Aurore Zhang

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Nature, Images, and Spirituality in Where the Mountain Gods Live as Inspired by Blankets

In my graphic memoir, Where the Mountain Gods Live, I use Craig Thompson’s Blankets as visual inspiration to tell my own story about my spirituality. Throughout my graphic memoir, I have many panels of the mountain and forests around my grandmother’s town that I had grown to love from summers of exploration. The forest and the mountain represent my spirituality or the “mountain gods” I believe in. In Blankets, Thompson also utilizes illustrations of trees, rivers, snow, and other aspects of nature to explore his spirituality in the form of his Evangelical Christian faith. Like Craig, my character in my graphic memoir experiences disillusionment towards the relationship between herself and her faith. I imitate Thompson’s art style and depictions of nature in order to tell a story about the progression of my relationship with my spirituality. On top of using nature, Thompson also uses images of blankets, ranging from the blanket he shared with his younger brother to the blankets of snow, to further illustrate his relationship with his spirituality. In my graphic memoir, I decide to use incense as a recurring image to represent the strength of my spirituality.

I chose to illustrate scenes of nature to represent my spirituality, mirroring how Thompson uses nature to follow Craig’s faith. On the first panel of page seven of my graphic memoir, the reader is introduced to the forest that I spent most of summers in for the first time (fig. 1). By combining my hopes in seeing spirits with an image of lush forestry, I begin to connect the idea of the mountain to my spirituality. The following panels on the same page show my character’s awe and admiration for the mountain gods as she looks around in the forest, carefully taking in the trees and the shrubs that surround her.


Figure 1, pg. 7


Figure 1 starkly contrasts the first panel on page eighteen that contains an illustration of a storefront. In both Figure 1 and Figure 2, my character is on her way to the forest with an arm full of offerings to the mountain gods. However, in Figure 2, I pair the image of a man-made storefront with the news of my friend’s mother’s death, effectively damaging my relationship with my spirituality. Figure 1 and Figure 2 represent important points in my spirituality and I use the background and nature to emphasize the change my character goes through.


Figure 2, pg. 18


Craig Thompson also uses nature to explore Craig’s spirituality. On page fifty-six of Blankets, Craig wanders through a forest while reading the Bible and applying it to his life. This page captures Craig when his Evangelical faith is at its strongest, strong enough to make him burn all his childhood drawings. Thompson pairs this powerful spiritual moment with illustrations of the forest, drawing connections between Craig’s spirituality and nature.

While Thompson uses the recurring image of blankets to illustrate his spirituality, the recurring image of incense is used in Where the Mountain Gods Live. Incense is used in Japan for a number of different occasions, including Shinto or Buddhist ceremonies, spirituality, and prayer. The actual application of incense is inherently spiritual. In Where the Mountain Gods Live, I use incense beyond its actual use and use it to represent the mountain god in relation with people. On page eleven, my character’s unnamed friend reveals that she goes to the green shrine every day because her mother has cancer (fig. 3). Paralleling this reveal are sequential images of incense burning. As the unnamed friend explains why she prays, an incense stick gets shorter and shorter as it burns before finally snapping off. This represents how the mother’s ailment is beyond the mountain gods’ realm of power, causing the initial “snap” to my understanding of the relationship between people and the mountain.


Figure 3, pg. 11


The image of incense appears on the last page of Where the Mountain Gods Live as well (fig. 4). In the final panel, the incense, which have been drawn fully burning and producing smoke, finally smolders out. It is short and stubby compared to the past images of incense as well. This symbolizes my character’s complete disillusionment to the nature of the relationship between people and the mountain gods as she realizes that love does not go both ways.


Figure 4, pg. 23


Thompson’s final use of the recurring image of blankets also holds significance regarding Craig’s faith. On page 581, Thompson illustrates Craig leaving footprints in a blanket of snow (fig. 5). This represents Craig finally beginning to develop his faith and spirituality free from the confines of his Evangelical upbringing, bullying, and parents. As Craig’s figure walks away from the reader, he walks towards his own future and makes his own mark in his spirituality and faith.


Figure 5, pg. 581 (Thompson)


Both Blankets and Where the Mountain Gods Live heavily rely on images of nature and recurring images to explore an individual’s relationship with their spirituality. By imitating Craig Thompson’s storytelling technique of deliberate use of imagery and symbolism, Where the Mountain Gods Live also joins the conversation on the individual and spirituality.

Works Cited

Thompson, Craig. Blankets. Marietta, GA, Top Shelf Productions, 2003.

Zhang, Aurore. Where the Mountain Gods Live, unpublished, 2019.