A lot of comics, even long-form literary “graphic novels,” tend to excel either visually or narratively, but rarely both. Especially when a single person serves as both the writer and the artist, there’s often a noticeable strength in one area. In most well done comics, I don’t even notice this disparity as I’m reading. I only mention it here because in Asterios Polyp, both the art and the narrative are so strong and interdependent on each other that it made me start noticing weaknesses in other comics. And that’s not a bad thing.
I couldn’t provide a plot summary without giving away some of the details that Mazzucchelli drips to the reader throughout the course of the entire book. There’s not a single blatant info dump to speak of. The characters don’t ask too many questions of each other, in a way respecting each other’s privacy. For the reader, the art serves to define them without relying on words–for example, Asterios’s blue geometric shape design melding with Hana’s red sketchy design. The words they do use are well chosen and reveal something significant about them--for example, the opening scene contradicts multiple things Asterios says in flashbacks later…what has happened to him in the meantime?
During an interview with Terry Gross, one of the “Breaking Bad” writers (either Peter Gould or Thomas Schnauz) said, “Give your audience two and two, and let them make four. They’ll love you forever.” Easier said than done, but Mazzucchelli nails it. And he weaves the artwork into the words in a way in which neither could exist alone. This feels like a comic that was conceived as a comic, or maybe an art project that we lump in with comics because of its similarity in format. It’s something special, a model for comics done correctly.
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