At a time when the overused publishing term ''graphic novel'' most often refers either to ungainly superhero sagas or meandering, I-did-this-I-did-that Harvey Pekar rip-offs, Craig Thompson is correct to try to distinguish ''Blankets'' from its genre by calling it an ''illustrated novel.'' His forthright semiautobiographical tale follows a very young Craig, raised in a devout Christian family, through a romance with Raina, a ravishingly idealized first love. It is Raina who sews him a quilt, each square of which has emotional significance to her; it is Craig who questions the constraints of his faith when presented with her vulnerable, soul-bared love. Thompson's art -- black-and-white drawings of simple power, a technique of crosshatched realism that slips without melodrama into a vertiginous surrealism the deeper our hero falls for Raina -- possesses the artistic detail of a novel rendered in comic-book panels, omniscient-narrator description and word-balloon dialogue. Craig's blankets include not only Raina's gift but also the snug Michigan and Wisconsin snow that covers his contained patch of earth. In telling his story, which includes beautifully rendered memories of the small brutalities that parents inflict upon their children and siblings upon each other, Thompson describes the ecstasy and ache of obsession (with a lover, with God) and is unafraid to suggest the ways that obsession can consume itself and evaporate.