I’m not even paraphrasing! In a lengthy and fascinating interview with Nadim Damluji, the writer whose thoughtful critique of Craig Thompson’s Habibi spearheaded the discussion of Thompson’s use of Orientalist tropes and stereotypes in his depiction of Arab and Islamic culture and people (particularly women), Thompson comes right out and welcomes all the sticky, tricky, at times uncomfortable and unpleasant associations his use of harems, slavers, sultans and so on call to mind.
Okay, now I’m picturing the authors of Alec and Subway Series standing shoulder to shoulder, swords in hand, fending off the critical Ringwraiths as Craig Thompson cowers Frodo-style in the background. So yeah, the headline’s a bit dramatic. But in light of critic and scholar Nadim Damluji’s thoughtful and widely linked critique of Thompson’s massive new book Habibi, I thought it worthwhile to direct you to a pair of acclaimed cartoonists’ responses.
Damluji argued that in treating the Orientalist art and literature of the past as just another genre to play with, Thompson ended up perpetuating some of the very stereotypes he presumably set out to subvert when he decided to set his near-future fantasy in a fictional but still recognizably Arab/Islamic culture — particularly where sexuality and male-female relationships, often used by Western nations as a pretext for action against Middle Eastern ones, are concerned. Eddie Campbell responds that Thompson’s interest in these topics, or more generally Love, are consistent; the Middle Eastern trappings of the tale are just the vehicle Thompson selected to get where he’s going: