David Mazzucchelli is an enigmatic guy, even for a comic book creator. Early in his career, he partnered up with Frank Miller and provided pencils on two of the defining arcs of two major characters: Daredevil’s “Born Again” arc and Batman: Year One, and then he produced what was determined as “the quintessential New York graphic novel” by some of the greatest minds in comics in his adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass. And then…not much. Since then, he’s produced very little comic book content, but evidently he had been working on something big over the past decade.
What he’d been working on for all of the Aughts (or whatever it is we’re calling the 00’s) was his new graphic novel Asterios Polyp, and if taking a decade off to create something like that is necessary, well, decades off should be compulsory for Mazzucchelli.
In many ways, not unlike Maus or Watchmen or any of the other all-time greats that earn praise from comic fans and the mainstream illiterati alike, this looks and reads like the culmination of the art form. The secret of this book is, and I will probably be lit on fire by Matt, that this is on par with both of them. This book looks like the fusion of Chris Ware’s intensely innovative and inventively visualized Jimmy Corrigan and Craig Thompson’s Blankets, but reads more like the confessional style of Blankets or Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The way Mazzucchelli presents ideas and his story is not just devestatingly effective and hauntingly reflective, it has simply never been done before from what I’ve read.
What is so remarkable about the visual presentation of this book is the complete abandonment of sequential art norms. To say Scott McCloud is likely excited about this book is an understatement. He is quite likely going absolutely bananas right now over what Mazzucchelli does here. McCloud often praises the unique, and if you’ve read a lot of comics you likely know that complete abandonment of paneled structure is not only rare, but unheard of. Mazzucchelli’s free form artistic methodry is quite often breathtaking, as is his usage of color to signify mood and emotional triggers. It’s as if Mazzhucchelli the artist took one look at Mazzucchelli the writer and said, “I’m not sure you’re going to get this done. I’m going to seal the deal.”
This book based off visuals alone is worth a purchase, but Mazzucchelli the writer is no slouch either. His ability to tell a story about a self absorbed and quite often frustrating lead character going through a mid-life reassessment (crisis is too strong a term for a character of such innate control as Polyp is) and to make us not only appreciate him, but openly root for his transformation as a character is brilliant. Using a structure that is quite unique (a time jumping structure that has comics most original narrator: Asterios’ unborn twin brother Ignazio), the story perpetually pushes you forward to the impossible to predict but incredibly fitting ending.
This is not quite your standard comic faire, but it in a lot of ways shows off just how special the medium of comic books could be. This is a lot more than just a comic though, as it is comes in at 344 pages and is a very well produced hardback book. I love this, and am quite proud to say it is one of my favorite reads ever.
Asterios Polyp: A