Corey Creekmur is an associate professor of English, Cinema and Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa. He’s also a sometimes commenter, mostly over on our Facebook page. He had a bunch of interesting things to say about Habibi over there…and when he pressed he politely (if a little reluctantly) agreed to let me post them here as part of our Slow-Rolling Orientalism roundtable.
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Corey Creekmur: Frankly, I think this [that is, Suat’s negative assessment of Habibi] is a response Thompson was anticipating.

Noah: What do you mean Corey? Because he mentioned his use of Orientalist tropes?

Corey: Yes, I think his risky gambit was to create a consciously Orientalist work in a post 9/11 context. The criticisms are valid, but they also presume that something “authentic” was possible, and I’m sure Thompson knew that that wasn’t really an option either. It is striking that, so far, praise for the book (in general) concentrates on the art and condemnation emphasizes the narrative, as if we haven’t learned how those intertwine.

Noah: Corey, surely it’s also possible that the art is good and the narrative not so much? Suat points out some works that he thinks succeeded better; would you disagree that that’s the case? I don’t really think Suat and Nadim are asking for more authentic so much as less racist?

Creekmur: People should read this in relation to the earlier essay you folks posted on Orientalism in SANDMAN as well. The large question seems to be what sort of Middle Eastern fantasies are now possible or tolerable in the context of the West’s increased awareness of Middle East realities. I disagree with points in these essays but they are sharp, important criticism. Thanks.

Sure, form and content don’t always mesh, but it seems striking that the positive criticism praises the art and downplays the story, and the negative criticism works in the reverse way. And isn’t a plea for less racism almost necessarily a plea for more authenticity, or realism? Again, I think Thompson risks the use of stereotypes (almost intrinsic to the history of comics) and perhaps fails in that, and does so with a certain awareness rather than ignorance. We may object to what he is doing, but my sense is that he knows what he is doing in regard to the history of stereotypes. (A friend of mine thought what he got most wrong was pregnancy and childbirth, by the way …)

Noah: Corey, would you mind if I posted our back and forth here as part of our ongoing discussion?

Corey: Um, I guess so, though these aren’t the thought-out comments the text, I think, deserves. I work on the history and function of stereotypes, but my comments here are, well, FB comments. I will note I’m bothered that people here have proudly decided not to read it at all based on the criticism. I’d rather people read it and then go after it as hard as they wish than assume that actual reading is unnecessary.

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