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Habibi (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – September 20, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 214 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: Habibi is impressive to hold. It looks like a lost tome, recovered from a different time and place--a fitting package for a comic book that feels like an exotic, bizarre fairy tale. Craig Thompson's inkwork is bold yet intricate. Each page reveals a meticulous symmetry, both in art and narrative, that unravels a sweeping tale that takes readers from the dessert to an industrial wasteland to the inner walls of a harem. Thematically, there's no shortage of ambition here, as Thompson tackles familial and romantic love, one's relationship to their environment, the shared roots of Christianity and Islam, and the effects of industrial modernization. Not all of these conflicts are resolved--in fact, there's more ambiguity than there is clarity--but it's Dodola and Zam, the book's two orphaned lovers, that imbue Habibi with empathy and humanity. Thompson, who is best known for Blankets, one of the most critically lauded comics of the past decade, has crafted another affecting story of passion, humor, and imagination. --Kevin Nguyen


“The character depth, plot complexity, and storytelling in this lyrical, sexual, and scholarly epic would make any novelist proud…Thompson strings compositions that are often more tapestry than comics and that balance graphic design, illumination, calligraphy, and cartooning in steady alignment. It is unfair to expect two masterpieces in a row from anyone, but here Thompson sits securely in that rarefied air.” –Booklist, starred review

“A lushly epic love story that's both inspiring and heartbreaking…In addition to richly detailed story panels, the gorgeous Arabic ornamental calligraphy makes each page an individual work of art. A dense, swirling dervish of a tale…this will be the most talked about graphic novel of the fall.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review   

“The exquisite beauty and deep magic of this Arabian Nights-style love story cannot be overstated...Habibi is certain to join the ranks of graphic novels that expand our understanding of not only the genre but also the world it describes.” –Library Journal, starred review 

Habibi lifts the bar of graphic storytelling to new heights, both by the intricate, dramatic density and breathtaking scholar­ship of Thompson’s panels and by the sheer scale and decorative beauty of his flowing, roiling, protean style. Thompson is the Charles Dickens of the genre, able to capture all the scary, heartbreaking, brave, uplifting details of his characters’ fates while orchestrating the big-picture machinations that connect them to the lives and times of his readers…Habibi is a masterpiece that surely is one of a kind.” –Elle Magazine   
“A graphic novel that is sure to attract attention…A mature—in all its meanings—glimpse into a world few Westerners are at home with, and Thompson is respectful throughout.” -Kirkus

“Exquisite…HABIBI is a remarkable feat of research, care, and black ink, and a reminder that all "People of the book," despite the division of their individual traditions, share a mosaic of stories.” –Zadie Smith, Harper’s Magazine

Habibi has classic written all over it. It’s a modern literary triumph, a book so broad and magical in its scope, only a master could pull it off. This is no ordinary comic, it is a complete work of art. Beautiful, thought provoking, both timeless and of its time…An awe-inspiring read you can’t afford to miss” –Grovel, graphic novel reviews    
“Easily the best graphic novel of the year, and probably the decade…Thompson’s line work here is beyond brilliant, combining myriad styles and capturing the rich historical legacy of the cultural and religious volumes that inspired it. This is a work that truly changes the game and sets a new standard for all the graphic novels that follow it.” –GraphicNovelReporter.com

"Craig Thompson's new graphic novel, Habibi, is a masterpiece. This isn't an opinion. This book is a gorgeous object; to make it, Thompson apparently covered himself in honey and rolled around in a thousand years of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, and the result is breathtaking.” -The Boston Phoenix

“Erotic, grotesque, and profoundly moving…I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this, and I expect I’ll be thinking about it for a long, long time.” –Boing Boing

“Layered, daring, and brilliantly told—an intricate story of love, religion, desire, survival, poverty, hope. It’s drenched in metaphor and rich with double meanings. Yet for all it takes on, Habibi feels light on its feet; throughout, we feel Thompson reveling in his skills as a writer and artist. Its exuberance, even in its darkest moments, feels somehow celebratory. I’m not sure that I’ve read a better graphic novel…Thompson’s own work is manically elaborate and ingeniously laid out; he’s become expert at moving the eye through exploding, dexterous panels.” –The Millions 
“Mere words—or at least my mere words—seemed not enough to even try to convey just how intricate and ornate, lush and seductive, arabesque and sometimes knowingly grotesque this artistic epic is…a visual masterpiece.” –Comic Riffs, Washington Post blog

“Like the elegantly dense mosaic patterns that Thompson fills the background of his pages with, Habibi is a book that weaves isolated shapes into an overpowering tableaux, its pieces carefully fit together and subtly repeated until a gorgeous unity emerges.” –National Post

“Relentlessly virtuosic... It is a tribute to Thompson's skill as a cartoonist that the transition from an old fashioned Orient to modern Babylon leaves few visual seams." –New York Times Book Review

“While the storytelling is gripping, surprising, and emotionally and intellectually hard-hitting, it almost takes a back seat to the artwork that is alternately robust and fragile. Thompson's deft, assured lines have never been more delicately and profoundly inked than here…This book is a monument of intelligent, vibrant design, all in service to the story.” –Barnes and Noble review

“Brilliantly imagined…celebrates the power of the artist to tell a story with ink teased into magisterial letters and visual images.” –Newsweek  
“Thompson makes a good third of the other illustrators out there look like total chumps. Each page is carefully designed with recurring motifs–that draw from sources like the Qur’an and other storytelling traditions–to add multiple layers of meaning to every moment. Scenes of city life and vast endless oceans of sand are drawn with such attention to detail that you’ll be staggered imagining a human being crafting the images with human hands and commonly available tools…It’s a story told with technical precision and real, honest-to-gosh passion, and if you cry at the end it won’t be because you’ve been successfully manipulated–it’ll be because this world and these characters have come to mean something to you, and you’ll miss them once you reach the final page.” –Richmond News 

 “If you haven’t been exposed to the work of Craig Thompson yet, you have been deprived of a true aesthetic experience…To say the work is visually stunning is an understatement. Thompson’s art is simple black and white inking, yet his ink strokes convey a sense of live movement as if you’re watching the characters move across the page…don’t dismiss Habibi as a book of pretty pictures. While the artwork is incredible, Craig Thompson’s Habibi is a book that will affect your heart.” –Wit and Fancy blog site
“Artistically, it's the most gorgeous book I read this year, with compositions and layouts weaving together effortlessly and with endless depth and detail…an outrageous success, and worth every bit of time Thompson spent on it. As great as this year was in comics, Habibi might have been the best thing I read in all of comics all year, and it makes me all the more excited to see what Thompson will be up to next.” –MultiversityComics.com, “Best Graphic Novel of the 2011”

“The intricacy of patterns and motifs (both visible and metaphorical) hold the text together and astound in their complexity. In the world of Habibi, art is never divorced from meaning; drawings are symbolic verse, words twisted into new shapes…Habibi is about the power of words to carry and envelop us, and in Thompson’s beautifully written novel, the reader experiences a similar magic.” –ALARM Press

Habibi is a confident, powerfully drawn graphic novel, telling its tale with passion, humor and an endless understanding of the human condition…A graphic novel masterpiece that explores what it means to be human through religious story, slavery, prostitution and personal and societal struggles within the industrial and third worlds.” –Shelf Awareness, starred review
A lush commentary on love and lust, wealth and want, religion and storytelling…the power in this tale lies in human passion, sometimes cruel and sometimes sweet, combined with its geometric precision and deep sense of the sacred.” –Harvard Crimson
“Lushly illustrated, at times unbearably sad and unexpectedly erotic.” –Paste Magazine

“To read Habibi is to sink into the sensuous arabesque patterns that decorate its pages. Steeped in the imagery and storytelling traditions of the Muslim world, this densely layered love story is as grand and sustained a performance as any cartoonist has published…Thompson’s fluid, evocative artwork is pretty miraculous too.” –Time Magazine 
“Habibi is like a big, rousing, unabashedly tear-jerking Dumas novel, with fascinatingly intricate designs and fabulous tales on almost every page.” –Salon
“It’s impossible to read this book and not walk away with a deeper, more profound understanding or appreciation for not both Arab culture and for the subtle and varied ways in which populations portrayed as enemies are in fact alike. Thanks to Thompson’s deft storytelling, ‘Habibi’s’ seemingly daunting 700-plus pages can go by in a breeze; you won’t want them to, though, because his delicate, yet ornate art make this a story you won’t want to finish.” –Deathandtaxesmag.com

“Audaciously ambitious.  Just the decorative and calligraphic elements of its design alone are enough to recommend this volume.” –Icv2 review

“Executed with enormous empathy and something that in earlier times would have been called divine inspiration, Habibi is an extraordinary milestone in the world of drawn stories. Who would have thought that black ink could make such complex, soul-filling music?” –FT.com

“Habibi is a triumph of creativity. Thompson dazzles us with his pen strokes, with his mastery of storytelling, his research, plotting and characterisation. The book is destined to become an instant classic, confirming the author's position among not only the most masterful of graphic novelists but our finest contemporary writers, regardless of medium.” –The Independent

“A fascinating exploration of a foreign cultural tradition by an American cartooning auteur at the height of his powers…never anything less than a breathtaking visual and intellectual experience.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Brilliantly imagined…it celebrates the power of the artist to tell a story with ink teased into magisterial letters and visual images.” –Daily Beast
“The art and lettering are both stunning and Thompson has rendered a complicated, dense story that truly elevates the medium.” –Forces of Geek Holiday Gift Guide
“A subtle and engrossing tale that encompasses everything from Islam to climate change…Thompson is a consummate storyteller, and his talent shines through in every line, every frame, and every speech bubble…In a medium that’s still dominated by masked crusaders, Habibi stands testament to the ongoing versatility of old-fashioned pen and paper.” –Culture Mob review
“Craig Thompson doesn't fail to impress with yet another beautifully crafted graphic novel…The art is breathtaking, and the imagery that pulls the whole thing together help the reader step out of the everyday and enjoy this rich mythology illuminating universal human truths about love…It is a beautiful book. The illustrations are exquisite. Holding it in one's hands, and reading it for the first time, is quite the experience.” –Lari is Writing blog review

“Thompson is a superb artist…Habibi is a success.” –Washington Times    

“The work of an artist creating at the height of his powers with a confidence and an artistry that reveals grace in every pen stroke, in every panel, and it deftly makes greatness look easy… The scope of this book is simply massive and what it achieves is not only unique for a comic book or graphic novel, but also important and so relevant to the times in which we all live…This is an important book that, hopefully, will be read by as wide an audience as possible. It completely deserves all the attention and all the praise that’s sure to come its way. Craig Thompson has created something truly special here that will surely be read and reflected upon for generations to come.” –TheShortBox.com

Habibi isn't just Thompson's greatest work yet; it's one of the most beautiful novels I've read this year…The artwork is elegant, striking, reverent.” –The Portland Mercury
“This is almost without question one of the most important graphic novel releases of the year. It overflows with elegant, elaborate and brilliantly composed hybrid imagery.” –warmoth.org

Habibi reminds one of nothing so much as the work of novelist John Barth, with its clear love of patterns, narrative, and beauty…incredibly compelling and readable on many levels.” –Paste Magazine 
“Utterly engrossing…Dodola’s and Zam’s stories are interwoven with the stories they learned as children, the underpinnings of Islam. This lends not only beauty and texture but also meaning and redemption to their suffering, and Thompson’s handling of the religious elements—something that might have been awkward or controversial—is restrained and graceful. His black-and-white drawings, often incorporating Arabic script, are at times floaty and feverish but always perfectly clear. He breaks up dreamy exposition with tightly structured action sequences, and the pages couldn’t be prettier. As always, his economical writing is deeply moving. Habibi is a book not to be missed.” –Bookpage

“A fairy tale that's by turns tender and bawdy and brutally dark…Habibi is a stunningly beautiful art object: 672 painstakingly intricate pages that astonish with their sheer level of detail, the way a ship made out of toothpicks, or the Eiffel Tower up close, astonishes.” –East Bay Express

“Well-researched (Thompson reportedly worked on this project for more than a decade), this dark and mature adventure tale melds the modern Middle Eastern world with its rich mythology from the Quran, and is detailed with its mix of the area’s landscape, people, symbology and particularly the Arabic calligraphy in all its ornamentation…a page-turner that might be best consumed in smaller bits to better appreciate the depth and breadth of the story.” –Honolulu Star-Advertiser

“These are real people living on the page in ink, and Thompson has sculpted characters that are perfectly imperfect… Habibi stands as a new masterwork in American comics, and a graphic novel seriously worthy of sharing shelf space with Salman Rushdie and Umberto Eco.” –Bleeding Cool
“With Habibi, Craig Thompson elevates the graphic novel form to even higher levels.” –GraphicNovelReporter.com

“Part adventure epic, part exploration of Middle Eastern folklore, Habibi is a work of tremendous scope and jaw-dropping ambition… Habibi looks to be Thompson's next great book.” –Critical Mob

“A massive masterpiece…Habibi’s pages are rich with ornamentation.” –Willamette Weekly 
“Habibi is a visual banquet, a veritable feast of brushstrokes and intricate detail. Thompson uses eastern design and the beautiful Arabic script to weave the story together in a soft, organic flow that floats along from panel to panel, page to page in rich, breathtaking beauty…a truly magnificent book, one that is compelling, thoughtful, emotional and visually Beautiful.” –Comic Book Movie
“A fascinating look at the thinking, tinkering, and creative process behind the making of the iconic comic…MetaMaus offers a rare glimpse inside the mind of a genius storyteller, using Spiegelman's celebrated visual eloquence to illuminate the deeper psychological and sociocultural elements that underpin his thoughtful, provocative, masterful classic.” –The Atlantic

“In addition to fine storytelling, Thompson's artwork rose to higher level with Habibi.  Still operating in black and white, every panel aches with the amount of detail present. Sprawling two-page layouts throughout the book just bleed style and substance…the story is expertly told and drawn.” –Tennessee Tech Oracle

“Richly detailed… Habibi fits in the grand literary tradition of stories about stories and the effect they have on us.” –National Post 
“The year’s most critically acclaimed graphic novel.” –Wausau Daily Herald
“Part fable and part history, Habibi is all novel: In the end, you care profoundly for Thompson’s protagonists.” –Time Out New York

“The magic here is twofold: Dodola's love for Zam, which transcends all other loves, and the wise stories…And what images! Thompson's brushstrokes give us villains with weight, smoke that wriggles, architecture that positively grows from the page.” –San Francisco Chronicle  

“Impeccably researched and beautiful…a fount of delight for the attentive reader; a work of staggering ambition…Habibi was not just written or drawn; it reads like it was practically birthed in a tremendous effort of will.” –WSJ “Live Mint” blog

“Thompson is a masterful comic book artist with the ability to fill pages with life: the amount of detail he includes in some of his drawings is incredible and astounding, as is the sheer scope of the work…there’s no denying that Habibi is a work of art.” –Wired Magazine, Geek Dad blog
“Thompson took the literary establishment by its starched lapels and made the case for graphic novels as capital "A" Art.” –Flavorpill.com

“A highly anticipated heavy hitter who did deliver was Craig Thompson with Habibi, one of Phil Guie's choices for best of the year. Massive in scale and ambition, Habibi is essentially a love story of two slaves told through a brilliant integration of classic storytelling and religious iconography.” –Critical Mob, Critical Books of 2011
Set in a never-named country of the Middle East (or North Africa), Craig Thompson’s dystopian Habibi is an epic love story, a primer on the Koran, and a cautionary tale about human greed and squandered natural resources, all in one exquisitely rendered volume.” –Straight.com’s best graphic novels of 2011

“A gorgeously drawn fairy tale…That it's a book that supports debate marks it as the most interesting comic of the year. That every one of its 655 pages is tremendously engaging and astonishingly beautiful marks it as the best comic of the year.” –NPR best graphic novels of 2011

“Incredibly gorgeous. Expect Habibi to join Maus on college syllabuses soon.” –Comic Book Day: Top 5 Comics of 2011
“Exotic and lush, yet heartbreaking at times, Thompson’s book is an exploration of the Islamic culture by one of comics’ most deft craftsmen.” –NewsOK blog
“Staggering in scope and ambition, this massive book (700 pages) delivers page after page of art that your eyes can get lost in…Thompson carries you to someplace new and different, asking for your trust in his pen and ink, and if you give it to him, the rewards are grand.” –Comics Waiting Room.com
“A beautifully told and drawn story, as complex in its narrative as in its drawings.” –OnMilwaukee.com

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Product Details

  • Series: Pantheon Graphic Novels
  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424144
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (214 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Taylor on September 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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