Customer Reviews: Habibi (Pantheon Graphic Novels)
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on September 25, 2011
Craig Thompson's Blankets is one of my all time favorite novels, so it is not surprising that I was waiting in anticipation for this book, and it does not disappoint.

If Blankets was a comforting quilt constructed from unrequited love and childhood innocence then Habibi is a tapestry; exotic, richly decorated and replete with signs and symbols easily understood but not always fully comprehended. It is also immense, even though it is only 100 pages or so lengthier than blankets the entire size and scope of the story seems exponentially larger.

It is a MATURE graphic novel in that it deals with themes, which would be difficult to grapple in any medium, such as abandonment, sexual slavery, prejudice etc but always with a sensitivity and understanding which belies the notion that graphic novels are simply long-form comics. The usual poor reviews on account of the sex, violence and nudity are, I'm sure, inevitable. There is sex, violence and nudity but it is not gratuitous, it is employed to advance the story or develop the characters- still if you have overtly susceptible sensibilities then perhaps this book should be avoided.

The plot is complex and meandering and not succinctly summarized, in tone it has much in common with the magical-realism form of writing- it is compelling and it is likely that, despite the length of the story, most readers will finish the book in only a few days.

It also makes a great argument for the printed form; when you hold it in your hands you feel like you are holding an extraordinary tome, it is beautifully bound with tasteful gold lettering and the tactile sensation of turning these ornately decorated pages is not something which could be easily approximated in the digital format
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on September 25, 2011
Craig Thompson, best known for his graphic novel memoir Blankets, has created yet another epic masterpiece that spans across time and space. Set in the Middle East and drawing inspiration from Islamic history and the Qur'an, we follow the epic story of Dodola and Zam, two orphans that escape the Arab slave trade. Their story begins together in a boat abandoned in the middle of the desert set in between a town in poverty and an opulent city where the Sultan dwells, where stories are told and dreams are born. Over nine years Zam and Dodola grow up together on the boat (Zam is 3 in the beginning and Dodola as 12) till the day things come crashing down...and Dodola is kidnapped into the harem of the Sultan. And Zam is left to fend for himself and gets lost amongst the city. Their stories separate, each under going their own trials and tribulations, yet each crying out for each other in the darkness of the night. Each broken and molded in new ways and yet, when their paths cross again each is happy to claim the other yet again. And the story continues on, in a new boat, and in a new sea.

First of all this is just an absolutely beautifully designed book. I just keep getting lost in looking at the design of it, even before I open the pages. The letter are embossed in gold lettering into the cover; with white insets, one on the front cover, the back cover, and one on the spine, depicting the characters at three different points in their lives; and the design around the insets and over the cover are like calligraphy from a lost scroll. It just feels and looks like something that you would find only in the most opulent library in the world, and yet you get a chance to hold it in your own hands. And while the end pages when you open the book may not look like much, you soon come to realize just how important they are to the story.

This is an epic love story told over time, and the type of love changes as the story moves forward--from brother/sister, to maternal, to love between two people. We know that Thompson worked on this story for a long time and its clearly evident that it's a labor of love to him. What isn't evident at first is how all of the pieces of the story fit together. When I first started reading this it felt like the story didn't flow smoothly together, at least not as smoothly as Blankets did, because Thompson is constantly blending in the past and the present and feeding us different bits of information--such as how Arabic script is drawn. But I should have known that Thompson had a plan and as you move further into the story all of the parts weave together to form one epic tale. And by the end you'll be blown away by how well the story is woven and told.

Not only was the writing a labor of love for Craig, but it's clear the artwork is as well. Everything single detail is hand drawn, nothing copied. And while that might sound trivial, as you open the book and get into the story you begin to notice just how much Arabic script and pattern are put into the story. And you can begin to imagine just how long it took to get just the right stroke of the brush to produce them. Thompson's artwork has improved since his time with Blankets, especially in capturing the human figure. The expressions on the characters faces, the way that the bodies move, is absolutely fantastic and makes the characters almost leap off the page. The line quality in figures in some ways reminds me of Will Eisner's work, and just his ability to capture the human figure with ease. But it still retains Craig's style and you can see elements of Chunky Rice and Blankets in the way the sands of the desert are drawn and the look in the characters eyes. All together the artwork is fantastic.

There's a quote from Neil Gaiman on the band around the book, where he says that this book should be held in the same regard as Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. And yet...I holder it in even higher regard as Thompson has created a story where everything works in absolute perfect harmony and is a book that everyone should pick up and read at least once...and ponder on the story and the meaning behind this fantastic work.
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on September 25, 2011
I just finished Habibi and I am awestruck by the amazing work put into it. However, I'm not coming away from it with the same kind of feelings I had with Blankets. Blankets caught me at a special time in my life and brought about much nostalgia for being a teen in the 90s. As an artist who did leave art school to be a pastor, I connected with Craig's character and had an emotional connection. I wanted that again and have waited 4 years for Blankets. I know I'm not the only one.

BUT, that said, Habibi was the amazing experience I was hoping for, though not what I expected. Habibi is much darker and much more brutal than Blankets, with a lot more nudity and sex. The sex scenes sometimes involve children, which can be tough to stomach. But this is what good art does: it creates an emotional reaction and leaves you to think what you just witnessed. I cannot stop thinking about Habibi, and the messages that are as densely layered as the artwork. Just when I felt I was reaching my limit of endless pages of sexploitation, the story took off in a beautiful direction, making some sense of the difficult content.

Of course as an artist and a lover of art, one of Habibi's biggest payoffs is the 672 pages of meticulous artwork, inspired by arabic writings and middle eastern geometric shapes. His work is much more dense and detailed than Blankets, all drawn with a brush and bottles of ink. There is no digital enhancement in the work whatsoever, and the results are spellbinding. The borders on one page alone took him at least 12 hours to do!

It is a reminder of why we should not be so quick to sell out to ebooks, as even the binding is a treasure to behold.

Buy Habibi and enjoy its remarkably beautiful story. Keep it as a work of art.
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on March 26, 2013
If you don't bother to do anything else this year, be sure you get ahold of a copy of this book and read it! Or should I more appropriately specify: Enjoy it. Relish it. Savor the experience.

Mr Thompson has pulled out all the stops here: it is a gorgeous package: huge, well-made and wonderfully designed. The story follows two characters and traverses decades of their lives. It is graphically inventive, well-researched and heartfelt. The art is stunning in every way. Communicates well, lovely to look at.

My highest compliment? Craig feels like the grandson of the late, great Will Eisner, both in his deft handling of the story and art. A very rich experience. And it is just a joy to hold. I love tech but digital will NEVER be able to replace the wonderful sensation of holding a big, beautiful book like this, or the tactile experience of touching the covers and the interior paper. It is a book to lose yourself in.

It's even a great value, with almost 700 pages for around $20 (on Amazon, at least). Oh, and don't forget: be sure to buy at least one copy to give away to a good friend! They'll love you for it.
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on January 28, 2013
The book is simply amazing as art -- the creation of so many expertly drawn scenes. Not only does Craig Thompson have the skill to render any scene at all that is real or that he could have imagined, but his lines are more and more masterful with each book. I hardly see how his art can improve, unless he were to change his style entirely.

As a story, it is both simple and complex -- simple in lining out the lives of the two characters Dodola and Zam from childhood, through their separation and meeting again, and complex because of the backdrop of culture and even religion that he draws into the story, which may not interest everyone, naturally. The juxtaposing of modern times with what seems to be an ancient world comes slowly until we realize the story setting is quite current. The overbearing nature of both old and new worlds on a poverty stricken individual is striking -- that these two did not fall victim is perhaps the story's triumph. Sex affects both victims by its inherent practice within the culture; I did not find it gratuitous but rather what I would have expected a young helpless bride or an enslaved girl to go through, the practices of arrogant, dominant males toward women, and how a young man's might have become a eunuch.

I will say that the ending entirely satisfied me. Without spoiling it, the final action of good taken by Dodola and Zam toward another helpless person is another triumph. How should one's philosophy and view of life ultimately manifest itself, if not in the choice to do good for someone in need? So despite the almost overwhelming size of the tome, I am solidly happy with the conclusion which Thompson obviously means us to take away with us.
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on February 21, 2013
It's more than evident why this book took Thomson several (I think seven) years to create. Visually it's astonishing work. Since it's so heavily relied on the Islamic culture it had to involve all aspects of Arabic art, I'm thinking in the first place calligraphy and then architecture with all traditional ornaments, incrustation and of course Arabic Alphabet. Every single page, starting from the cover which is gorgeous: hardcover with gold elements and richly ornamented.

I happened to know to read Arabic (though not to understand what I'm reading) and I've noticed a mistake which left me a bit baffled cause I wasn't sure if it has been left intentionally the way it stands there or not but then, there is no rational reason for leaving it like that: on the page 236 with the image of Adam in the first heaven who is watching the righteous ones on his right side in Jannah (paradise) and the cursed ones in Jahannam (hell) on his left side, the word ADAM is written correctly but ONLY if you read it left to right which is the wrong way to read Arabic. The letters should have been ordered in reverse.

So, visually this is a masterpiece. The story however is not matching the level of the drawings. It's heavily researched, no doubt about that but it goes in every direction. It has religious component, this time it is a story written in Qur'an and it is very interesting because there are parallels with the stories from the Bible. I liked very much the drawing on the page 618 with the tree of prophets: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Solomon, Jesus, Muhammad where the branches have been split and Muhammad's lineage can be traced back to Ishmael and the one of Jesus back to Isac, both (Ishmael and Isac) lying on the altar prepared to be sacrificed by Abraham. Fantastic!

The story that is happening in the present is the most confusing part: it deals with so many issues. Maybe the most prominent are environmental and the position of women in traditional societies. "Traditional society" is what confuses the most because we see Sultan with his harem and the treatment of women there as his properties which he kills (literally) because he's bored. (after he sexually exploited them quite heavily) And in the same time,just on the other side of the wall that surrounds the Sultan's palace is 21st century, modern city full of women without niqab or hijab on the streets. Huh?
Then there is a massive pollution that big city creates. On the streets of that polluted city in apparently Islamic world we will see group of hijras! Huh (again)? How on earth they ended there?

The name of the city, Wanadolia surely associate geographically on nowadays Turkey, though with all that deserts it's more Arabian Peninsula but definitively not India (though who knows; there are Muslims in India). The name of the main character, Dodola is actually (my) Slavic folklore. Dodola is goddess of rain in Slavic mythology and there was tradition where girls dressed in white dresses and flower wreaths on their heads, barefooted sang songs to attract the rain. Those girls (and the festival itself) are named Dodole (-e because it's plural).
Indeed, during Ottoman rule they were taking kids from their parents and Dodola might have been somewhere from Slavic region BUT her father would never be dressed like in the book. Because he's dressed clearly as a Muslim and no Muslim would name his daughter after Slavic goddess.

So the story is indeed going in so many direction leaving (at least) me a bit confused because of certain level of contradictoriness which bothered me because it could have been so easily avoided. But nevertheless it was enjoyable read and again I was sop enchanted with the drawings which in the end have saved the day :)
(Gosh, I'm staring in those stars not knowing how should I rate the book for last 5 minutes. If I'm to rate art work I would give 5 stars but the plot... I "liked it" but not "really liked it". I want to give overall 4 stars but feels like 3 is what I should give ... which I'll do. It's 3 stars)
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on October 4, 2011
A few years ago, Time Magazine ranked its 100 best novels of the last century, and included Alan Moore's The Watchmen on the list, a decision that seemed controversial at the time for those not familiar with the importance of Moore's work. I can't add to all that's been said by the other reviewers except to say that if Time made the list again today and didn't include Habibi on it, I would think the list would be incomplete. I too am reminded of Milton, Shakespeare, Rami, and Baudelaire (and let's throw in Hugo, for good measure, and why not William Gibson). I'm also reminded of my love for Al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd/Averro√ęs, and the transcendent school of theosophy. This is a graphic novel that aspires to literature and succeeds easily and breathtakingly (yes, there are actual pages that took my breath away).
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on September 25, 2011
If you plan to read Habibi, I insist you to read all the way through--even if the horrible things that happen to the characters cause you to close the book--because the meaning of the story continues to stay in my thoughts. The characters who commit sins are left to poison the Earth and many other characters are forced to have horrible experiences when they deserve better. The only joyful part of the ending is when the two protagonists reunite and then begin to stray from their crumbling society. I am not a follower of religion, though I find it interesting, and Thompson seems to point out the flaws in religion and humanity. This is a one of a kind book.
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on February 15, 2014
I just couldn't wait any longer for the Kindle edition to come out. And I checked--none of this author's books are in Kindle editions. But this story was amazing. It was so unusual the way he wrote it--a mix of the ancient with modern day, and even though the heroine told stories throughout, her own story was it's own story being told--hers and her Habibi. Loved it--absolutely loved it.
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on September 9, 2013
So much has already been shared about this special book. The hardbound cover is gorgeous and the art work is...mesmerizing.

I don't quite have the necessary adjectives to provide a great review for this work of art. It is sexually...provacative, without being perverted, which can be a challenge to many readers. I've already ordered three copies of this book to give as gifts to friends and family...I can't say I've ever done that before for any other book.
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