Clever, funny and disarmingly honest, it is, of course, predictably lovely to look at; Thompson is a master sketcher. What I like about it most, though, is the way it acts as an antidote to the all-seeing, all-consuming power of the smartphone. As its author notes in his opening pages, no cameras or mobiles were used in its making: his eyes and his brush pens did all the work ... A lot of this was terribly and painfully familiar to me, and will be to anyone who has travelled alone. The highs are incredible: those sudden epiphanies in which you’re consumed by a sense of freedom and privilege. But then, of course, there are the lows, when you must face up to how unexpectedly pathetic you are: unable, sometimes, even to leave your hotel room, however grim ... Thompson captures all of this, and if his narrative is, as a result, sometimes a little claustrophobic, you always forgive him for it. All human life is here: in his head, as on the teeming streets.
The sketchbook-cum-travelogue is quite a dreamy object—it doesn’t use many separated panels, and drawing often fills the page, black crosshatched edges feathering and dissolving into the ragged white surround. Like others of its type, the book encourages the eye and mind to wander. This is travel in its exploded view. Close-ups of French friends jostle alongside wide-screen landscapes; little notes and arrows carry us along Thompson’s stream-of-consciousness; there’s a page on how to wind a turban, complete with steps ... Thompson’s drawings are still lush and considered, flowing across the pages from his Pentel brush-pen, but the book is looser, sweeter, more suggestive than his other pieces. Yet it’s not all sweet. He often hates the trip ... Because of the way the Carnet functions, because it was made quickly enough to seem relatively candid, we now know how much of Thompson’s mind is taken up with searching out and drawing women ... sex confuses Thompson’s eye—and he sees the same curve of hip, the same bowed lip in girl after girl after girl. Explore as far as he might, that’s a blindness he does not escape.
Thompson makes it clear that this diary is composed of quick snapshots and sketches, without the use of photographs, and the looseness of the drawings comes through beautifully. Thompson is a gifted cartoonist, with an ability to tell long, complex stories while never sacrificing intricate details or the fluidity of his drawings. Here, his sketches still manage to convey those same skills, while retaining an on-the-fly quality that works especially well for the genre ... It's Thompson's candor in conveying what he feels in the moment, while still acknowledging his sometimes ill-tempered interactions and prejudices, that make Carnet de Voyage so engaging ... Carnet de Voyage captures many of the highs and lows that accompany traveling for an extended period, and Thompson's willingness to be present and honest make it a perfect bridge between his two larger narrative accomplishments, Blankets and Habibi.
As a travelogue, Carnet is most detailed during Thompson's time in Morocco ... His observations of Morocco, its culture and the people he meets are fascinating. Should Craig Thompson ever be tempted to draw a second Carnet, devoted solely to traveling alone in strange countries, it would be a welcome addition to my shelf. A close examination of Thompson's drawings merits its own pass through the book ... It's easy to read Carnet de Voyage as a mini-sequel to Blankets even though it's not. There seems to be a progression the 'character' of Craig has gone through, despite that the book stops somewhat abruptly before his promotional tour has ended. The various details of his personal life that he chooses to include occasionally veer into the same 'melancholy introvert pining for beautiful girls' territory of Blankets, and these stories lend themselves to a sort of story arc. I suppose any good travel journal would do that—it is hard to imagine how any person with an attentive mind could travel through foreign countries for three months and go home unchanged—but while the arc in Carnet de Voyage is hardly epic drama, it still adds up to an engrossing story for fans of Thompson's other books.
Ornate sketches of buildings blend with beautiful portraits throughout this book. In the mix are humorous caricatures of Thompson as he struggles through book signings, illness, and homesickness. Despite Thompson’s many anxieties about being too introverted, the comic feels fully immersive. Rather than a recitation of facts, Carnet de Voyage lets readers see the world through a tourist’s eyes, fully capturing the many overwhelming details. Thompson assumes a degree of familiarity with his readers, foregoing any personal backstory with the assumption that you, like him, are here for the journey at hand. Indeed,Carnet de Voyage’s strength comes in the balance—between images and text, and between Thompson’s internal and external worlds ... Carnet de Voyage demonstrates that the idea of love and the realities are not always the same ... Thompson’s sincerity shines through and he sweetly goes on loving the world even when frozen with anxiety and sadness. In these moments, Thompson and his work are the most human and poignant.
Carnet features full-page, beautifully-detailed drawings, cartoony caricatures, instructions on how to make cheesy French sandwiches and standard, panel-bound comic book pages. In its visual eclecticism Carnet feels like a sketchbook, until you realize how well the pages 'work.' While he jumps around in style, each page is laid out to both read in a glance and hold up to longer inspection. A sketchbook would have mistakes, scribbles and marginalia. Carnet is composed and beautiful. It’s a travel diary made by a master cartoonist ... Often I just want to piggyback on someone else’s adventure—someone not too different from me, on an adventure I might still have one day. It’s fun to imagine falling in love with beautiful strangers in other countries and inspiring to think that I might come out of it with a book like this. For me, that’s Carnet de Voyage. Inspiring, escapist, and achievable.
Carnet de Voyage uses the occasion of the reissue to allow the author to reframe his earlier narrative. It’s a good use of the device ... It’s a book that chronicles its own creation, usually an interesting process to watch unfold ... Because sketchbooks are already a kind of bricolage, it only makes sense that there’d be another chapter added at some point. It’s useful to understand that Thompson himself has learned something in the intervening years since producing these pages ... Thompson can certainly draw. I’ve my issues with the man’s body of work but his books still sit on my shelf, and they sit on my shelf because he knows how to draw really well ... Thompson is a smarter cartoonist than he is writer. If you think that’s a specious distinction when the person doing the writing is the same person doing the drawing, think about how effective Thompson’s sketches are throughout the volume ... I actually closed the reissue thinking more highly of Thompson.
Many of the elements that made Blankets so successful are here, not least among them Thompson's incredible, lush line-work and telling detail. Every person he meets is captured with a keen eye and a lively brush, and entries such as one recounting his fascination with Gaudí's architecture in Barcelona, or a day spent with fellow cartoonist Blutch discussing artistic muses, are both thought provoking and touching.