Faber on The Guardian:
Early scenes where Zam's puberty spoils the innocent bathtime intimacy between him and Dodola are handled with wry affection, but later scenes of self-loathing, castration and post-traumatic angst, piled on top of Dodola's frequent relapses into sex slavery and starvation, raise the suspicion that the author is compelled to be crueler than his narrative demands.
[Creswell at The New York Times](nytimes.com/2011/10/16/books/review/habibi-written-and-illustrated-by-craig-thompson-book-review.html):
Craig Thompson’s “Habibi” is a work of fantasy about being ashamed of one’s fantasies. This anxiety is native to comics, or at least to the broad strain of American comics written by white males.
The result is frankly a mess, though it does include some arresting pictures.
Not only because he failed to save Dodola, but because her ravishment becomes [Zam's] own recurring fantasy. (Later in the review she also writes: In this sense, Thompson the illustrator is in the same situation as Zam: both are prisoners of their own fantasies, apparently unable to think of Dodola without disrobing her (she spends the book in various states of dishabille; by contrast, male nudity is rare).
Many of Thompson’s cartoons quote explicitly from 19th-century Orientalist paintings, particularly those of Jean-Léon Gérôme. These larkish echoes are meant, I suppose, to remind us we’re in a fantasy world. Thompson makes no pretension to realism. But the originals were fantasies too, and it’s often hard to tell whether Thompson is making fun of Orientalism or indulging in it. When, in “Habibi,” a slave trader lists for a prospective buyer all the hues for sale — “charcoal, cinnamon, shiny prune, chestnut” — and one of the slaves corrects him, “Actually, I’m closer to walnut,” the joke is jejune at best. (It also undermines any investment we might have had in the scene.)
But it is a conventional sort of virtuosity, in the service of a conventional exoticism.
[du P.C. Panno at the Harvard Crimson](thecrimson.com/article/2011/9/20/habibi-one-thompson-new) failed to see the illogical connection between Thompson's stated intentions and what he actually did. Earlier in the piece Thompson is quoted as stating after 9/11/01 he wanted to humanize and explore the Islamic religion, Panno writes later in her review, "Without wading very far into contemporary issues or portrayals of Islam—in fact, without going very far beyond a thematic and artistic representation of the religion..." "In interviews, Thompson has called these choices "a self-aware Orientalism," where he works within stereotypes to subvert them. But the sensitivity of his portrayal is not obvious until the book's conclusion..."
[Damluji at The Hooded Utilitarian(hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/10/can-the-subaltern-draw-the-spectre-of-orientalism-in-craig-thompsons-habibi/)] has a great, nuanced review. Though a bit too forgiving of Thompson IMO (insistent he's a "nice" and was "thoughtful" in research though Thompson didn't research anything really other than artistic/religious elements, and more worried about the portrayal of "savage Arab men" tha the sexualization and objectification of a muslim woman. [More in-depth interview/personal response from Damliji is here too.](hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/11/a-conversation-about-habibis-orientalism-with-craig-thompson)
Bottom line from me is that Thompson's own insistence that he knowing uses White Guilt and Orientalism and wants to "play" with them, so no one should take his work to be serious or scholarly or having any deep connections is frustrating and violent. He also says he intentionally sexualizes Dodola. Thompson spent 7 years creating this work, yet it was all about him playing. This Freudian idea that young kids, especially males who are driven by their sexual desire, should want to have sex with their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers has got to be refuted, especially when it is a continually repeated narrative amongst popular male creators. There shouldn't be a blurred line between mother, sister and lover. A man's supposed inability to see a woman as anything other than a sexual object disservices all genders within society.