The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund let a few copies of Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel, Habibi, out of the gate early at SPX, and seeing how I’ve been waiting to read it for the better part of the last decade, I hopped in line and snagged one. I was prepared for Thompson’s extravagant attention to detail and densely packed pages of storytelling, but Habibi surprised me in some ways that I’m still grappling with critically.
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. Moreover, the story exists in an odd, isolated universe that feels like a fable but also teases the novel’s relationship to real world events and anchors.
The place where I’m still coming to terms with the book, though, lies in refrain of sexual violence that defines the main character. The economies of enslavement and survival that she lives through drive almost every major plot turn from beginning to end, and along the way they bring horrific moments and choices.
Habibi is a challenging and sobering read, and it’s one of those books that will make you feel like you’ve lived through a lifetime reading it. In the end, however, Dodola’s personality and humanity feel very distant and underdeveloped at times. There’s a tragedy in that absence that’s provocative, which may be the point. I’ll be interested to see some other takes though.