Book Review: ‘Habibi’ by Craig Thompson



I finally finished Craig Thompson’s gorgeous new book, Habibi. It took me several weeks to finish partly because it’s over 600 pages and because the art and patterns were so beautifully rendered that I took several minutes on each page just staring at the drawings. No wonder it took him 10 years to finish!

After requesting this book from the library, I was lucky enough to have two amazing friends (one of whom is an artist you might enjoy) get a copy signed for me for my birthday in September.



I was very excited to read Habibi. I own Craig Thompson’s first two books, Good-bye Chunky Rice  and Blankets. I was actually a much bigger fan of Chunky Rice. I loved the quirky, emotional stories. Blankets was great, and certainly full of emotion, but I didn’t think it lived up to all the hype other than the fact that it was a massive book (though smaller than Habibi).

At APE in early October I was lucky enough to see Craig Thompson speak about all 4 of his books (I haven’t read Carnet de Voyage). I could really relate to his Midwestern upbringing and the talk was just fascinating. I’m so glad I heard him speak before having a chance to read Habibi.  It allowed me to appreciate the artwork in the book so much more.

The story of Dodola and Habibi/Zam is unique but at the same time it feels like an ancient tale we all know, at least in the beginning. The time period is a bit ambiguous and the story takes a lot of unexpected turns, especially one involving eunuchs that I was totally unprepared for.

It’s an intensely emotional and spiritual tale that is enhanced by the flow of the Arabic characters and their echo in the artwork. One thing that Craig Thompson mentioned in his discussion that really stuck with me was his insistence on making sure that almost all of the marks in the book were put down in ink by his brush (minus a few large swaths of black). He found ancient Muslim and Arabic patterns, scanned them, occasionally altered them slightly, and then traced them all with his brush. They are breathtaking and intricate and knowing that he put those marks on the page at some point makes them all the more precious.

Habibi is a beautiful tale and a beautiful book that I highly recommend. You can buy it and Thompson’s other books here and he has a wonderful process gallery here.

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