constructing carnet

Recently, Yana wrote with a few questions about the construction process for CARNET DE VOYAGE. She asks,

“…you say that it is more on-the-spot then your other carefully constructed books but just how on-the-spot was it?
How much of the imagery in the novel was actually done on site? Or was most of it developed from on site sketches
into more final ink drawings? And if a lot of the ink drawings were done straight from life, were they then pieced
together digitally on the computer to give the travelogue more of a structure and professionalism? The reason I am
asking is because our whole project has been about making drawings from life in peopled situations? And I was also
wondering how you capture a scenery that is constantly moving (all those bustling Moroccan streets for example) without
the use of photographs? Is it a matter of filling in gaps with imagination and focusing on different aspects individually?”

Good questions. And hopefully these answers are timely enough for use in her essay…

1) CARNET was my diary — documented day-by-day as dated (or at least the day after).

2) Portraits and landscapes and full-page illustrations were drawn on location. Again, no photo reference.
In the case, of bustling street scenes, I would just start drawing from a point of interest — if I saw someone
in the crowds striking the proper pose, I’d dash to that portion of the page and fill it in. There was a lot of
this dancing about the page — a donkey cart would roll past and I would struggle to get it down as quickly
as possible. Once out of view, I’d complete it from memory. And these drawings could take hours to complete
— standing in the most uncomfortable positions getting sun-burnt and harassed and nearly run over by motor bikes.
I would draw things “in real time” and leave empty space on the page for journaling text.

3) The comics narrative part of the book was constructed during a more comfortable part of the day or the next morning.
I kept a separate journal to doodle and piece out my thoughts and thumbnail page compositions. Here’s a peek at that:


(A ~ the very first narrative page of the book. On the left, notes-to-self on page layout.)

In Morocco, I separated my drawings into two sketchbooks. One was public – manhandled by butchers with bloody fingers
and crowds of children. The other was private – composed often at night in the flickering fluorescent light of the hotel
bathroom – journaling about my awkward interactions with locals.

Pages 108 – 113 of CARNET detail a “guided” tour of Fez I took with some newfound Spanish friends. The event happened
on the 5th of April — I doodled 17 pages of visual notes while walking at the same time — and I composed the printed
pages the next day, aboard the long train ride back to Marrakesh, while sandwiched between other travelers.


(B ~ Fez tour … )

4) EDITING. Any and all of it happened between the 15th and 24th of May at my friends Laëtitia & Frédéric’s home in Lyon, France.
I’d left them with my first two sketchbooks when I departed for Barcelona, and they’d scanned all the pages by the time I returned.
Then there was one last sketchbook for scanning, proof-reading (with non-native English speakers!) and minimal digital construction.
The rare occurrences where a graphic was moved about digitally was noted in my compositions as I went along (not after the fact),
because I wanted to squeeze drawings from separate sketchbooks onto the same page.


(C ~ transplanting the donkey)

Well… that’s all for today. Hope this helps, Yana. Sorry to be so text-heavy, though this barely hints at the
adventure of drawing the book while on the road. Every cartoonist should give it a try!

43 thoughts on “constructing carnet

  1. Craig, Really great work. Your art always amaze me.

    I drew a comic in my sketchbook too. On last years 24HR comic book day, I had a previous engagement and was not able to participate. But I wanted too, so I drew my comic while ridding the bus and BART. In my case I just made it up instead of basing it on what was around me. It was a lot of fun to do and I was very pleased and surprised by the results.

    I would love to see your sketchbooks in person some time.

    My Comic:

  2. What a coincidence, my wife, reading your Carnet today, was wondering about your way of working…and this very day found your blog.
    Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the lovely moments you gave us both.

    Greetings from Belgium.
    Koen, Leentje

  3. Craig, your work process (step-by-step) is really interesting. I always carry a sketchbook with me. I believe that when you draw without carry about what it gonna be, like, just for fun or to get a moment, your ways of work are better.
    You are great, man! I´m learning new things with you, as how tell a history.

    Hug from Brazil

    André Almeida

  4. wow. this is all stuff i’ve wondered about for ages. great to see this post.

    pencils? how much of the stuff was pencilled first? i imagine the portraits weren’t, but some of the more elaborate comics pages…?

    i keep carnet by my drafting table as a reference for just about everything; from production design (love the tesselations) to composition and crowd-scenes.

    this sketch of my niece, for example, was directly inspired by your carnet portraits:

    and more sketches

  5. Wow. I’ve often wondered how exactly you put the book together. I applaud you for your work ethic, incredible stuff to do all that while travelling. Just a few qustions still remain for me though:

    1. From the book itself, it’s obvious that you use the Pentel Pocketbrush (actually, I knew that before Carnet came out, when I saw you use it during the Stripdagen in Haarlem!). but which other pens did you use? it’s not all brush, even before you lost the drawing equipment during your trip, right?

    2. like one of the previous commentators, I was also wondering how much of the Carnet the Voyage work was done in pencil before working in ink.

    3. As I’m a sucker for different types of drawing paper, I was wondering what kind of sketchbooks you use. I use the Windsor and Newton hardbound sketchbooks myself, but I occasionally find that the paper tends to bleed, especially in the ones with thin paper. Ever tried Moleskine sketchbooks? I really dislike the paper for working with ink. everything other than good quality indian ink gets immediately sucked into the paper, turning a nasty grey.

    Anyway, oops, a bit long but I hope you’ll manage to answer these questions when taking a break from Habibi. I love your work and your blog is one of my favourite stops on the web!

  6. Craig,

    How about the Barcelona part of Carnet de Voyage? (which is my personal favorite part).

    How and when did that get composed? (somehow I doubt that you composed pages in the bathroom while having an endearing love affair).

  7. holy crap that’s a lot.

    loved that book, in fact, i read it first, before blankets.

    i read carnet de voyage, then with the last of poor piddlance paycheck i bought blankets the very next day.
    which i then read in a night.

  8. Hi Craig > I’ve discovered your work with “Carnet de Voyage” (in French “Un américain en balade”) and this book has been a big inspiration for me. I draw everyday (you can see my stuff here > and very soon, I’ll have a trip to make my own carnet de voyage.
    Thanks a lot !

  9. Thank you for all these informations… your work is great and so inspiring! I have “Un américain en balade” at home (and Blankets, and Chunky) and open it everyonce in a while just because it’s great stuff and I feel like travelling everytime I read it. Hope one day you’ll make another one… maybe in China? 😉

  10. I’ve loved your brushwork for years and have had you sign things in person in Chicago and have seen you draw straight with the brush, but are your sketchbook drawings all straight brush or do you pencil first. Straight to brush is a huge mental exercise! Thanks for your work and looking forward to Habibi.

  11. Very cool.

    I’ve just gotten back from a two-week trip in Italy, which I chronicled in the second half of a sketchbook I originally used to do the same thing during a three-week trip in China two years ago, all of which was very much inspired by your Carnet.

    It’s really interesting to see how much my process in trying to do something similar to what you did mirrors your own. Thanks for posting this!

  12. Craig, I just started reading the blog but I love it.

    I just received the book with the message to Erin. Wow, thank you so much. I’m speechless. You have no idea how much that means to her (or me!). I will mail it to her this weekend. Thanks again so much. 🙂

  13. Hi Craig,

    Just got wind of your blog from drawn! web site and so glad you’re posting. Love your work, even more so to find your travel drawing. Thanks for a window into your process.

    If you have a moment please visit my blog at I’d love to get any comments you’d care to share.


  14. Dear Craig,

    First I wish you a very happy new year.
    It’s been years I wanted to write you. At first, I event wanted to take a pen to write a proper later (yeah, something that people were doing the past century I heard!!), but I’m the queen of procrastination, and it finally ends as a comment on your blog 🙂
    Well, I won’t be original, but I’m an absolute fan of your work.
    Carnet de voyages (in French) created to me lots of feelings. I have to say that at the time I was reading it, pages 84 & 85 were so meaningful to me as I had the impression you were just describing my life (except that I did not lose any painting stuff in Morroco 🙂
    same questions, same remarks, same bad feelings… but you could express it, which I could not at that time (I m so frustrated not to be able to express anything through art), I could see I was not alone (stupid egoistic reaction but true!). So it helped me somehow! 🙂
    Today, I m away from this depressing feeling and I do hope it’s the same for you, that you enjoy life! 🙂

    Can’t wait to read your next work.

    Well, sorry, this post sounds a bit like a shrink session, oups! 🙂

    reviens en Europe, a quand un tour a Bruxelles?

  15. craig – you’re very inspirational! IT’S GREAT TO SEE YOU SKETCHBOOKS too! it’s looking at the real you when i see the ‘ghost/sprit’ sketches of the drawing 2B! I think, too, you should win a grammy for you cd artwork on the MENOMENA – FRIEND & FOE album!
    enough kudos…great work

    jaquette @
    illustrationISM &

  16. Hey Craig,

    I will keep this brief. I love all your work. I was wondering if you sell any of your original work, or if you have any work for sale. Please let us fans know, because I am sure I am not the only one that wishes some of your work could be displayed in our houses, apartments, condos and/or dorms.

    Thanks so much,


  17. Hey Craig!

    I borrowed Blankets from a friend today and subsequently (if that’s a word) read it all the way through. Following now is perhaps unoriginal, but nevertheless hartfelt praise: WOW!! Incredible how you can be so very genuine and autobiographical, and yet avoid being too specific or particular (Dave Eggers does it for me too, maybe it’s an American thing?). I’m really touched by the story. I also love the inclusion of notebook-pages on your blog (remind me of my own workflow and tempt me to set up a ‘crazy-notebook-pages-comparison-thingie’ for all people working like this). I’ll include a link to it on my website as I hope some Dutch writers that visit it will take notice of your very beautiful work. Okay I’m ranting on now in this foreign language (sorry for awkward (ab)use of English) so I’ll quit. Thanks for making my sunday:), Rinske

  18. This is a great inspiration. I have a very busy life and have difficulty finding time to process what I produce into a presentable form, this on-the-hoof style of thinking could help me a lot.

    We’ll see.

  19. Edit: I kept my promise and the link is up -> -> wie? -> leuks.
    It’s a website about my work as a screenwriter and it’s being visited by friends and acquaintances (? here we go again:)) who are for the most part writers, illustrators etc. We always share inspirations and I hope they come take a look here!

  20. I just wanted to leave a line and try to express how much I enjoyed your Carnet. After reading how much work you put in it I understand if you don’t do anymore of these, but please do. One of my favorite books in the last 5 years, and one of the only ones revisited frecuently.

    Your book also gave a great tool to proselytize comic books, to me is the Watchtower/Gideon for the unconverted comic book reader 🙂


  21. Heyas Craig,

    I simply adore Carnet de Voyage. Thank you so much for sharing all of these wonderful sketches and insights of how it was produced. Very inspiring indeed. Wish my sketch journals were as well documented and complete.
    Cheers and take cares!

  22. hi…this is mostly unrelated, but i read blankets today.. and i wanted to extend a (semi)tangible thank you to craig thompson or the Universe or whatever. so, thanks a lot. it did me good.

  23. Hello, mr Thompson. I’m Jaime, a comic-reader-trying-to-become-drawer. I’m from Spain -Madrid-.
    First of all, I’ve to say I’ve became a big fan of your work. The way yo draw has the power of making the reader feel you’ve drawn it as a personal letter. It’s such a great way to communicate.
    Second thing, I know you must be tired of fans saying “hey, Craig, I’d like to be artist, take a look at my work”… well, I’m affraid I’d really like you to take a look at my work. I’m currently working on a little 50 pages comic about a girl -it’s not Blankets part II, I’m not trying to copy your work, but the theme is the same, the most universal theme-.
    Keep working, keep being such an inspiring artist.


    i just finished carnet de voyage, and am enough obsessed with it, and blankets, that i googled you as soon as i got an opportunity. and what luck! i come upon your blog & your answer to these questions about carnet! what a treat to get this glimpse into your process. it’ll help me develop a process of my own, trying to turn my little drawings into a narrative that makes some semblance of sense. thanks so much! xo

  25. Thank you so much for taking the time out to explain that to me, I really do appreciate it, unfortunately I’ve already handed in my essay but this will still be helpful for the evaluation I am currently writing and my own artist blog, please have look at it if you’re interested, our tutors thought it would be a really good idea if we could get an artist we’re interested in to comment on our work, but otherwise thank you again for answering my questions and as I’m sure other people have said on this blog, I’d just like to say I think your work-ethic really is truly admirable and your books so well crafted and composed, they read like literature.

  26. Hello Craig. I just wanted to say that we talked about you and Blankets in class today, and although I’ve read it about 50 times by now it was nice to get other people’s opinions about it. Your brushwork looked really beautiful on a large wall projector. :]

  27. Tengo su libro “cuaderno de viaje” atrapado entre las palmas de mis manos cruzadas sobre el pecho y mi corazón,que late por el placer de la lectura tranquila en una tarde primaveral,tumbado en la cama mientras oigo cantar a los pajaros en la calle,en Madrid,en uno de los barrios con mayor poblacion inmigrante de toda la ciudad.
    La ligereza con que puedo dedicarme a observar con delicadeza los dibujos y las frases que,traducidas al español,seducen mis sentidos es,desde luego,consecuencia de una perfecta sensibilidad a la hora de plasmar lo que hay en el libro por su parte,y mas alla de eso,de la capacidad de creacion de un mundo a partir del mundo de a diario.
    Una replica de la realidad que reproduce los detalles de sus viajes y de su vida del modo que,particularmente,a mi mas me gusta,pues me siento muy identificado con el estilo que usa para hacerlo.
    Soy estudiante de filosofia en l Universidad Complutense de Madrid,y estoy obligado a leer miles de textos trascendentales que,por supuesto,me encanta examinar.
    Pero a la hora de relajarme y poner mis ideas en claro sobre mí mismo,pocas veces he encontrado algun libro o texto que me ayude tanto a reflexionar sobre lo humano como sus obras,empezando por Blankets,y siguiendo por este cuaderno de viaje.
    Pasar sus paginas es como extender un manto de arena fina del desierto sobre cada cimiento en que se sostienen los dias que pasan,y reposar sobre todo ello,frenar el mecanismo que mueve el mundo para contemplarlo desde paginas que,del blanco,han pasado no al negro,sino al “vivo”,si existiese algun color que asi se llamase.

    Aun sin saber si voy a poder hacerle llegar esto a usted,y sin el suficiente manejo del ingles como para traducirlo,deseando que de algun modo pueda llegar a su vista y que alguien se lo lea en su idioma,reposo tranquilamente como decia al principio,dispuesto a sentar un rato la cabeza entre la calma que promueven sus paginas.

    Atentamente,Luis Hidalgo.

  28. I got this book as a present for my birthday and I read it of course in almost one day! I loved it! and I am pretty happy to read the way you did it! because at the beginning I really thought you took pictures everywhere and afterwards drew them! wonderful work, wonderful!!

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