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Renowned cartoonist Craig Thompson visits Calvin College

A personal interview with Craig Thompson in comic form.
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Craig Thompson signs books in Calvin's art gallery.

Craig Thompson signs books in Calvin's art gallery. /© laura cebulski

Craig Thompson is a cartoonist whose work is pushing the medium into new and exciting directions. Known for his comics of immense proportion (Blankets and Habibi), he visited Calvin College as an exhibitor for its twelfth biannual Festival of Faith and Writing.

He was born in Traverse City, Michigan, grew up in Marathon, Wisconsin, and now calls Portland his home. His six-hundred page graphic novel, Blankets, was deemed the number one graphic novel of 2003 by Time magazine, and it won two Eisner Awards, three Harvey Awards, and two Ignatz awards. Not only did it achieve the rare feat of winning the comic industry’s “triple crown,” but it did so at least twice.

Thompson is currently touring for his second book, Habibi, which has already garnered much praise. Inbali Iserles, of The Independent, states: “The book is destined to become an instant classic, confirming the author's position among not only the most masterful of graphic novelists but our finest contemporary writers, regardless of medium.”

Immediately after his interview with a Calvin Professor, I waited in line to ask if he had time for another. He remembered the interview request sent last week and agreed to have the interview after his presentation. What follows is my tribute to this unforgettable event.




How important is the Comics Community to you?  Do you approach other cartoonists often for advice?

He prefers drawing with other cartoonists rather than theorizing with them. The people he finds most inspiring are his two best friends; one a painter and the other a musician. Again, he finds a community of cartoonists to be a bit limiting, and thinks it better to have a mentor relationship with one cartoonist instead. He considers Joe Sacco (known for his comics journalism in war torn areas) his mentor and admitted they hardly ever talk about comics with each other. “We mostly talk about our careers.”

What do you think of the “Comics Canon” currently being written by cartoonists like Chris Ware and Seth, and how important the history of comics to you? 

He disclosed that he is actually very ignorant of the history of comics, as he “takes more of a Scott McCloud approach.” Looking to contemporary theory to see what the form can do instead of its history. "Although it is crucial to respect your roots, I doesn’t think they display what comics can do accurately." 

Is it better to hold a day job and work on your Art as a hobby, or to completely devote yourself to Art-making?

He responded definitively with the latter, “it takes tremendous energy and discipline to make great Art, and especially great Comics.” 

“Being involved in the Comics Community becomes important when you are working a day job because the little time devoted to comics needs to be nurtured. When making comics becomes your full-time occupation, you really need to develop on your own.”

What is the best way a fledgling cartoonist can get feedback?

When it comes to editing, it’s best not to send your comics to other professional cartoonists. They have too much on their plate to take the time away to edit/review your comics, and it also places them in a very awkward position. The best thing to do is find a group of peers that are working on things you find interesting. They not only provide resources, but you can also help motivate each other. (Apparently, his go-to friend early in his career was Jordan Crane!)




As for Craig Thompson’s future, he recently revealed that he has finished his 270-page thumbnail draft for his next book. It will be an all-ages book, and he mentioned it will focus more on the importance of family than his other works did. The draft only took three months to complete compared to the two years spent of the draft for Habibi.

Unique among the other presenters at the Festival, Thompson has original pages from both Blankets and Habibi exhibited within Calvin College’s Center Art Gallery. His exhibit titled “Bible Doodles," a joint venture between him and Calvin’s Director of Exhibitions, Joel Zwart, not only features twenty-four of his fully inked pages (all beautifully framed), but also displays both books for visitors to read.

This exhibit will be up until April 28th, and it would be a shame to miss! 


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Much needed breath of fresh air...comic interview is a great idea.  I am very disappointed I missed this.  I had no idea!  I really enjoy Craig's work.  I think he is an amazing story teller and his visual art has a depth that is easy to overlook at first, but the more you study it, the richer it becomes.  Thanks for doing this article.