Reading Log: Asterios Polyp and the Literary Merits of Graphic Novels

I’m a big fan of graphic novels; one the the projects I’m working on right now is a collaborative effort that extends into visual narrative. I enjoy comic books (check out ‘Y: The Last Man’ and ‘Preacher’ if you want some pulp fun but have burned out on superheros). Projects like Watchman and Maus deserve all the critical acclaim they’ve gotten, but there’s a lot more out there.

Asterios Polyp: the tale of an academic “paper” architect (his award-winning designs have never been built) and his struggles with self-identity as he tries to make sense of the failure of duality as an organizing universal principle. It seems like an unlikely story to be told in a medium that has historically favored dense action and external conflict, but there’s plenty of room in the fold. Both the art and the writing are done by David Mazzucchelli, an impressive feat that allows for the most nuanced interplay between visual and semantic expression I’ve ever seen. The interplay here is wonderful, and Mazzucchelli makes use of variations in color and form that communicate massive amounts of relevant information not only with the utmost brevity but completely intuitively.

I don’t want to go too much into the plot here, as the book unfolds wonderfully and I’d hate to spoil the experience. I’ll simply say that David Mazzucchelli has created the best graphic novel of the 21st century (so far, at least). It’s a thinking book that’s beautiful to look at. My Sunday afternoon was completely devoured by this book; I became enthralled about 8 pages in. I find myself thinking about it, remembering both specific lines and specific frames. Once these have soaked in my brain for another 3 or 4 days I will read it again. An immediate second reading is an extreme rarity for me (and no, I won’t count the second reading in my 2015 total). The nature of internet hyperbole is working against me here, but this is such a goddamn amazing piece of work. The medium allows for such a nuanced expression of intricate thought; it’s a damn shame that it’s so often regulated away from slow-moving literary expressions.

Recommendation: Buy it. Buy a copy for a friend. Recommend it to strangers in the road.

Asterios Polyp
by David Mazzucchelli

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