Portland cartoonist Craig Thompson was 27 when he published Blankets, an enormous, autobiographical "illustrated novel" about growing up in an evangelical family in rural Michigan. It's an extraordinary, visually ornate book that immediately launched Thompson to the top tier of American graphic novelists. Since that book's 2003 publication, though, Thompson's only public output has been a 2004 travelogue, Carnet de Voyage, and an album cover for Menomena—until last week, when his new book, Habibi, finally arrived in stores. So what has Thompson been doing for the past seven years?
Learning Arabic calligraphy: Blankets was a visually busy work, with recurring paisley and natural motifs often filling every nook and cranny of its pages. So it's no wonder that he would be attracted to the intricacies of Islamic calligraphy and geometric design. Habibi's pages are rich with ornamentation.
Reading. A lot: Habibi is, in addition to being a love story, a terrifying fantasy and an ecological cautionary tale, about the stories we tell and why we tell them. Thompson alludes to or quotes from the Quran and the Hebrew Bible and a dozen or so Muslim poets.
Drawing. A lot: Habibi is 672 pages, longer than the already hefty Blankets and even more richly illustrated.
Brooding: Thompson's prior work wasn't exactly dark. Habibi is. Its two protagonists endure dehydration, starvation, enslavement, castration, incarceration, torture and multiple rapes.
Letting his imagination run wild: It will take more than one read to evaluate the merit of Thompson's thoughts on storytelling and divinity. The same is not true of the world he's created around them. At once medieval and modern, full of harems and skyscrapers and slavers and outlandish weaponry, Habibi's fictitious Middle Eastern kingdom is a complex and scary place. It would make a great setting for a tabletop RPG. Now where did I put my dice?
GO: Thompson appears Thursday, Oct. 6, from 6 to 10 pm at Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch St.; Friday, Oct. 7, from 6 to 9 pm at Bridge City Comics, 3725 N Mississippi Ave.; and Saturday, Oct. 8, from 3 to 4 pm on Wordstock's McMenamins Stage at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The Thursday and Friday events are free. Wordstock costs $7.
WEDNESDAY Oct. 5
THURSDAY Oct. 6
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FRIDAY Oct. 7
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SUNDAY Oct. 9