Sunday, January 8, 2012


By Chris Wilson

With the amount of critical acclaim, accolades and awards Craig Thompson’s Middle Eastern tome, HABIBI, has received, I can barely contain my awe and struggle to recommend this beautiful work highly enough. It is, by far, the greatest piece of comics literature I read this year, or last year, or the year before that –– maybe longer.

It is, in my mind, worthy of the ranks of MAUS and should be read, re-read, and prominently displayed in any literature lover’s library. I understand not all literati or academics accept comics as literature and I respect that opinion even if I disagree with it. However, even the most ardent traditionalists would be hard pressed to read HABIBI and not acknowledge the literary and artistic magnitude of this 672-page work.

The storytelling through text and art is magical. 

 Simply put: Get it; read it.

Now that is out of the way, let’s examine what you really want to know: How can HABIBI be used in the classroom? HABIBI is very sensual and sexual, making it extremely hard to use even on a high school level. It is better suited for more mature adults. I highly recommend it for the university level.

Dodola serves as both a prostitute and a concubine as well as enduring rape. 

Dodola's  adopted son, Zam, discovers new feelings and is confused by his newly budding sexuality.
The feelings of guilt plague him. 

HABIBI has a complex story line filled with mixed time lines. It offers deep literary and religious themes and metaphors exploring Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths. The characters are beautiful and are still walking through my mind and heart. Its female-centric protagonist offers a wide feminist exploration. Issues of slavery, sensuality and sexuality, traditional versus modern views, race, culture, and poverty make it an excellent book in several classrooms and disciplines.

Thompson infuses culture, religion, metaphor, and story into every single inch of the book. From the endpaper, to the table of contents, from the frames around panels to the use of color (black or white) behind the panels to the iconography and calligraphy, Thompson’s artistic detail is exquisite. I cannot think of a graphic novel that compares artistically.

Thompson not only depicts calligraphy but uses the story to explain the meaning behind
the words and describes the story leading to the visual formation of the writing.

The iconography in the book is important. Each shape in the turtle has religious
 and metaphorical meaning that is explained throughout the work. 

Thompson uses many pieces of iconography to tell his story in many layers.

All of this makes HABIBI dominant in a textual and artistic sense perfect for many classrooms: literature, religion, feminist studies, sociology, psychology, sexuality, minority studies, art, calligraphy, and graphic design.

The panel layout is intuitive and even readers, who have never picked up a comic before, will adapt to the flow easily. However, I think students will need to be reminded of two things:

  1. Comics are designed to be read slowly. Don’t rush.
  2. Read the pictures. Much of the beauty and depth of HABIBI is hidden in her art.

Thompson uses splash pages to invoke an emotional level to the story.  

The depth of storytelling and the intertwining of text and art in HABIBI set it apart from other works. It would be exciting to explore this comic using many different literary lens and perspectives in a class. It would, of course, require a very accomplished instructor. 

Author & Illustrator: Craig Thompson
Publisher: Pantheon

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 672
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-375-42414-4

Highly Recommended
This is a mature book recommended for college students and adults.

1 comment:

Skipz said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful reviews and critical recommendations!