by David Mazzucchelli
David Mazzucchelli has illustrated work as diverse as the superhero antics of Batman: Year One and Daredevil to a graphic novel version of Paul Auster's City Of Glass. For his first original graphic novel he has created a work of philosophical enquiry that uses style in a manner I haven't come accross before in graphic fiction. A first name like a super hero, a surname like a medical complaint; together it sounds like it could be the name of a particle discovered in the Large Hadron Collider, but Asterios Polyp is none of these things. He is what's known as a 'paper architect', famed, renowned and revered for his architecture even though none of his plans have ever been realised into bricks and mortar (or something far more complicated more likely). It would be tough to outline any real plot as such but the fact that it draws heavily on The Odyssey and myths such as that of Orpheus will give some idea about this tale of a man making a journey back towards a woman he has loved and lost. Unusually the book is 'narrated' by Asterios' twin brother who died before birth. It is one example of the polarity of the book, Asterios is a man who sees things as either one thing or the other and part of his journey is to see the wealth of what lies between. Throughout the book Mazzucchelli makes use of various styles in order to display the distance between characters and the moments when that distance closes. Here for example is the moment that Asterios meets Hana.
Asterios is rendered in classical solids, Hana sketched in detail and the two of them amongst all of the other types at the faculty party become unified in the final panel. The book is filled with moments like this where the graphic part of the novel speaks as loudly and perhaps even more clearly than any of the text. The relationship between Asterios and Hana is always in retrospect, we know that things have gone wrong, and as Asterios remembers, he learns. There is a fantastic section where the essence of intimacy in personal relationships is rendered almost wordlessly. Here are some examples.
Anyone looking for a compelling narrative may be disappointed. This is a slow journey filled with philosophical thought and dominated by style. The book's structure and execution are dictated by style, it is there for its own sake. But I think that it makes for a mature read, one livened by occasional visual or textual jokes and references, and one that looks at what it takes to bring two things, poles apart, together.