“Why are you reading that picture book?” asked a friend of mine as he peaked over the top of the heavy graphic novel I held in my hands. Though not particularly eloquent, this was a good question. Why was I reading Craig Thompson’s graphic masterpiece Habibi? I’d never read a graphic novel before.
In fact I’d not even had the desire before Habibi’s striking cover caught my eye in the Blackwell’s poster shop window (and let’s be honest it has to be something pretty special to distract from that picture of Kate Moss looking a bit nippy). Certainly I’d heard good things about it – I liked the idea of a grand canvas of a storyline comparing love of god with love of man, the disillusionment with both of these entities all tied together with stories from the Koran (sometimes run in parallel with their counterparts from the bible). I also figured that having pictures, it would be a lot easier to read than the Bob Dylan’s Tarantula which I’d just finished reading. It turns out, that whilst Habibi was easier insofar as it actually made syntaxic sense, emotionally it was a horrific ordeal.
As soon as images are tied to a woman’s struggle to escape from awful situation to awful situation (and we’re talking rapist husbands, slavery, prostitution, getting pregnant when working in a harem sort-of-fare here rather than a bit of a love triangle) everything becomes so much more real. Words can be used much more liberally, complementing the equally euphemistic drawings to give the full story, which is one that would seem vulgar if written or drawn out in full. So to draw the article to a close by answering my friend’s initial question: I picked up Habibi because it looked pretty, I read it because it broke my heart. And if that isn’t a beautifully sickly metaphor for something, then I must have forgotten what a metaphor is again.