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Originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News, November 2011; written by Kelly Johnson.

Craig Thompson is one of many very well-known authors in the world of graphic novels. He has won the Eisner Award for his book Blankets, Harvey Awards for both Blankets and Good-Bye Chunky Rice and Ignatz Awards for Outstanding Graphic Novel and Outstanding Artist. While this may not mean much to those who only follow the Nobel or National Book awards, it means quite a bit to those of us who enjoy graphic novels. His newest work Habibi is out now and it would not be surprising to me to find his name back on the awards lists for this amazing combination of art and story.

Stories, would actually be the better choice here, for it is very reminiscent of Scheherazade and her tales; the female lead in Habibi also shares tales, from many sources making the story much richer than it would be without them. And, of course, the art that goes with the tales, and the story, make the whole even more fascinating.

The main story of Habibi is the tale of Dodola, who at the age of nine is sold into marriage by her parents. Her new husband is a scribe who teaches her to read and also tells her the many stories he has scribed in the past. Though they had a rough beginning they soon became close, but their happiness does not last as bandits come and steal Dodola away, killing her husband and marking her as a slave. She could not be kept though, she soon ran away from her captors, taking with her a small boy she named Zam. They lived together in a boat stranded in the desert with Zam finding the water and Dodola bartering with passing caravans for food. She teaches Zam to read and tells him (and the reader) many stories; some from the Old Testament, others from the Qur’an, others from legends, tales and even poems. I especially loved the stories of the letters! As Zam grows older he slowly realizes he has more than brotherly feelings for Dodola and some of their interactions become strained. He feels that he needs to act more the ‘man’ rather than the boy, but still loves the stories she tells.

There are other stories abounding as well as legends growing up around the ‘courtesan of the desert’ (barter is not always goods) and eventually Dodola is once again captured. Zam, who is unaware of her capture, is left confused and alone. Torn apart they survive as best they can, but always they are searching for one another and hoping to find each other again.

The art of Habibi is amazing in detail and richness. Though they are simple black ink drawings the detail and depth truly create additional dimensions to the stories. There are some challenging passages, which is not surprising in a work dealing with eunuchs, harems, slavery, and worse, however, there are also wonderful passages filled with fascinating myths and legends from the East. Just as Blankets was a coming of age story for a young American boy, so is Habibi stories of growing up in a very different land.

Habibi is just one of many new works in the graphic novel collection. And of course there are many older treasures as well so come and brose and see what wonders you may find in this amazing collection! Good Reading!

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