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Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi (edition 2011)

by Craig Thompson

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966588,947 (4.05)89
Authors:Craig Thompson
Info:Amsterdam Oog & Blik cop. 2011
Collections:strips, Read but unowned

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Habibi by Craig Thompson


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English (53)  French (2)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Habibi is the lengthy, lavishly drawn tale of a woman, Dodola, and Zam, the male slave boy she rescues when still a child herself. When they both escape from slavers, they are separated and must find their way back to each other - both losing, recovering, and reinventing their identities along the way. More than that, though, Dodola becomes a Scheherazade figure, telling stories that deftly interweave the origins of Islam and Christianity and uses her wits to survive.

The first thing to note is that Habibi contains some of the most beautiful artwork ever to grace a graphic novel. The panels themselves weave Arabic motifs in with the story, and a strong focus is put on flowing calligraphy. Some panels - not even the artwork itself, but just the design framing device, are so achingly beautiful that you could spend hours working out the intricate details of each swoop and curve.

The story itself is good, though I must admit that there were no lines that particularly stuck in my mind, and the length of the book weighs itself down.

Then there are the problems... Dodola is the victim of sexual violence from the very beginning, when she is married off at the age of nine to a husband. She then barters her body for food from caravaners, is kidnapped and forced to be a concubine for a sultan, and is raped numerous times throughout the story. While this in itself all serves the purpose of the story and never feels gratuitous or sexualized, Thompson does have an annoying habit of rarely showing Dodola clothed at all. Most of the scenes with her are her nude or partially nude - even when she isn't having sex. While this could be seen as an attempt to show how others see her, and her own cynical feelings toward her body and the way men desire her, it did feel a little gratuitous. Sexuality is problematic in this book, to say the least. Zam feels guilty because of his desire for Dodola, to the point of castrating himself in order to get rid of the feelings. In a telling scene near the end, where Dodola and Zam enter a Westernized city, she views women walking in high heels and short skirts, and removes her own headscarf with a victorious expression; a panel later, she passes some men who leer at her, and puts the scarf back on, covering her face.

The other problem is that Thompson seems to want to bring the fairy tale aspect to the fore - the Scheherazade reference, particularly, is in regards to the sultan giving her 70 days to entertain him each night, or else she dies - which works, but is later turned on its head toward the end with the Westernized, modern city right next to the backwards, barbaric sultan's city. The fairy tale also falters - the Scriptures quoted, the "fable" feeling of Dodola's clever way of tricking the sultan when he forces her to turn water into gold, all work to create a certain feel - but then some hint of modernity, either in the dialogue or references made - throws the reader out of that atmosphere. While there are some authors who I would trust to deftly juggle both - modern references have been used in fairy tales, and can work - the ones used here were too brief and sporadic to ever feel like it was contributing rather than destroying the atmosphere so lovingly built.

Despite these problems, I am still giving this three stars, because the artwork is so intricate, so detailed, so painstakingly inked, that it would be a shame to miss it. ( )
1 vote kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
The illustrations are terrific; many make use of really lovely calligraphic Arabic. The world of the story occupies an indeterminate and shifting time - partly Arabian Nights, partly modern totalitarian petro-state. It's a problematic book, throwing around tropes from the Arabian Nights, even while explicitly acknowledging that the source material is racist and misogynist (and also, though this is not so explicit, Orientalist). The storyline argues that love, intimacy, and hope are possible even in a brutal world - but while the story condemns sexism, objectification, rape, and abuse, the book would be a lot less interesting to read if the illustrations didn't make the heroine into such a compelling sex object. Perhaps that's intended to make a point (for example, that the reader is no better than many of the characters in the story?), but it feels instead that the author is trying to have it both ways. Again, the illustrations are terrific. ( )
  bezoar44 | Mar 14, 2015 |
Difficile, dopo questo capolavoro di Thompson, decidere di rileggere a breve qualche altra graphic novel. Il confronto sarebbe impari.
Sinfonia della calligrafia e del dettaglio, rotolo di lettere e storie, sintesi di un mondo di cui diventa difficile solo immaginarne la vastita'. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Escaped slaves Dodola and Zam have to face the horrors of the modern/ancient world in order to survive. The good parts are the excellent art and a few of the storylines (those dealing with contemporary consumerism and environmentalism), but they get buried a little underneath another forty or so storylines. Unfortunately, it's quite sexist as well - pretty much every male in the book is up for some rape whenever a woman is around, no big deal. Its racial stereotypes that are pretty bad too - apparently in Thompson's idea of the Muslim world, harems where a sultan can have women's heads chopped off without anyone reacting is compatible with having a regular 21st century modern city outside its walls. In total, it's a yes for the art and a couple of the storylines and a resounding no for all the rest. ( )
1 vote -Eva- | Apr 13, 2014 |

5 stars for the artwork.

Craig Thompson makes me so insanely jealous that I can't see straight. His artwork is out of this world and so are his storytelling skills. It's just elements of the story that I happen to have a problem with, mainly how sexualized women are, the way all the Arab stereotypes come into play and the fact that Dodola ended up with romantic feelings for Zam(I cannot able to understand this).

But you should still read this book. Because the artwork is breathtaking and I love how he weaved in fables and stories from the Quran into his narrative. ( )
  ashpapoye | Jan 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
When I had finished reading Habibi, I thought, well, it's Orientalist, it's misogynist, but damn, he learned how to write Arabic calligraphy well. ... To my surprise, I discovered from reports of people who had seen Thompson read and discuss his work, that though he had learned the basics of the alphabet, the intricate calligraphy in the book was all traced from outside sources. ... But this is simply one more example of the shallowness that undergirds the entire work: a laudable impulse to learn more, to reverse prejudice, was followed by a lazy embrace of Burton over Said, of voyeurism over empowerment, and tracing over writing. Habibi is a beautiful book and a terrible book. I am grateful for how much it has offended me. I could almost burn it.
And that is Habibi’s ultimate strength. All its cleverness, all its density, all its intricacy, are brought together in the service of one simple but all-too-easily-forgotten point: There is no way through this life but with each other. That is the foundation for Thompson’s interlocking patterns, its self-evidence obscured from our view like the scratched-out shapes that form a letter. Thankfully we have a writer like Thompson around to focus our gaze.
added by Serviette | editNational Post, David Berry (Sep 23, 2011)
Habibi, which the eye perceives as a celebration of life force, settles in the mind as a campaign of punishment. Gaze upon its beauty and despair
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"Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth-- and frailty-- of their connection. At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling" -- dust jacket wrap.… (more)

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