Graphic Novel Revisited: Habibi by Craig Thompson
By Cristina Agriam
I'm Cristina. I love graphic novels and trade paperbacks, however, I've read many only once or twice. Come with me and revisit some great works with Graphic Novel Re-Read!
When looking for a book to start my graphic novel re-visiting journey, I stared at my bookshelf. A leviathan of Swedish design, it towered over me, each shelf packed with books of all varieties. Which one? Which one? I thought. Then the spine of one jumped out at me. A deep color of merlot, lighter claret detail, and gold lettering with a depiction of two characters in a white circle, the spine belonged to Habibi by Craig Thompson.
I picked up Habibi after reading Thompson's previous works, which deal with different aspects of love, loss and life. They are all detailed and visually stunning, however, Habibi seems to be a culmination of these themes. It is a brick of a book spanning 650 pages. A journey on paper. I was ready to take it on one more time.
It starts with water, the great theme that runs throughout the story. It starts with the one named after a water goddess, Dodula, a young, Arab girl with bright, wide eyes living in a world where she is subjected to the whims of men. She is a wily creature who learns to write script from her husband who bought her at the age of nine. Arabic, both culturally and physically, is present in this novel. Thompson's style of illustration ranges from delicate to bold. A brushstroke style that is fluid from his lettering to his depiction of characters. His style lends itself to how swiftly one reads through the story.
After escaping the confines of her arranged marriage, Dodula finds herself traveling into the desert with a very young slave boy she names Zam. They are a contrasting pair. Dodula of fair skin and Zam who is the color of night. They are a human yin and yang. Mother and child. Brother and sister. They create a life together on an abandoned boat in the middle of an ocean of sand. She regales her ward with stories from the Q'aran as well as tales from "The People of the Book." These stories become the centerpiece of the novel as parallels between the Muslim and Christian worlds' relationship with each other. The story of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba--these are stories that are familiar to me but did not know they were found in both holy books.
After a terrible incident occurs, our protagonists are separated for years and during this time, they lead their own stories. Dodula joins a harem, subjected to the harsh realities of being marginalized for her exterior and not her interior self. Zam, left alone in the vast desert, makes his way back into society and into a group of outsiders. Guilt-stricken and starving, he makes a decision that would change his life and Dodula's life forever.
As I moved through this book, I reflected on my memories and opinions that I had when I first read it. As I mentioned earlier, the art was the initial appeal. This time around, I realized the themes: the fluidity of the characters, the separation and unity of the first world with the third world, but most importantly to me, the similarities between the biblical and Q'aran stories. It is a story of our humanity and how our flaws as well as our strengths and our spirituality is united.
For those who have the patience and could carve a few moments in their day to take on such a sweeping tale, I invite you to please pick up Habibi.