Article originally written by Steve Ponzo
Daniel Quinn is an author who writes under the pseudonym of William Wilson, he inhabits the traits of Wilson’s character Max Work to protect Peter Stillman from Peter Stillman. All the while impersonating detective Paul Auster, who as it turns out, isn’t a detective at all but an author who happens to share the name of the author of the very book we’re all reading. Confused yet? Good you’re supposed to be.
Quinn world becomes fractured, filled with multiple interwoven identities and as he spirals down into madness the reader is right there with him. What began as your typical detective story quickly turns into a metaphysical mystery far more bizarre than any Quinn has ever written.
What really drives City of Glass was adapted by Paul Karasik with art by David Mazzucchelli, from Paul Auster’s cult classic, and Edgar Award-nominated masterwork of the same name. However, this isn’t a simple illustrated version of a novel. Instead, Karasik and Mazzucchelli have transformed the story into a new visual language, deepening the already dark and powerful themes of its source.
Auster’s original novel is a stunning piece of prose that seems impossible to adapt into comic form. The subject matter of City of Glass focuses largely on language and text while lacking any real visual content. The foremost example of this is a 15- page soliloquy. Yet, Karasik and Mazzucchelli take the adage, “why say it when you can show it” and manage to turn the monologue into nine flowing and innovative pages.
We start looking at a character speaking and then follow his words down into his mouth and deep into his soul. We’re taken on a metaphoric ride and see the depth of the loss found inside the character. Each page in this speech consists of a nine-panel grid. This formatting serves a double duty, creating structure for the story while also being a symbol unto itself. It tells of Quinn’s rigid, pent up state of mind and as his life unravels so do the panels.
Mazzucchelli is a true master of his craft, balancing noir sensibilities with metaphysical abstractions. He does all this while still keeping a keen eye on detail. The original structure of City of Glass calls for iconic illustrations. As the story becomes dense, the images do the same, and when Quinn’s life becomes less structured so too does the art.
In the opening pages of the book, Mazzucchelli’s art tells us that this is going to be something unlike anything you’ve read before. He uses an abstract technique where one image merges into another. A building becomes a maze, a maze becomes a brain, the brain becomes a fingerprint, and then the fingerprint is on the window on the building and we are back to where we started. In just nine panels we’re introduced to the major themes of City of Glass, identity, loss and distortion.
Paul Auster summed up City of Glass in one line, “Lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well.” This line isn’t found in Karasik and Mazzucchelli adaptation; instead we find the words embodied in the images. They’ve created a new symbolic language which emphasizes Auster’s original theme, while adding yet another layer to this cerebral masterwork.
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