Craig Thompson "humanizes" Islam
Could you elaborate a bit more on the themes?A most disgusting, blatant lie. What exactly is so similar about a religion founded by a pedophile, Muhammed, to the morals and lifestyles of Christianity, or even Judaism? Does Christianity contain skin-crawling verses like Sura 2:223, "Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like"?
It was born out of 9/11 in the sense that Islam was being vilified in the media, and I wanted to humanise it a bit and understand it, and focus on the beauty of Arabic and Islamic culture. My experience of speaking to Muslims was that they weren't any different to the Christian communities I grew up in -- they had the same morals and the same lifestyles, and the same stories that shaped their religions. Then also I got really inspired by the Islamic arts -- Arabic calligraphy, geometric pattern and design, architecture, and a lot of those details infused the book.
But wait'll you see the next part in Thompson's interview, really bizarre:
From the advance pages I've seen, Habibi seems to be infused with some very interesting imagery - triangles interlocking into a star shape as two characters kiss for example. Is that something that runs throughout the book?Jesus - who was Jewish - is a prophet of Islam?!? And does he consider Solomon such a thing too? Aside from how I doubt the inclusion of David's Star is going to impress many Muslims, it is downright offensive and insulting that he tries to hijack other religions' prophets for the sake of his own weird beliefs. Especially when followers of Muhammed continue to persecute Jesus' followers. It's worth noting that Abraham disinherited Ishmael - who founded the tribe many Arabs grew out of - because he was performing idol worship, and split up with his mother Hagar too after she supported this, and that's why I'm not sure Islam's supposed worship of Abraham is genuine so much as it built on vindictive motivations. Thompson's blather is an insult to many Judeo-Christians, including Jewish comics creators (speaking of which, there's an article excerpt here about Jewish-Christian influences on comics).
The structure of the book is based on a North African Arabic talisman which is the magic squares symbol. It's essentially like Sudoku -- it's a three by three magic square with nine Arabic letters within the squares. So, that's reflected in the structure of the book as there's nine chapters, and each chapter is thematically based around an Arabic letter which also has a numerological component, and with that number is also a geometric component. The page you mentioned was from a chapter entitled 'Ring of Solomon' which is structured around a six-pointed star -- a Star of David, or Solomon's Seal. Every theme in that chapter also focuses on the prophet Solomon and the number six on that six-pointed star.
That's really interesting as the comic is about Arabic and Islamic culture, yet the Star of David is a Jewish symbol, as well as having undertones of the Biblical Old Testament. Were you trying to draw the three religions together?
Oh definitely. A big part of it was to explore the connections between the three Abrahamic faiths, starting obviously with Abraham, being the connecting father of all three. Each chapter is also based on a prophet of Islam. There are 124,000 prophets in Islam, but the most important ones are the same Judeo-Christian characters we grow up with like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Solomon, and even Jesus. Jesus is the second most important prophet in Islam after Mohammed. So I focus on those characters. And when I say that, they're just supplemental, the main narrative is a fractured love story between these two child slaves, Dodola and Zam, and all those other things are almost like decoration or extra layers of ornamentation.
What kind of artists were you looking at besides the Arab and Islamic influences for Habibi? You've mentioned in previous interviews that the impressionists inspire you. Was that a continuing influence, or were there others this time?So he even considers Said - who faked his autobiography - someone worthy of note? Another problem going against his tomfoolery.
I love impressionists, but I was drawn to the era right before that of French Orientalist painting. That stuff, to me, is very self-aware of the racist and sexist quality of the paintings, which came out in the 1860s, by, say, Jean-Léon Gérôme. All that stuff is sort of bawdy and sensual. I look at it like you might look at an exploitation film. At least now we're more self-aware and it seems very deliberately sensationalistic and fantastical, but there are still pleasures to have in it.
Edward Saïd talks about Orientalism in very negative terms because it reflects the prejudices of the west towards the exotic east. But I was also having fun thinking of Orientalism as a genre like Cowboys and Indians is a genre -- they're not an accurate representation of the American west, they're like a fairy tale genre. The main influences and inspirations though were Arabic calligraphy, geometric patterns, and ornamentation though.
Are comics being accepted in the literary world? There are still big prejudices against them, yet there's this huge oeuvre of great comic literature which many people don't know about, or aren't interested in.There haven't been serious prejudices against comics for a long time - it's not like most people think they're just kids stuff and haven't for many years now - but if people like Thompson continue to litter the medium with intellect insulters like Habibi, then some are going to develop a distaste for the medium on the grounds that the people involved are degrading leftists who exploit it as a platform for their political positions, which is symbolic of how there is a perception today that comics publishers have an insular approach to how they do things. To make a comic about Arabic culture, that's one thing, but to make it about Islam is another.
I think it's changed a little bit, certainly because it seems like the publishing world has warmed up to the idea of graphic novels if only for crass commercial reasons. I don't know if cartoonists are too worried about being canonised in some sort of academic fashion because I think we embrace being a bastardised art form. It's like rock music or something like that -- I think there's a pride in the rawness and non-stuffiness of the medium.
Update: on that same CBR posting I found this interview on, Alverson linked an interview with the writer of another graphic novel set in nazi-occupied France. I do wonder what Thompson would say if he knew about the Mufti's collaboration with the nazis at the time?
Update 2: The Boston Phoenix wrote a gushing take on the graphic novel, but what's really eyebrow raising here is what's said at the end:
ON DRAWING MOHAMMED "I was approaching [Islam] in a more reverent and at least not insulting way. And I was consulting friends and Muslim readers. In the end, if anything, they all seemed fairly comfortable with the depiction of Mohammad."It's not clear if he actually did draw Mohammed in this GN, but if he did, isn't that surprising that he would do the very thing that got those Danish cartoonists in trouble.