Posted on Hooded Utilitarian, 10/21
Throughout high school, Craig Thompson’s Blankets was the only comic book in my collection that people repeatedly asked to see and borrow. It’s telling that I didn’t technically own it, having borrowed it from another friend. I felt a little jealous on the part of the other comics I owned—Blankets was fantastic, but it became the only comic people asked about. My mom read it, and then our neighbors read it. People wanted to tell me that they had heard about this sophisticated ‘graphic novel.’ I chalked it up to a few things: its technical skill justified it as being art (wrongly), its length meant it was serious, and by this point, the name rang a bell. My friends and parents and parent’s friends were used to hearing me talk about comics as a serious form of expression, and now they heard Time or NPR bring up Blankets. I got sent newspaper clippings about it from relatives. People were curious, willing to spend time with the book, to be in the know about something critics declared both revolutionary and emotionally relevant. I was grateful, but again, a little jealous for all the other comics I was reading.
With Habibi on the horizon, I’d set my hopes on Craig Thompson championing virtuosity as a sophisticated and subtle storytelling vehicle, providing a powerful devil’s advocate to the linguistic or minimalist approaches to comics making that seemed, oftentimes, more effective. But I was anxious about the Orientalism foreshadowed by Thompson’s comments, or the remarks of better-informed friends.
A month ago, opening Habibi on the long bus ride back from SPX, I was more than baffled. It was, after all, an Orientalist book. But Habibi—even for a decades-spanning romantic epic—followed a shocking amount of familiar tropes from American melodrama. In fact, it perfectly enunciated not one but two different ‘cluster’ definitions of melodrama. (I had studied narrative at Carleton College, which, yep, I just graduated from.) Two foundational theorists, film scholars Linda Williams and Ben Singer, admit the impossibility of finding a melodramatic work that embodies every commonality they high-light, but Habibi comes pretty damn close… continued.