Habibi is a graphic novel by Craig Thompson. It tells the story of a young slave named Dodola and her life growing up with another young slave named Zam. It takes place in what is described as a “desert landscape” and is filled with biblical allegories, themes, and set pieces.
I love Marvel, DC, and Star Wars. But I also love indie comics and I love Craig Thompson’s work.
I have been a fan of Craig Thompson ever since I read Good-bye, Chunky Rice. I went on to read Blankets which is easily one of the best love stories ever told and loved it too. Then there was a dry spell in Thompson’s work and I was fearing he was done with all the graphic novel writing. I had looked online after reading Blankets to see that he had not published anymore graphic novels since Blankets and that was 2003. I read Blankets in 2010, so that meant it had been 7 whole years since his last published work.
I felt like he had gone into hiding or pulled a Harper Lee where he was satisfied with Blankets enough so he will never write another graphic novel again. I gave up on Thompson after that and I hadn’t read anymore of his work until recent.
I went into a library and saw Habibi and I was overjoyed. I had no idea he had made another graphic novel! It was 2016 and Habibi had been out since 2011?!? Where was I?!? I finished the entire 672 page graphic novel in one sitting. It was a gripping page turner. Let me tell you why:
liked LOVED about this graphic novel:
- The story was riveting. I was absolutely enamored by the narrative. The dreamscape fairy-tale like structure coupled with the harsh realism of the world, it creates such a unique and elegant atmosphere. You really do feel for the main characters Dodola and Zam. The struggles and perils they face throughout the graphic novel are terrible, but there is always that glimmer of hope that both you as a reader and the characters feel. The drama is tense and the resolutions are calming, Thompson does an incredible job with balancing tone and narrative. The graphic novel is long (not Bone long, but pretty expansive) but the story doesn’t stagnate and keeps you wanting more.
- The biblical allusions and stories that are present in the graphic novel are essential to the story. However, you do not need a religious background to appreciate or understand them. The graphic novel is also not “preachy”, it uses religion as a way to transfer the themes and ideas of the graphic novel but in no way is it trying to convert anyone or bash any specific religion. I really respected the way Thompson handled that in this graphic novel and I was absolutely amazed by the way religion is presented.
- The artwork is PHENOMENAL. I absolutely love Thompson’s style of drawing. I have always liked the realistic styles of drawing (like Alex Ross) but I have always had a soft spot for what I can only describe as “cartoony-realism”. The artwork in Habibi is stunning and breathtaking all at once. Looking at the artwork in the graphic novel, I can only imagine how much work was put into just one page of it. How much research and time must have been dedicated to drawing these patterns, characters, and shapes. Every single detailed page is beautiful and there’s something about his drawings that are hauntingly beautiful.
- The graphic novel itself is bound together beautifully and the cover art is amazing. It will look amazing on your shelf!
What I disliked about the graphic novel:
- I am not against nudity, sex, and graphic violence (whether it be humorous like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Deadpool or serious like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Law & Order: SVU) or any mixture/combination of the three in media and I am against censorship of any form. As long as these elements are pertinent to the story (such as in horror, comedy, and drama, etc.) and not there for random shock value I have no criticism against it. Habibi had a lot of sexual violence towards both Zam and Dodola at various stages of their life, more so on Dodola. Reading Habibi, I totally understand why many critics cited the sexual violence and nudity in this book to be over the top. There are some sequences in this book that are quite graphic and flat out unnecessary, I feel like they were there to try and gain sympathy for Dodola but in the end all it did was show her naked and in terrible situations which in turn takes you out of the story altogether.
- The relationship between Zam and Dodola is a bit confusing. The way their relationship is portrayed fluctuates massively near the end of the graphic novel, it was kind of shocking to read. It almost reminiscent of the whole Benjamin and Daisy relationship from start to finish in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but just not done quite as well. It’s not a huge negative but it was something that needed some adjusting to as I read.
Overall Habibi is an excellent graphic novel. There’s more to comics than just superhero fights, end of the world scenarios, fantasies, lightsabers, magic, and detectives. Craig Thompson is a great comic writer and a fantastic artist and the stories he makes are absolutely amazing.
Although not as great as Blankets was I will not compare the two. Habibi is still an excellent read and overall great piece by Craig Thompson. A joy to read and a great story! I would recommend to anyone who enjoys emotionally heavy literature.
I give Habibi a 8.5/10, a bit too violent and sexual without reason and a bit awkward on the character relationship between the main characters Zam and Dodola. However it is still beautifully drawn and masterfully written nonetheless.