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Comic Catch-Up #3

I’ll be looking at two work, both independent, that are set internationally. The first is Craig Thompson’s Habibi, a fictional work set in a modernizing North Africa, and Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang, a memoir of the creator’s experience of staying in the capital North Korea. Like many of the pieces I’ve looked at lately both works are great, but for very different reasons. To see what I mean let’s take a look at each individual work.

Habibi is the follow-up work by Craig Thompson (author of Blankets and Carnet de Voyage). Thompson spent over half a decade working on this piece. Like how Blankets implemented themes of Christianity as a catalyst to Thompson’s story, so is Islam used in a similar sense in Habibi. As mentioned in the introduction to this post, the story is fictional. Because of this and Thompson’s created connection to the religion it can be understood the large amount of research he put into the work’s narrative. The synthesis of character narrative and Islamist themes blend incredibly well and add greatly to the story. The stories of two protagonists weave together in nice pattern. It’s not as strong as the characterizations of Blankets, but it still holds up well.

The strongest appeal of Habibi, without a doubt, is its art. The reason the work took so long to complete was not the narrative research, but Thompson’s meticulous style and adherence to detail. The whole work is eye candy. The drawings are gorgeous, pattern designs incredibly intricate, and the character designs are given a strong human feel. It compliments the narrative extremely well, adding to the mysticism of the Islamic references and the emotional weight of the story of the two protagonists. Simply put, it’s amazing.

Unlike Habibi, Pyongyang is a far more experiential sort of work. This comes directly from its subject matter being based in reality than fictional. What I found more interesting is that this work differed from most works regarding North Korea, in that it’s viewed internally than externally. The purpose of the author’s visit wasn’t to critique North Korea but for his job, though in the process there is definitely his critiques of the country and regime. Also, the whole of the narrative tone of the work is lighter than one would accustom to seeing in something regarding North Korea. At times it’s incredibly serious and analytical and at other times fairly silly/standard daily life stories. Delisle does a good job of combining his own light-hearted personality with the seriousness of the topic.

Delisle’s art is somewhere in between newspaper cartoons and Euro-comics style. It tends to be seem more like cartoon styled than portraying strict reality. This is especially applicable in his character designs. The way he draws himself doesn’t really give the reader to see the author in the most serious terms in his surroundings. However, this works because of the deliberate light-hearted nature he uses to play off the more serious North Koreans, who have character designs that reflect their more serious personalities and lifestyles. Beyond the character designs the art style tends to be relaxed; it’s easy to identify what things are, but also allows for a far more casual glance at the subject than most works.

Both Habibi and Pyongyang are distinctly different works, but important equally. Habibi as another strong piece by Craig Thompson, with both a impactful narrative and stellar art style. Pyongyang synthesizes the serious subject matter of North Korean society, but also a more relaxed, casual, and humorous lens to view the subject. Both works are worthy of a read by anybody, comic reader or not.

 

If you noticed I skimmed the narrative on Habibi. I plan on writing another article in the future on the themes of that work.

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