Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 137

Asterios Polyp

by David Mazzucchelli
Genre notes: literary fiction, architecture, art, fallign stars
344 page
ISBN: 0307377326 (Amazon)

Kind of like with the writings of Kazuo Ishiguro, reality, perception, and memory play a huge role in Mazzucchelli’s work here.

On top of this is layered the framework of Greek tragedy with specific allusion to the myth of Orpheus (this is pointed out through fistfuls of overt clues, not the least of which is a dream in which Asterios takes the role of Orpheus and his ex-wife Hana embodies Eurydice). We get narrative explanations from a meta-source in the Greek choral tradition. Comparisons to Dionysus and Apollo lead to an evaluation of dualistic systems (and perhaps systems generally) as Asterios gradually must free himself from systemic shackles in order to finally grow up. Of course we suspect if Asterios abandons one aspect he will be destroyed even as Orpheus was for abandoning Dionysus. As well, there are plenty of references to The Odyssey and readers will find this cross-pollination of mythologies only serves to enrich the experience of Asterios’ journey.

The subject matter, by its summary, sounds simple enough but Mazzucchelli throws so much into this piece and exercises such deft control over the page that one can easily drown in the details. The art is very particular. Much is made of Mazzucchelli’s use of colour through the book and, well, with good reason. The colouring itself offers storytelling that is available through no other means. In fact, so occasionally powerful is his use of colour that I worry for colourblind readers, that they might miss out on some of the book’s more sublime moments.

On top of Mazzucchelli’s tight reign over his colour spectrum, there is ample evidence that he maintains the same level of control over his linework and design. Asterios Polyp is a thoroughly designed experience, with every element from script to story to illustration to panel design to colouration to control of whitespace adding voice to the chorus of this performance. The battle between geometric and organic shapes gives readers (who may not be familiar with all the names and ideas Asterios or his ghostly narrator references) a hook on which to hang their interpreter’s hat. One’s experience of Asterios Polyp will no doubt be more enriched by a working knowledge of architectural history, familiarity with Greek mythology and Homeric tradition, and a smackerel of understanding of postmodern sculpture—but Mazzucchelli’s conveyance of story through his visual sense means that even those with Asterios-sized gaps in their education can still get in there and have some deeper sense of what’s going on.

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