87 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Brutal, Poetic, Prophetic
Habibi is a fable of exploitation and the cruelty of the strong toward the weak. It is a love story, though the the kind of love it celebrates--maternal, platonic, erotic--remains elusive throughout. It is also a sermon complete with hell-fire and brimstone and strident pleading about the dangers of the sin of waste. Most of all it is prophecy dressed in poetry's...
Published on September 23, 2011 by J. WOFFORD
55 of 71 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful art, talented author, derailed by stereotyping and excessive violence
As a background, I've followed Craig Thompson's career for the last 10 years, particularly "Good-bye, Chunky Rice" (which I really liked) and "Blankets" (which I loved and easily consider one of the best novels, graphic or otherwise, ever written). So I was eager to get my hands on Thompson's latest.
Now I'm left with the challenge of how to review this. Do I...
Published 18 months ago by Yggdrasil
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind.,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buy it for the pictures,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)Gorgeous book for sure. Pictures definitely trump the story in this one, and I think it's worth finding this book at the library or store just to flip through it. As with Blankets, my favorite sections were the stories within the story-- the drawings always seemed particularly strong on those pages. This makes me wonder if Thompson should release a collection of short graphic vignettes (or if he already has and I should try to find it). I liked this less than Blankets, because I had trouble connecting with it. But I still enjoyed the (general) unpredictability of the story, particularly what happens to the character of Zam. And I haven't decided yet if it is good or bad that I couldn't pinpoint exactly "when" this story is taking place-- certainly adds to the unpredictability. I was also intrigued by the love story, which could easily be read as very feminist (don't want to spoil anything, but there's a key element missing that radical feminists might smile at), very queer (hard to argue that this is a straight-forward heterosexual tale), or very anti-sex and racially problematic.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stars are for the drawings only !,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)This is my first book ever. As a comic, it is impressive. But as for the story, I really didn't like it ! It shows the Arabs as savages and brutal people ! Also, it showes all the Islamic teachings in a wrong way. In fact, some parts are really full of faults that I wanted to stop reading it.
As an Arab Muslim, I can say that this book has nothing to do with either Arabian or Islamic culture. Using some Arabic letters doesn't give it any relation to Arab culture. Neither spreading some Islamic stories and saying would make it an Islam-inspired work !
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature, not a comic book,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)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/Averroës, 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).
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars visual success, narrative wasteland,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)I'd thought that this graphic novel would be on the same tier as Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar, or David Small's work, but it was pretty disappointing. The illustrations are good and some of the Arabic-style artistry is great, but the storytelling is convoluted, clumsy, and at times downright boring. There is also a jarring dissonance between the lurid, sexual violence and the Disney-movie information content of the text. Scenes jump disturbingly: for example, from a nine year old losing her virginity to a grade school lesson on the Koran. Of course, there might be valid reasons to employ such irony, but none are apparent in this book.
At times Thompson seems to jam as much thematic material into the work as he can, with occasionally comic results. In one scene, he tries to show the necessity of storytelling in Arabic culture when the main character comforts her frightened child with a bedtime story until he stops crying. The story she chooses? The book of Job, of course, which is depicted with everything from cattle being butchered to pustules breaking forth on Job's body. Clearly what any sensible mother would send her kid to sleep with.
At least the cover looks cool.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disharmony Between Images and Words,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)To provide background, I'll mention that I haven't read any other works by the author. I don't know if they are similar and I went into this book with a clean slate, with no more expectations that what was stated in the glowing review excerpts on the cover and sleeve.
The Good: The art style is, at first anyway, really interesting. There are lots of creative images made from Arabic writing, and plenty of thought-out images connecting old parables to the current events in the story. This stuff is very impressive, for the first 400 pages or so.
The Bad: The first thing that really made me put the book down several times was a serious lack of defined tone. People say that this book is mesmerizing, and use other such adjectives. It's important to realize, however, that being mesmerized is a synonym for being transfixed, even tricked. That was my initial reaction for sure, I was totally unsure of how to react, simply reading with vague interest like I was in a trance. Soon enough, though, I realized that the spell only lasts for so long, and the tone issues were the first thing to break my appreciation for the story.
Here's what I mean: the first few pages of the story begin with the selling off of an extremely young girl to marriage, followed by the rape of said girl, who is one of our protagonists. She is made to wear the cloth on which her virginal blood was spilled. Then the husband teaches her to read and write, and begins telling her stories. Then slavers come, slit the husband's throat and drag the girl off to be sold in a slave market. There she meets the young black baby who will be the second protagonist in the story.
Now what I've just described is only a tiny portion of the total page count, but it is by far the densest part of the book in terms of story, cementing a very dark and brutal tone. Even beyond realism, this is stereotypical to the point of being nightmarish, which I don't have a problem with. The one star reviews complaining about racism, sorry, I don't see that. But the book is most definitely twisting reality to give an ultra grim appeal, which is great.
But consider what happens next. In an action sequence worthy of Scooby Doo, the girl grabs the baby and makes a run for it, while two bumbling fools chase after her, frequently tripping over things and crashing into each other because of her speed, or rather their bizarre incompetence in this one moment. How does this girl have such speed and strength? She's probably ten years old and carrying a baby during some parts. Moreover, why is it suddenly a tense but somewhat comedic, comical chase scene when everything leading up to this has held the exact opposite tone? There are other instances like this as well, weirdly off place moments of action that just seem silly and impossible, breaking my commitment to the story. One moment that I laughed at was where Dodola (the girl turned woman through the story's course) tells a story of how when she was very young, her villagers made her dance, in hopes that it would inspire rain to fall. In a hilariously stupid panel, she says that what came was acid rain, and we see an image of the villagers reduced to cringing skeletons in the downpour. Acid rain is not that powerful. Is this a realistic tale or not? Moments like this clash with a more pragmatic scene where Dodola has to turn water into gold, and does so in a way that is extreme, but not absurd.
For a while, I was behind the contrast of mystical fairy tales and parables that comfort the main characters versus the insanely brutal reality of their lives, but the author does not commit to this dichotomy, and often his story makes no sense. For a massive portion of the book, the two protagonists are separated, and their method of reunion is so contrived, I literally shouted "What are the odds!". You can't argue that some mystical force guided them together, because the world is not mystical. It's purposefully drawn, in both the one dimensional characters and garbage everywhere, to be as ugly and worldly as possible.
I feel I should clarify: having every other character be one dimensional is not really a bad thing, as long as you focus the depth onto your main characters. Sadly, the female protagonist, Dodola, grows up to be an inconsistent bore. She is either jaded, laying about in self pity, or acting for mere survival, which are all fine if she didn't spend so much time thinking. I think over half of the pages in this book are flashbacks, internal monologues, and other navel gazing that simply does not qualify to fill up a book like this. There are times where I just wished I could see someone do something, instead of reading even more about the Qur'an.
Both characters are rather blunt interpretations of sexuality. It seems that both are plagued with the author's perceptions of what haunts men and women. Zam seems to represent a weird guilt and detachment regarding sex and masculinity, fearful of being turned into a monster, and an abuser of women, he develops a self-hatred for being male. Dodola is the virgin-turned-whore, used, separated from the few who love her, and then discarded after living a life only related to sex. I know this because Dodola talks about it constantly. Zam's moments are a bit less talky, which I appreciated. It's frequently the images in his mind that reveal his trouble with masculinity. It's a shame that these concepts of masculine guilt and feminine use are not better explored, and instead the book is forced to juggle environmental and societal issues that feel shoved in for added visual flare (wow, look at the contrast between that twenty first century garbage and the intricate Arabic bazaar!).
This novel is billed as a tale about storytelling itself, and about love and suffering. That's all fine, but I'd be hard pressed to pull an actual conclusion or meaning to the work, mainly because the work has no ending. The narrative crawls like a dehydrated snail up a sheer cliff. I cant stress enough that every single tiny moment of action (or usually inaction) by the characters is roadblocked by one or more back to back religious parables. These stories are then brought into significance through usually one single page, linking, for instance, a story about Abraham sacrificing his son to the loss of Dodola's 'child' in Zam. The first twenty times this happens, it's fairly interesting. After that, it becomes an obvious formula to fill up the story, and I just wished the author would get on with it.
A truly great story is one that ramps up in speed and intensity, promising for a thunderous conclusion that sticks to the reader. Habibi cannot be described by any of those characteristics. The story leaves nothing resolved aside from potential happiness between the protagonists, and I really emphasize the word 'potential'. This is the kind of work where you want to see the one dimensional rapists, racists and murderers receive comeuppance in some way, or a scene where the characters are settled down in a safe place, but there is no happy ending or consolation, and neither is there any sort of brutally realistic message about letting go or moving on provided. They story just ends, like an unfinished sentence.
A final note about the artwork. I know this will shock people, but at times I wasn't impressed with it. It's often the commitment of dialogue and words to a page with images that is the problem. The images are rarely bad, but the written words are often very bland. I remember a scene where Dodola is screaming at one character, and the other character is calmly replying to her. This is a great moment to show not only a difference in the drawing of the characters, but in their written dialogue. Dodola's speech could be scratchy, larger, anything really. Even the panel could have been sharper or tighter on the words. But this obvious opportunity is missed, and both characters have an identical font and style.
That really sums it all up. Habibi to me is characterized by a seriously separated understanding of images and words without a proper union of the two. The artwork may be great, but I go to art galleries for nice pictures. I read graphic novels to get a perfect union of image and story, which in this case is not present. For every praise I could give to the art, I've two complaints about the writing. For that reason, it comes up to a whole less than the sum of its parts, and I have to give it a rating below average.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must have for graphic novel fans,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)Habibi is the story of a girl named Dodola and a boy named Zam, set amidst a middle eastern backdrop. It's a gorgeous book, with faux leather binding and 672 pages of Craig Thompson's blood, sweat, and tears. Habibi is an allegorical story of love, laid upon the allegories of the Koran, Talmud, and Bible. Habibi is an Arabic word meaning `my beloved'.
Every note of this story is played upon the musical calligraphy of the Arabic language. I can't even imagine the research Thompson must have done to create this book - not just to recreate a dreamlike vision of the middle east, not just to frame the story within the stories of the holy books, but to gain an understanding of the symbology and graphical forms to tell stories with every curve of a letter, and every edge of a shape. Throughout the book, there is an feeling of risk as a cartoonist tells a story about a faith that walks a line between reveling in the beauty of imagery and viewing it as idolotry.
The beauty of the art is juxtaposed with the horrors of the story. We meet Dodola as she is being sold as a child bride. We see her become a slave. As a slave she meets a younger child named Zam that is also a slave. She and Zam escape and for a while live in the desert. Dodola makes huge and disturbing sacrifices to care for Zam, but eventually they are ripped apart. While apart, each undergoes a series of horrors as they mature into adults. Eventually they reunite.
The story plays loose with time. Although the characters age slowly, vast amounts of time appear to pass in the background. Portions of the story appear to take place during the Islamic Golden Age of One Thousand and One Nights, but as the story unveils, the backdrop becomes more modern, until it is clear that the story is taking place in our old time, or maybe even a dystopic future. Throughout the story are small anachronisms that betray the time period, such as Bedouin wearing sunglasses and plastic six pack yokes in piles of litter. As the story becomes more modern, I started to wonder if Thompson meant for Dodola to represent the plight of women and Zam to represent the plight of black people.
The only other work by Thompson, that I've read, is Blankets (New Hardcover Edition), which is an autobiographical story. In that story he deals with the conflict between his religious upbringing and his first love. Both stories look at how religious upbringing governs actions and attitudes.
For those that appreciate the artistry of the graphic novel - this book is a must have.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable art, stretched out narrative,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)Five stars for art and visuals, which are simply amazing. And I like the structure and organization, as well as the drawn out nature of the unrequited love story. But ultimately, it was way too long. Way too long.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The book cover and graphics are more enticing than the story is,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)I was attracted by the physical book itself. I wanted to learn more from a middle eastern perspective in this graphic novel. I was not surprised by attitudes and behaviors regarding women. The book soon became too predictable as it aligned with parts of the bible. The storyline was so-so. I was ready to put it down by the halfway point. It got a little better as it addressed present day problems with production, consumerism and waste. But, then the story went downhill.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Comic,
This review is from: Habibi (Hardcover)If you have read Blankets then you probably don't need a review to know that this comic will be amazing. Rest assured this comic is just as good as Blankets in all the right ways in fact its probably better. If you haven't read Blankets or have heard of Craig Thompson then I feel it's my job to somehow convince you to read this comic/ graphic novel.
This is so far for me the best comic I have ever read. I mean this seriously as someone who has tried to read as many comics as possible. It's better then Maus, better then All Star Superman, better then Watchmen, better then Ode to Kirihito, better then pretty much every comic that you have read or will read. It is just beautiful. Every inch of it from cover to cover is painstakingly (literally) designed to tell a story of almost all the dualism in the world. The east vs. the west, the body vs. the mind, words vs. images, beauty vs, ugliness, modernity vs. antiquity. It's all there and it investigates it in a way that shows how shallow the dualities are.
Because it is investigating these things a couple reviews have accused it of stereotyping, racism, and sexism. This is not case or at least it is a lot more debatable then just outright racism. This review might make it more clear although it has spoilers and is a bit academic [...]. Sufficed to say it's complicated more then some reviews are going to have you believe. It's not like Tintin in the Congo with blatant horrible racism. It is attempting to use some caricature and Orientalism to investigate the west's perception of the east and because of that it walks a thin line but knowingly as opposed to unknowingly).
In the end it's a great book everyone who likes... well anything really should buy this book and read it. (I was going to just say comics but its good literature too.)
People who shouldn't read it are young children (it's adult work) and people with the minds of young children (although those people with the heart of a child will like it as well. I know I get academic-ish in discussing the book but you don't have to be brainy to appreciate the book it's just good literature for anybody. It is very accessible.)
Ok I think that's enough. It's good read it. You will probably have to buy it full price. Chances are no one will part with this book in a second hand book shop once they have read it.)
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Habibi by Craig Thompson (Hardcover - September 20, 2011)