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Review: HABIBI by CRAIG THOMPSON

11 Oct
Who says you can’t write a Graphic Novel about Islam? 


 There have been a lot of issues for anyone trying to depict Allah or his Prophet Muhammed. 
Cartoons, like that which was published in Jyllands-Posten, a Dutch newspaper caused controversy which ended up with the cartoonist having a Fatwa (holy kill order, assassination) placed on him. The offending cartoon can be found below. 
And that was from a Dutch cartoonist. 



Recently, a very important and interesting graphic novel was written by Child Psychologist Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti. The 99 series is based around the 99 names of god in Islam. 

A documentary about the controversy surrounding this graphic novel series is going to be broadcast on October 13th. If you aren’t able to see – which I am sure will be a large portion of us – lets hope some nice people will place it on YouTube as the documentary is made by American PBS TV station, called, Wham! Bam! Islam! 

Award-winning NZ Cartoonist, Mark Winter

For over a century and more, cartoonists have expressed the populace’ thoughts against the governing body. Sometimes these have have ended up with the cartoonist losing their life at the hangman’s noose or the guillotine. 

The offending artwork!!

Religion and Art have a very close love/hate association. Christianity has also been target with South Park’s “Bloody Mary” episode. I was amazed by this, and since it came about while I was at Film School, I decided to research the place of cartoons in the world and also, the main issue with the episode, which was the bleeding (virgin) Mary statue. I interviewed a well known New Zealand cartoonist, 

Sadly, YouTube which is owned by Viacom, who own Comedy Central, decided that I had breached their copyright by placing a Student Documentary on YouTube. They removed trailer part 1, but part 2 is still up as you can see and its the one about the cartoons. 

Okay, I think that’s enough of a background on cartoons, religion and popular medium. I have included a fair amount of recent controversial cartoon history because its important to know what came before, before entering the whole grail of graphic novels that is HABIBI

HABIBI, is a just as big in perspective as was Craig Thompson’s previous hit, BLANKETS. That graphic novel was written from a personal experience on Christianity and has won many Comic Industry Awards, as well as being translated into 20 different languages. That’s a huge achievement for a Slice of Life/Drama genre book. BLANKETS, was controversial and HABIBI, is no less controversial. 
Blankets page 444

Sadly I haven’t read, BLANKETS, yet. So, I don’t have any reference point with what Thompson is bringing to this new opus of his. The book is over 600 pages long and it has taken Chris 6 years to finish. One look at above page answers the question, ‘Why so long?’. 


HABIBI is a formidable piece of work from start to finish. Each page (Black/White interior) is a testament to this amazing artist and writer. There is a huge amount of research having gone into this book. I am sure by its sheer existence, it has broken many records. 



Chris Thompson is definitely going to ruffle some feathers with this book. We are going to see both the Christians and Islamist upset due to the nature of the content and the way Islam is portrayed.


What makes the work so amazing and interesting as a story is the vast amount of resource material, topics and characters that it encompasses. At it’s center is the love between Habibi, the black child and his adopted mother, Dodola, an Arab. And the bond that pulls and tears at the love over the years from child to adulthood. Its a bitter sweat story and yet it infuriates with the terrible and sometimes arrogant look at the culture of the people thats portrayed. 

Central to the story is the religion of Islam and the discourse of the various aspects of the belief system, from the rich king and his harem to the poor fisherman drinking water from a polluted river to he children who beat up the old man for bread and the eunuchs who serve the palace. There are moments of sheer joy and pleasure in the graphic novel. But that is drowned out by the misery of the main characters and the minors ones. 

The book is sure to win a vast number of awards. It is a brilliant masterpiece and will go down as one of the greatest graphic novel ever written. A must read.
I am still reeling from the affects the book has had on me as a writer and an artist.  
Aru (Aruneshwar Singh, is a writer and graphic novelist who has several unpublished works currently being worked on as well as working with other Illustrators and Artists he also illustrates his own comics. His webcomic Zero can be viewed here. Aru has a BA in Digital Media- Digital Filmmaking and is the CEO and Owner of New Zealand’s only Online Comic Store, Comic TradeFacebook