It seems to me that blogging and hubris go hand-in-hand, so maybe now it’s time for a little braggadocio. Not mine, though. Asterios Polyp’s.
Asterios Polyp is the protagonist of David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel by the same name. He (Polyp) is a child of immigrants, their surname halved by an impatient administrator—fans of Homer will likely guess the omitted part by the end. He’s also a quick-study genius, an expert in and esteemed professor of architecture (despite never having built a single structure), and an all-around pompous jerk. When we meet him he is broke, newly divorced, and his house is burning down (despair, lightning), so he runs to the appropriately named town of Apogee, where he becomes a car mechanic.
Except that’s not really what the book is about—that’s how it starts, though. The rest of this novel is hard to explain without Mazzucchelli’s illustrations, which is perhaps why I think that this comic is so brilliant: you truly have to see it to completely understand the story. Even the colors are significant, though it isn’t necessary to be a student of printmaking to grasp the author/artist’s intentions. For example: in a flashback, Polyp is shown meeting his future wife. He’s depicted entirely in cyan, while the color used for her is magenta. Their “blending” happens literally when, as they have a conversation over the course of a few panels, they both are gradually rendered in purple ink. Over time as their marriage crumbles—largely because Polyp is incapable of understanding the world in anything other than black-and-white, true-or-false terms—the two-color cyan/magenta dichotomy returns.
It’s simple, beautiful, perfectly suited to the medium, and sort of amazing that this is relatively new territory for so-called Graphic Novels. Some artists, like Chris Ware, are more adventurous with their graphic storytelling techniques, but by-and-large I’d guess that comic book fans are used to authors drawing/telling a linear story: the action unfolds from left to right, panel by panel—all easily translated to a movie screen, I might add. Mazzucchelli, however, moves far beyond this, and will utilize something like the “one page” comic (see Frank King’s Gasoline Alley) as a means to simultaneously depict his characters’ wildly different perspectives while they engage in a conversation about postmodern musical composition; that he does this without alienating his reader (in fact, you might not even notice this at first) is what makes this book so brilliant.
Whether you like comics, art, or just skillful and innovative storytelling, you must read this.