Craig Thompson's Habibi

Just finished reading Craig Thompson's book Habibi and I think it might be the best book I've read this year. It's one of the few where I wished it wouldn't finish and there was a richness to it that really elevated the graphic novel form.

The story follows the lives of two former slaves, one a girl forced into marriage and the other a boy. Their relationship becomes complicated, they're torn apart and find each other again -- yeah, I'm trying to avoid spoilers here so let's settle on it being an epic love story of sorts.

It's set somewhere in a timeless Middle East and I was quite conscious of the 'orientalism' in the representation of Arabian culture but in many ways the book seems a response to 9/11 and the fear of Muslims which followed and it's written by an American who is trying to help others understand an old culture. The book isn't really about any of these themes but that's the context in which it appears I guess.

This interview with Thompson is a great read after the book because he faces orientalism and other arguments while explaining his motivations and interest in the story.

The storytelling is great, particularly the way Thompson develops the lead female character Dodola, and the discussion of the Qur’an and calligraphy. All of these threads are woven together with the most awesome artwork and it reminded me of this panel from another great graphic novel Alice In Sunderland about the way that comics are actually richer than many texts through using multiple forms of representation.

Do yourself a favour and buy a copy of the book. I'm surprised to find it can be delivered worldwide for less than $30AUD and am resisting the urge to buy a heap of copies for friends and family this month.