it lacks that greater organising principle. It simply is what it is.

Hardcore fans will more than likely already have Carnet de Voyage, and the reissue’s attraction to them relies on the compulsiveness or otherwise of the new pages, which for the most part catch up with the people on whose couches he surfed all those years previous (which isn’t exactly compulsory viewing) although we do get a little in the way of “when I look at the person I was”, which is of the less is more school and leaves us wanting more of that kind of thing. Which is, we suppose, ideal in its own way. The perfect reader for the Carnet de Voyage reissue might well be those people whose first introduction was the recent reissue of Blankets, curious what happened to Thompson in the wake of the success of that book, yet to make their way to Habibi or Space Dumplins. You people will lap this up, we think.

Any Cop?: A curiosity, no doubt, but a pleasant way to while away an afternoon if you are familiar with Thompson’s other superior work.

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