Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Graphic Novel Review: Asterios Polyp

I am still making my way through Flavorwire’s list of 25 Essential Graphic Novels and discovered yet another one with surprising emotional depth and quite a philosophical bent: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. This is a story about a man who loses everything and learns what life is really all about.

As the novel opens, Asterios, the main character, loses everything he owns when his apartment building in NYC is struck by lightning and burns – on his 50th birthday. From the opening panels showing his stylish but trashed apartment before the fire, you get the idea that the fire is not the first bad thing to happen to Asterios but represents hitting bottom. The story then flashes back to fill in a bit of Asterios’ background. He is a well-respected architect whose esteemed designs have never actually been built. He teaches at a university in Ithaca, NY (presumably Cornell) and has experienced great success.

Oh, and Asterios’ story is being narrated by his twin, who died at birth. Yup, just a little weird.

After watching his apartment and all his worldly possessions (except for a watch, a lighter, and a Swiss Army knife) burn, he uses the last of his cash to buy a bus ticket to wherever his remaining money can take him. He ends up somewhere in the Midwest and proceeds to start over – finds a job, a place to live, and even makes some new friends. Interspersed with Asterios’ new life are flashbacks to his old life and the events leading up to the apartment fire.

I didn’t know what to make of this unique graphic novel at first, especially with it being narrated by someone who was never born! But it turned out to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, as Asterios strips his life down to its bare bones and considers what life is really all about. Since he started out as a somewhat snooty, wealthy academic, this requires some deep introspection on his part.

A 2-page spread from graphic novel Asterios Polyp

 The author has a unique drawing style, but it feels like it fits Asterios just right.  A range of styles – from big two-page spreads to geometric shapes to classic comic book panels – keeps your eyes roving across the pages and your mind engaged. All in all, I really enjoyed Asterios Polyp and found it made me think. This is definitely another graphic novel success for my growing list.

Pantheon Books

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