OOOH LA DI DA I READ A COMIC BOOK: Habibi

I’m of two minds about this. On the one, the central story is really, really well-done and in some places downright beautiful and the art is great, but on the other, it’s kind of racist in a way that just plain skeeves me.

First the good. The story, that of two young escapees from slavery who spend the rest of their lives trying to find each other again, is kind of basic “meet-separated-reunite-another situation that leads to tension about whether the ending will be happy-oh look it all worked out and they walk together pretty much literally into the sunset” love story stuff set against a backdrop that leads to interesting story beats, but Thompson really works it well, with Zam and Dodola seeming real enough that the story emotionally hits the rght . The art is great, with really emotive faces, really good backgrounds, really good… everything. This book looks really good. And the packaging is great too, which isn’t all that relevant to the quality of the book, but it’s right here next to me and it’s another really good thing about the book.

Now the bad. The setting is pretty much the only problem here. It’s like this odd version of the Arab world that doesn’t really ring true, that seems like Thompson did his research mainly by reading old stories and taking what he could from there and trying to present it as a legit modern day setting, which just feels like he’s presenting it as this backwater burg of the world mired in old fashioned custom, which strikes me as racist, or at least mildly xenophobic. He does actually present something that feels really modern in the last third or so of the book, when he gets away from the sultan’s castle and spends the remainder of the story in this sort of slum area. Also, there are these digressions into retelling old stories and explaining minutia of the Arabic language, but these are uneven, as some feel relevant to the plot, and others just seem like he’s doing it for the sake of seeming authentic, like a writery version of that thing kids do when they put on their dad’s clothes and strut around the house. That or he’s trying to crib from Neal Stephenson, whose many and varied digressions into minutiae actually have meaning, but c’mon, no respectable author like Thompson would crib from someone as lowly as a genre writer. My goodness, I almost got self-importance all over my tweed ascot.

Honestly, most of the book seems like that, like he’s basically saying “I AM A BIG IMPORTANT WRITER MAN AND I WRITE ABOUT BIG IMPORTANT WRITER STUFF LIKE RAPE(yep, that shows up, though it’s not all that badly used, and seems actually part of the story rather than something forced in to prove that it is a Big Important Story That Is Totes High Art, Bro, like in most places it appears in comics(and for that matter other forms of storytelling, but Identity Crisis left its fucking mark on comics, leading rape in comics to the vaunted place it enjoys today as a marker of Big Importance on the scale of mental illness in films, so i think it deserves that little bit of specificity) AND HISTORY”. The core of the book, the love story between Zam and Dodola, is great, it’s just everything around it that feels simultaneously ignorant and pretentious.

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