Robin's Reviews > Habibi

Habibi by Craig Thompson
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Feb 07, 2012

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bookshelves: graphic-novels, book-club
Read in February, 2012

I have shied away from graphic novels. I had heard that they are an art form unto themselves, but out of some sort of snobbery or ignorance I had not given them a try lately. So thanks to Genevieve for assigning this one to our book club! It is good enough that it has inspired me to seek out more. After I read about 100 books on my to-read list, but still….

Craig Thompson’s use of imagery is so poetic -- he understands the potential of the graphic novel. He is adept at expressing mood and tone not only through his characters’ faces, but through the text he uses -- whether it is in English or Arabic. Even his explanations of Arabic characters (and by that I mean textual images -- words) are poetic and instructive. Every little detail counts: from the way he frames -- or does not frame -- a particular image, the shape of his frames, the way his images build on one another throughout the narrative, the Eastern designs he uses throughout in all sorts of beautiful ways. Even the endpapers with their detail of water and desert are beautiful. And every frame between them is constructed with layout and pacing in mind. The story itself includes lots of allusions to Islamic and Christian texts, showing where they meet and diverge and playing with that tension. And making it all so accessible.

I haven’t even touched on the narrative itself -- and I’ve been trying to think about what the effect would be if the narrative were told in a traditional work of fiction. It’s a basic tale of poverty, children coming together out of survival, violence, exploitation, separation, guilt, class, water usage, etc. (no spoilers). The pathos and irony of the narrative probably would stand up to a traditional narration, but it is the frame of the graphic novel that gives it its resonance, gravitas, humor, and general drive.
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