As I was writing and writing and writing and writing about Jack London in my dissertation, I noticed something I was never able to fully incorporate into my argument: the man's obsession with hands. He not only wrote about them regularly in his fiction, but his letters are heavily peppered with references to his own "deformed" mitts. I scare-quote "deformed" because history has no record as to whether his hands were as he believed them to be—the scarred and calloused collection of fingers that his life of hard labor had created. That a leading voice for the working class was embarrassed by the signs that he'd once and long been a member of the same is one of those historical ironies that's better left for braver souls to judge. I'm more interested in the evidence. For example, were you a photographer taking a profile picture of London, he would present you with this:
Decent shots, no doubt, but ones in which the palms of his hands have been deliberately obscured. If you were a different sort of photographer entirely—one who wanted to take pictures of famous authors in diapers, for example—London would oblige thus:
All of which is only to say that, for obvious reasons, my eye's been trained to seek out and find meaning in hands. Hands, as I noted in my post on "The Van Gogh Job," do things. Directors and artists—perhaps especially comic artists—focus on hands because they're humanity's native tools. Any other tool we have, for the most part, is either an actual or imaginative extension of our hands. So when I teach Craig Thompson's Blankets, I begin with a tailored introduction to McCloud and comic theory, then I move on to the hands. Why import a tic I noticed in London to a book written a century later? Consider the evidence:
Thompson's rough but fluid style is meant to be evocative, not realistic, otherwise Craig and Phil (the boys pictured in the bed) would be like shih tzus unto their father. More significantly, measure it out and you'll realize that their father's hand is the same length as his head, which isn't an impossibility—the NBA does exist, after all—but is very much an improbability. Point being: Craig and Phil's father has a gigantic hand, one capable of doing many things, some of which may be horrible. For example:
That'd be a close-up of Phil being manhandled from his bed by his father. Note how the close-up emphasizes the size of Phil's head relative to his father's fist. Note also the emblem on Phil's pajama top, as the irony's by all means intended. Continuing:
Phil's being dragged into an attic space of composed of pure darkness. All the light in this panel originates in the room behind Phil and his father. The implication is that as soon as that hand—and only that hand, as the hand's replaced the father's face in the iconography of this scene—as soon as that hand slams shut that door, that darkness will overtake Phil. That hand'll be responsible for both the present and lifetime of fear Phil will have to cope with, because according to Craig's memory of the events, it's the hand, not the man, that did the deed. The significance of hands throughout the book can't be understated, but because students will be writing essays on topics like this, I'll understate it a bit: my evidence for the importance of hands come in an early flashforward:
Here, again, is Phil being manhandled. Not by his father this time, but by another, and without ruining anything for anyone who hasn't read the book, Phil would've been better off having been locked in the cubby hole again. Because the way that anonymous hand completely consumes Phil's tiny fingers?
Never a good sign.