Sunday, March 7, 2010

I love this graphic novel

If there's one graphic novel that you have to read, it must be David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp. After reading it last week, I realized that I will never look at graphic novels the same way again. To say that Asterios Polyp pushes the boundaries of graphic novel is an understatement. Mazzucchelli's masterpiece even puts most novels to shame.

The graphic novel focuses on the failed life of Asterios Polyp, a well-renowned, award-winning professor of architecture whose designs have never been actually constructed. He's all talk and is so full of himself that he considers his opinions about everything to be true. We get to read how he meets his future wife, Hannah, who eventually leaves him after being fed up with his superiority. The graphic novel chronicles Asterios's downward spiral -- from losing his academic tenure, to working as an auto mechanic, to finally asking for his wife's forgiveness.

Don't let the simple plot fool you though. Asterios Polyp touches on a lot of themes that many experienced graphic novelists wouldn't attempt to include in their graphic novels. For one, AP is a meditation on the importance and relevance of artistic styles and design theory. Mazzucchelli switches to different artistic styles to match the mood of the panels. He even limits his color scheme to blues and purples, with the occassional splashes of yellows. The result is brilliant. Every panel, despite its minimal elements of line and color, speaks volumes.

Asterios Polyp even pays homage to the myth of Orpheus. There's a sequence that shows Asterior going down the depths of hell to rescue his wife. For those who know Orpheus Underground, you just know that the ending of this sequence doesn't go well for Asterios and Hannah. Still, the panels that form this sequence is one of the highlights of this masterful graphic novel.

Humorous, profound, trivial, introspective, important -- words that I never thought I would use to describe just one work of fiction. Asterios Polyp is all these. What's even more amazing is that you can see these attributes in one page as your eyes move effortlessly from one panel to the next. Yes, the narrative constantly jumps from the present to the past, but you're seldom left confused. I think this is why this technique works best in graphic novels. You have visuals to help you note minor details.

Asterios Polyp is -- literally and figuratively -- a huge graphic novel. I read somewhere that it took Mazzucchelli several years to produce this work, and it shows. The layout doesn't scream at you; every color, shape, and line has been thought of. It's one of those books that you discover something new every time you reread it. It's just too beautiful.

Read this book if:
  1. You're getting tired of your usual graphic novels.
  2. You love minimalist artwork.
  3. You like blue and purple.


Book Dilettante said...

I like blue and purple and have joined the Graphics Book Challenge 2010, for which I only to read one book! I'll see if I can find this book.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Harvee! You'll love this book! It works on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I have never read a graphic novel, although I was into comic books in gradeschool. I tried to browse Trese, because of an interesting review by Artseblis. However, I really couldn't get past the chaotic black and white sketches. They were just too uninteresting for me to get involved with for long. Pity, because the story may have been good.

Now, a minimalist sort like this one would be much more appealing. For a change, I must try this genre.

gege said...

That almost monochromatic approach looks delicious. Agh, another book to add to my wish list.

Peter S. said...

@josbookshelf: I'm also a late bloomer concerning graphic novels, since I only started reading one 6 years ago. You should try one, Jo. Just be patient and it'll grow on you.

@gege: I can lend this to you if you want.

Anonymous said...

That certainly is a lot of blue and purple.

I haven't read a graphic book since Persepolis, which is a tough act to follow.

Peter S. said...

Hi, StephanieD! You won't be disappointed with this one.

SariJ said...

Another great pick! I am putting this on my wish list. I am sure many of us who do not read graphic novels are missing out on some gems.

Krista said...

Oh how cool! I love me a good graphic novel! :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Would you believe I have never read a graphic novel? Every time I am in a book store I look at them but have yet to see one that is a "must read".

This one looks interesting!

benjamin said...

See my vintage picture blogs:

Melange said...

Looks great. Off to add it to my wish list! Thanks!

Oh, and what a great review!

Anonymous said...

Hey Peter!

I see you're gradually loving graphic novels. See? There are bound to be some these that you would appreciate.

Well, I don't know if this next statement will help: The "Twilight' series is now in graphic novel formats. :D


Peter S. said...

scribesexpress: That's one graphic novel that I wouldn't try. I think the novel is fine as it is.