David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp

Well, that was interesting. Fellow book club member David Leach loaned me his copy of David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, thus causing my spellchecker to break down and weep the very first time I typed out all four names in sequence.

As graphic novels go, it's no comic book. I mean, it's about a 50-ish "paper architect" (who teaches but has never had anything built) who loved, married and was divorced by a lovely young woman, an artist, and who subsequently loses it and dumps his entire urban, urbane existence for a hand-to-mouth small-town shambles of a life. Things never stay static for our man Asterios, mind you, and I'm not going to tell you anything about the plot beyond that starting point, but I will say that it ain't predictable.

Your kids will so not dig this book, but I liked it a whole bunch. I mean, I'm getting old as well, and who doesn't have complications in their past, but it wasn't just a matter of partial identification. Mazzucchelli does a great job of exploiting the art form, making his characters alternate between two-dimensional figures (so to speak) and self-aware individuals. The characters wise-crack, and not every joke is comprehended by everyone there to hear it, so there's a complex register of irony at play -- in the service of a story about how reflex ironizing left this guy unable to have anything like the life he's almost able to throw off his irony and ask for. (That's a clear sentence, right? No? Crap.) Not everyone likes it, clearly, and it's true that there's a lot of familiarity to elements of the story, but I'm okay with that. Hell, I'm old enough not to need new stories anyway. I'm already forgetting the old ones. Tell me the story beautifully, and I won't mind if I've heard it before.

Plus Scott McCloud's going to have to update his brilliant Understanding Comics to accommodate some of the shifts in perspective here, too. (Good man, McCloud -- he's already been thinking about this, I now see!) I loved the shift out of the pop-art two-D stuff into contrasting styles for Asterios and Hana/Daisy, where he's a geometric assemblage (form without content) and she's over-heavily shaded without lines (content without form).

A graphic novel that your kids will ignore, but that you might really, really appreciate.


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