Monday, March 19, 2012

Graphic Novel of the Month: Asterios Polyp

I reviewed this graphic novel at the beginning of the creation of the blog, but somehow, that review has been lost, but that is fine, because Asterios Polyp is a graphic novel that deserves a second look. Written & drawn by David Mazzucchelli (who was the artist for City of Glass), this magnum opus follows a paper architect (meaning, he designs buildings, but they only stay designs) whose apartment burns downs from a lightning storm on his fiftieth birthday. Leaving everything behind, Asterios drives off until his car breaks down & becomes a car mechanic's assistant. Flashbacks then show Asterios' failed relationship with his insecure wife caused by his patronizing, self-important personality & her need to find a voice of her own.

The story is very layered & between the scenes from the present to the flashbacks, there are also many unique segments, like conversations between Asterios & his unborn twin brother. A favorite segment of mine features a theater like production of the Orpheus myth starring the characters of the novel. The narrative is rich with Ancient Greek inspirations. At one point, Asterios says that he feels like many, petty deities, like those on Mount Olympus, makes more sense than one all-knowing, all-caring god. He even says that his family's name was cut in half, which could make it Polyhemus, the cyclops of from Homer's Odyssey, which could also explain why Asterios is only shown profile.

The cryptic, layered narrative is just one dimension of the story. Mazzucchelli adds more meaning to the story with his drawings & he stretches his artistic muscle. At points, characters are drawn individually & stylistically different to convey their personality. The chapters are divided by a picture, which is a motif in that chapter. All of the drawings are colored in mostly cyan, magenta, & yellow, giving the novel a unique pop that I've never seen before in graphic novels. But, all of these artistic liberties that Mazzucchelli take doesn't bury the emotions of the story. They are not forgotten & Mazzacchelli's finely tuned hand actually makes the sentiments more pronounce.

I venture to say that Asterios Polyp is one of the definitive graphic novels of the last decade because he uses the form of the graphic novel to create new ideas in storytelling. Nothing is left untouched, including the half-covered boards & the not-big-enough dust jacket. Asterios Polyp has the potential to be a real game changer.

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