Craig Thompson is probably most famous for his wonderful Blankets and so when I found out he’d released another behemoth of a graphic novel I promptly purchased it. I love Thompson’s fluid drawing lines, and was already very pleased with that in Blankets, but this is a whole new level of graphic inventiveness, framing and drawing. The book is simply stunning beautifully, and it amazes me that a book so beautiful and so big could be so affordable.
The story of Habibi in a nutshell is the story of two enslaved kids (a fair-skinned and beautiful girl and a black-skinned boy) who escape and live their formative years together until life tears them apart brutally. The story begins in what feels like a medieval arabian nights context with a few oddly modern bits thrown into the mix, but as the story progresses that feeling of timelessness slowly fades until you realise things are not quite as you originally imagined.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story for potential readers, but I will say this: it’s deep and intricate, told in a non-linear fashion with lots of flashbacks and interspersed with references to (relevant) muslim mysticism as expressed in the stories of the female character.
The book is enthralling although the sheer magnitude of it makes it impossible (or at least made it impossible for me) to read in one sitting. There are moments where the mysticism lost me, but I sense that everything is interconnected and probably will pick a lot more of the construction in a second reading.
In summary, Habibi is a very ambitious book, both in terms of the narrative itself and in its construction and religious references. It’s not an easy read, but the story is strong enough to keep you going despite the complex structure and the intricate graphical constructions (which are sparsely and effectively used, but do make the reading a little tougher).
I thoroughly recommend it to those who enjoy intricate and exotic stories and have some prior experience with independant graphic novels. One thing I should mention is that a significant portion of the book occurs in a harem, so if you are easily offended by nudity, this is not for you.