Friday, July 9, 2021

Habibti Pada: Ameen Beydoun scripts a sparse but emphatic graphic novel.

Ameen Beydoun had a marionette puppet in his room, and his aunt had an abstract sculpture at her house. Both would cause him irrational fear that adults never understood. In my case, it was the bullet hole in the shutters in my parents' bedroom right opposite my bed as a child, and the Djinniya in the Sindibad anime. Every child had such a fear. Compound it with moving from Africa to Lebanon, being the only person in a dark skin in your classroom, and much like Calvin and Hobbes - having a fertile imagination. All this, blended, gives you the first book in the series "Habibti Pada: Yalla" scripted by Ameen and illustrated by Ismael Hernández.

For all its empathy, research, and work involved, I am going to start by the work's flaw: What we call "the font did not open" syndrome. Words written in Arabic were written in disjointed letters as opposed to how correctly Arabic is written - with the letters seamlessly joined to one another (the root of this could be a simple PDF flaw or something deeper). As a small comparison Craig Thompson actually learned Arabic to be able to write "Habibi" - Ameen showed me perfect screenshots of the gibberish images but try as I might, my own remained in detached and reversed letters. Of course, any person unable to read Arabic would not notice (case in point, how such signs are written in American series), but anyone who does will find it rather embarrassing.

Still, the "Habibti Pada: Yalla" is a book that explores the universe of children, through their eyes, and is even kind to adults as well (when Pada tells her father she does not "understand this place" he replies with "we are the same"). It also explores issues of bullying (the whole class laughing at Pada when she cannot write her name on the board in Arabic), racism (one of the boys saying he is "going to teach that black girl"), and a hoard of other social angles - with of course, the ability to see and fight monsters everywhere. 

Apparently this is a series of books, because we are already promised to meet Kimani, Pada's brother, and his special soccer-ball. The title of the next book is "Shou Ismeek?" (what's your name?). 

Perhaps Pada will have more friends and allies, but one thing is for sure, Pada will meet a new monster, the one living on the first floor of their building.

You can buy the book directly from this link.