Habibi is an amazing work on many levels. There are over 650 pages each completely written, drawn, lettered and inked by Craig Thompson, a feat in itself. For this project, Thompson immersed himself in Islamic art and lettering, and the results are present on nearly every page in stunningly intricate work, like this one:
Thompson also shows and tells us some of the things he learned from the language and lettering as here:
In addition to the exploration of the religion and culture of Islam, and the book includes stories from the Qur’an and The Bible, Thompson seems to have been equally inspired by western Orientalism, things like The Arabian Nights. Tales of that sort are here as well. Then there’s the Arabian mathematics embodied in magic squares and patterns that run through the work.
That’s perhaps half the focus, the other being a story of a young woman and a younger boy thrown together by loss and hardship, first living together in the desert, then separately in a city until their paths cross again. Dodola and Zam have only each other for much of the story, trying to survive against all odds, and through all the cruelties and tragedies thrown at them. Their story covers decades and has all the ups and downs of epic melodrama, while they also seem to represent archetypes beyond their daily lives, as the heroes and heroines of legend and fable do in so many stories. That aspect of the book meanders at times, and dips in and out of the characters’ lives.
Habibi has been criticized as furthering Islamic stereotypes, and I can’t speak to that. I can only say I am astonished by the work and enjoyed reading it. I will remember it and think about it for a long time, I think. And, wow, is the art and lettering terrific!