Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli: Book Review
It's not a rhetorical question; it's the central thesis of David Mazzucchelli's graphic novel Asterios Polyp.
The eponymous character spends his 50th birthday alone in his apartment, watching videos of the old times, the better times. And then the fire alarm goes off, and all record of that old life burns. Asterios buys a bus ticket to go as far as he can, and when he gets there he begins to build the scaffolding of a life.
Asterios is as resilient and self-confident as he is unreflective. He is an architecture professor but not an architect. While he begins to rebuild his life in his new town, renting a room from his boss, he's forced to begin to engage with members of the family. He tries to figure them out, and they, in turn, struggle to understand him.
Asterios, of course, doesn't give up much information about himself. His background unfolds slowly, and each revelation rearranges our image of Asterios.
Mazzucchelli has done a simply fantastic job arranging the graphics side of the graphic novel. The book is sized and shaped like a text book, giving it a weight that most graphic novels lack.
On page after page, Mazzucchelli has mixed intense detail with austere lines and panel arrangements. There are almost never backgrounds, but in panels featuring dozens of sheets of music, each sheet shows musical staffs and notes.
Each section functions in one of several two-color schemes: blue and purple, yellow and purple, blue and red. This gives Mazzurcchelli the ability to explore color, shading, and texture while maintaining the simplicity of black and white.
The panels almost never layout in the traditional tightly packed comic arrangement. Most pages feature a series of panels floating asymetrically on the white page; some of my favorite pages feature panels layered around characters unframed on the page.
All of this artistic detail reenforces Mazzucchelli's theme: that life is a series of missed and made connections, that we should never confuse our enjoyment of these connections with control over our lives. Ultimately, life is random and punishing, and we don't get to know when our ticket out will come due.
Book 24 of my book-a-week challenge.