Honestly, I wouldn’t have read ‘Habibi’ if I hadn’t already been immensely impressed by Craig Thompson’s potential, via ‘Blankets‘; nothing about the title or the cover made me want to open it.
I’m so glad that I did, however. I’m glad that Thompson’s skill was a good enough salesman for me to reset my own instincts, because I would have otherwise missed out on one of the best graphic novels in recent memory.
‘Habibi’ is a difficult book to resume in but a few short lines, but it’s a massive, intricate, gorgeously-rendered tale of love, friendship and family through the lives of two young people, Dodola and Zam – who find each other, are torn apart, and reunited again throughout the book.
It can be a rough read, because pretty much every dramatic twist one could fathom happening to them does. Coming from poor families and cast away to fend for themselves, the only thing that keeps them going is each other and an innate desire to overcome all challenges in order to survive.
But Thompson manages to get us involved with the characters early on and it’s impossible to not invest emotionally in their individual stories. Not only does he find ways for us to care about Dodola and Zam, but he finds connecting points by also giving them experiences that we can all relate to.
Thompson tells the story in a visually poetic way. The most breathtaking pages from ‘Blankets’ are eclipsed by the beauty rendered on some of ‘Habibi’s pages, from the paneling to the layouts to the character designs to the use of black and white imagery. There is so much work involved in this book – for some, it would be the work of a lifetime.
And not only is the artwork impressive, but the way in which Thompson tells his story was quite the undertaking; not only does he spin a 600+ page opus by jumping back and forth through time, but he weaves into it metaphors, mythology, religion, history, science, mathematics, calligraphy and linguistics. I can’t even grasp most of it because some of it’s beyond my understanding, but I can’t help but be in awe of what he’s done.
‘Habibi’ is a must-read. As far as I”m concerned, if one doesn’t enjoy the tale, there’s always the art worth checking out. If one doesn’t like the traumatic drama, there’s always the titillating mind-candy. If one doesn’t like fiction, there’s always the non-fiction that’s layered in. Unlike many of its peers, it has a lot to offer and it deserves to find a broad audience. ‘Habibi’ is a literary masterpiece. Do check it out.