Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Comic Review: Habibi
If nothing else, Craig Thompson’s massive tome is a heck of an achievement. More than 600 pages, written and illustrated by Thompson, and deeply researched. Is it my kind of book? No. Is it what I wanted when I first picked it up? Not at all. But it is a good example to use when pointing out to people that comic books and graphic novels are about more than caped crusaders, and that they can be as literary as any other book. This is a real graphic novel, as sprawling and tragic as any more traditional book.
The story of a young girl, sold into marriage, thrown into slavery, and her young adopted son begins as a kind of adventure story. Though there are hints of a darker future (and clear vision of a dark past), there’s something thrilling about the two finding a boat in the middle of the desert, and making a home. Of course, as this book frequently does, it is quickly tainted by the outside world, by brutal and ugly (inside and out) men.
The story and the art are interconnected throughout, as page layout and images blend with language and mystical theory. Numbers, letters, and sacred symbols fill the pages, along with human horror, sparks of hope, depths of sadness, and images from a world running down to its last few cycles. That’s an odd thing about the book, too. It looks like some kind of Arabian Nights story if you briefly flip through, but if I’m reading it right, it actually takes place in a future where the world has gone past the tipping point, is drying up, and wasting away. The gap between rich and poor is as bad as it’s ever been, and most people are surrounded by the filth and refuse of a dying or dead civilization.
I’m sure I didn’t take away the same thing others might from this book. But what I kept thinking through the whole thing was how messed up and silly religions are, especially when it comes to all the mystical stuff. All the stories to explain things, all the blah blah about sacred numbers and divine squares; what you can't eat and what you can't wear. Oh, and of course, the nearly universal hatred of women. It’s all so pathetic. So small. So childish.
I can’t say I liked or enjoyed Habibi. It’s not my sort of book, and I’m not likely to seek out anything more from the author. But it’s something I can recommend to some folks I know. And it should help break down some of the walls of contempt that ‘serious’ authors have build around the comic medium. It’s about as far away from X-Men or Superman as you can get. And it’s depressing enough to win awards (only depressing material can be good in the eyes of the Literary Establishment, so far as I can tell).
Author/Artist: Craig Thompson