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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Asterios Polyp’ careful sketch of a man

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    “”Asterios Polyp”” by cartoonist David Mazzucchelli is one of the best and most ambitious graphic novels of the year.

    Asterios Polyp is an architect whose designs, while award-winning, have never actually been built. He is a professor who writes and speaks with the dry, arch tone of a person only accustomed to his own brilliance. Subsequently, he knows everything and has a theory about everything and everyone.

    He was married to a shy and insecure Japanese-German sculptor, Hana Sonnenschein, before she divorced him.

    During a stormy night, Asterios is on his bed watching what appears to be a porn video. His apartment is strewn with overdue bills, dirty laundry and unwashed dishes. Lightning strikes the building, setting it on fire. He grabs three things — a mechanical watch, a lighter and a Swiss army knife — and leaves. He then takes an outbound bus to begin his journey of remembrance and rediscovery.

    Mazzucchelli has worked in the field of comic books for nearly 30 years, yet surprisingly “”Asterios Polyp”” is his first original graphic novel. He was known for his 1980s collaborations with writer Frank Miller on “”Daredevil: Born Again”” and “”Batman: Year One.”” Mazzucchelli then left his brief but successful tenure in mainstream superhero comics to create an influential three-issue anthology, “”Rubber Blanket.”” He then worked with Paul Karasik to adapt Paul Auster’s “”City of Glass.””

    In many comics, dialogue and captions can be removed and the overall story can still be understood. There is even a subgenre of comics devoted to wordless stories. “”Asterios Polyp”” is one of those rare comic books where the words and art are so entwined, as the characters are to each other, that it’s impossible to enjoy them separately. Mazzucchelli’s deft artwork showcases how the comic books can tell a story in ways unique to the medium.

    For a graphic novel, “”Asterios Polyp”” is a dense read. Not only does Mazzucchelli touch on architecture as befitting his main character, but he also covers ancient Greek philosophy, art, mythology, quantum mechanics, religion, feng shui and smoking, and alludes to Orpheus, Adam and Eve, St. Francis of Assisi and more. Despite all of these weighty topics and references, Mazzucchelli integrates them without unbalancing the story while also sneaking in some humor.

    Duality is a major theme in “”Asterios Polyp,”” with each narrative thread shown through the use of duotones based on the primary colors of printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. In a flashback, Asterios is shown regaling everyone at a faculty party with bold repartee in restrained shades of cyan while Hana’s personal history of quiet insecurity is told against a loud backdrop of magenta. The sketchy magenta lines of Hana and the precise cyan lines of Asterios slowly meld together as they talk and fall in love during the party.

    “”Asterios Polyp”” rewards careful rereading. Details that were missed or didn’t make sense the first time are illuminated during successive reads: Asterios wearing a red sweater, the foreshadowing of Asterios and Hana’s fates, the visual refrain of certain sequences, the introduction of more colors. It makes Asterios’ personal realization, which centers on a foot blister, all the more remarkable.

    Mazzucchelli’s tour de force dazzles with its impressive, heady style but it ultimately wins us over with its slow, steady heart.

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