Anxious Encounters: "Carnet de Voyage"

Conceived as an intermezzo of sorts between "real projects," this is a travel narrative in fragments, in jottings of text and image, from a tour of Europe and Morocco Craig Thompson undertook to promote his book "Blankets" and soothe a broken heart. As with Joe Sacco's work (particularly the harrowing "Palestine," which I very much admire), the strongest moments are often born of the artist's anxiety about his own role in a foreign land. We are given access to a view (both internalized by a first person narrative and distanced by images which place us outside the artist-protagonist's body) of the gamut of touristic and, in Sacco's case, journalistic bad behavior, and we understand both its motivations and its wrenching trespasses.

It is Thompson's anguish that holds these fragments together, vivid as some of them, like his tales of a neverending four-star feast in France or a gut-altering camel caravan in rural Morocco, are on their own. He is caught in a limbo of paradox, desperately homesick, unable to attend to any of the extraordinary or mundane things that surround him, but also increasingly attached to the new acquaintances and environments that distract him, even momentarily, from his heartache. His reluctance to let go of anything he encounters is obviously the driving force behind his travel journal, and it ultimately extends even to releasing his narrative for publication: "I love you," he screams to the trees as the "Capitalist Printing Industry" arrives to chop them down for the printing of "Carnet." "I love you," he wails to girlfriends, places, and even one bewildered cat. His discomfort in the face of almost everything he meets abroad is coupled with this distress he feels at parting from any of it to form one of the most astute exact descriptions of the internal life of the traveler I have encountered.

"Carnet de Voyage" (2004) by Craig Thompson - ****