Book Club / Adorable Idiosyncrasies

Asterios Polyp
By David Mazzucchelli







Dry technical work or comic masterpiece? Plotless ramble or subtle story (or a miniplot)? Narcissistic jerk or lovable asshole? Or should we heed the warnings of ‘Asterios Polyp’ and move past dualism? Find out here while taking in a Roman wedding, ‘flower sunshine’-powered cars, and the interruption of some mutant Nazis. 

 

OK. Yeah – there’s serious comic books and fun comic books (as with most things). Fun comics just want to entertain you. Superheroes and action and whatever (I think some people call these “genre” books – which (wow) is like a whole barrel of monkeys that I’m gonna try not to open): bright colours and mindless explosions. Etc.  

 
And then – well: yeah – there’s the serious comics. The ones that sit there stroking their chins and talking about like themes and issues and matters of big and deep importance. 
 
For anyone who’s met me or read the stuff that I’ve written: I guess it’s pretty obvious which one of these two types (and yeah yeah ok: dialectics and everything: and maybe we shouldn’t just split things into two and whatever: but that’s another discussion for another day) I tend to have the most affinity for, the fun smash-bang comics that amp up the awe and wonder and epic vistas and play down all the human blah blah blah stuff. Although – well – maybe it’s not as simple as that…
 
Maybe it’ll help to think of it using a food metaphor: on the one side we have chips, a burger and a milkshake and on the other a three course meal of like steak and soup and stuff with all the trimmings (whatever: I’m not much of a foodie so I don’t really know what I’m talking about here). The chips and the burger – well: that’s the fun comic books. The one’s that only want to entertain you. Point being: comparatively they’re pretty simple and hard to mess up (I mean – of course it’s possible: god knows I’ve had plenty of rubbish burger and chips and have read more than my fair share of poorly made superhero comics and whatever). The three course meal with all the trimmings: well – that kind needs a whole other level of artistry. Because yeah – while it’s possible – you need to be really really good at it. And all it takes is a tiny misstep here or there and what you’ve got is pretty much inedible.
 
My point – it’s not that serious comics are rubbish or too po-faced or whatever it’s just that (for my tastes anyway) the vast majority of serious comics (that I’ve come across) suffer from crippling flaws and stupid mistakes and whatever (top one being: why have you decided to tell this particular story in the first place?) that – given a choice, mostly I’ll just tend to stick with burgers and chips (thank you very much).   
 
Which I guess brings us to ‘Asterios Polyp’. Because yeah – ok. This is a serious comic with stuff on its mind and with such an abundance of technical ability and solid grip on the various nuance of graphic storytelling and blah blah blah etc all the rest… 
 
Skip to the end: when I’m talking to someone and they ask me what’s a good place to start for someone who wants to get an idea of what’s so great about comic books anyway: ‘Asterios Polyp’ is often one of the first books I reach for (that or ‘Crossed’) – I mean – not to build it up too much or anything: but just in terms of all the cool little new flourishes and techniques it pulls off – it’s kinda like the Citizen Kane of comics and I feel like for any other emails I write it’s just gonna be “oh yeah – this bit.” “Yeah – then this bit.” “And – oooh – yeah – this bit is really nice.”
 
But then: do any of you disagree with this? I mean: I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not just having to quietly nod their head in approval. I’d love to hear if from someone who feels differently… 
 

 

OK, then, challenge accepted!
 
‘Asterios Polyp’ (or ‘AP’ for shorthand typing?) didn’t make much of an impression on me first time around, and that was some years ago when it came out. (I feel that I should perhaps re-read it to come up with something more cogent). 
 
I felt impressed on a technical or dry intellectual level, but, crucially, emotionally uninvolved; neither stirred nor shaken.
 
This felt wrong – because I’d followed Mazzuchelli’s career and output to that point with interest. In truth (despite by now having read more than enough Batman), it has ended up that I would rather have more pulp action like Year One from him than the likes of AP. Or even the developing techniques and bravura of Big Man (as I think it was called, from Rubber Blankets). Somehow AP felt self-satisfied or self-consciously showy.
 
And I’ll leave it there for now, and hope to find time during this month to give the book another go to see if it feels any different. If it falls short again it will go on the “out” pile!
 

 

Well, it seems to me AP is a Masterpiece, but I do not necessarily mean that as a compliment. Please let me explain. In the current Radio 4 series Germany: memories of a nation, the episode From Clock to Car: Masters of Metal (23 Oct 14) explains how within the C16 Guild system of craft metalwork it was necessary to complete the very long transition from Apprentice to Journeyman to Master by presenting a Masterpiece to be judged by an expert panel.
 
From what I have now read about his long career progression, and from my recollection of the book, it seems to me that AP was presented by an aspiring Mazzucchelli as his Meisterstück. Plainly, the acclaim given to it by the cognoscenti has duly admitted him as a Master. For which read Graphic Novel Auteur: it really struck me that the publisher’s webblurb about this book says “David Mazzucchelli has been making comics his whole life…. ‘Asterios Polyp’ is his first graphic novel”. It goes on to say AP “has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and been listed as a New York Times notable book”.
 
However, to goad my overburdened initial analogy on a few more yards, I found it interesting that in C16 Nuremberg, a metalworker’s Masterpiece had to be a drinking vessel in the form of a Columbine flower – beautiful to the eye, but almost completely impossible to drink from. I see clear parallels with AP here. The widespread admiration given to (in Joel’s words about AP) “all the cool little new flourishes and techniques it pulls off” seem to coexist with a similar sense in this thread that it does not deliver a cargo. A formally exquisite yet empty vessel, perhaps like the projects of a paper architect such as Asterios.
 
Moving on, I do not know where this whole Graphic Novel thing is heading – and I speak as someone uncomfortably close to the DKR thread’s unfashionable type 2 demographic (if that was not already obvious from citing Radio 4) – wherein AP admittedly serves as a cautionary tale about a specific kind of male entitlement, complacency and hubris (albeit rather stereotypically characterised). Prize-winning cold formalism of the AP and Jimmy Corrigan kind, or the literary pretentiousness of Dotter of her Father’s eyes seem to me to be a bid for bourgeois respectability at the forefront of the non-European mainstreaming of the whole form. But, for that matter, what is it with the Gothic-Celtic-legendy-questy “genre” clichés of so many comics rooted in Anglo-Saxon culture? I reckon Mazzuchelli’s City of Glass was a much more creditable piece of work, the job of a skilled journeyman using established (Maus-style) woodcut-type artwork. Incidentally, one of the characters there looks just like a 3D Asterios…


 

Mazzuchelli and Paul Auster’s City of Glass
I had forgotten about that one! Good call!
 
Very much worth a look, as I recall it…



JONAS
Twitter

 

Looking at what everybody else has said, and relating it to how I feel about graphic novels, and in relation to James saying about where graphic novels heading, the one thing which springs to my mind is that this is a question of format. ‘Asterios Polyp’ is not the kind of book which draws me in, or makes me want to read it, and this is because its not the sort of story I’m particularly fond of (and the artistic style doesn’t appeal to me either). While I can see the talent and skill that has gone into it, and can see why others like it, I can say the same about a wide range of books I come across in the library, and will never read.
 
I guess I’m with Joel on this one, I like my graphic novels a bit less serious. Actually scratch that, I like my stories (whatever the format) to be less serious, and more fun. I like fantasy, I like science fiction, I love urban fantasy, and I like kids books. While I also like other stories (Room for love which I thought was awesome, is a perfect example of what doesn’t fit into my standard genre list) they have to have something special to pull me in and AP doesn’t have that.
 
And this is when the format kicks in. I like graphic novels, and tell people this all the time, yet what does that mean? Because I don’t like all graphic novels, in fact I probably like less than half of them I come across. So when a book like this comes along I feel like I should read it, because I like graphic novels. The same thing happened with Dotter of her fathers eyes when it came in, I thought I should read that. I tried, I stopped, I’m not going to try again.
 
So I think I’m with some you on this. The talent is there but there’s nobody home. Its like a really attractive person, who you think you should chat up, but when you do they are the most boring/dull/stupid person once you get below the surface. And now I think I might be being mean so, let’s try again. If this was a non-graphic novel I wouldn’t look twice at it, and that’s fine because there are people out there who don’t like the sort of graphic novel I like. Anyway I’m starting to ramble here (sorry) so I think I will stop for now. In summary skill A+, story D- from me.
 
Cheers
 
P.S. Ilya, reading Room for love on a packed commuter train is all sorts of weird awesomeness, as the other passengers see what you are reading and react to it in what can only be described as confused ways!
 
 
 

 

Ha. And there was me thinking that all anyone would be able to say was variations on: “this comic is so so so cool.”
 
Jonas I am in total agreement that the thing to go for (in all media) is how cool the story is. And that everything else (acting, framing, artwork, sound, colour, whatever) only works best (or works at all) if it’s helping to make that story do all the cool stuff (or whatever: ok, yes, maybe not explaining this as well as I could). 
 
Random example: I watched this boring-ass film a few years ago (something Japanese: I forget the name) on the recommendation of a friend. Managed to just about get to the end without falling asleep and when I told him this afterwards he was like: yeah yeah – but what about the colours? Didn’t you love all the colours? To which – well – what can I say? I mean: I need a story that’s going to make some sort of marks in my insides before I care enough to actually start paying enough attention to anything else. 

Asterios Polyp My Head is Filled

So – to reverse Jonas’ attractive person example: I need to be gripped by the what’s been said before I can be bothered to get to grips with all the other aesthetic details. (Another random example: it’s like when The Dark Knight Rises came out and everyone (a.k.a. the internet) was like: oooh: what does it mean? Is it anti-Occupy? Or Pro-Capitalist? Or what? And man – I was like: this film stinks so much I can’t even summon up enough interest to actually think about it more closely to dissect the damn thing…. But yeah – whatever).
 
But then: like I said (as serious comics go) I bloody love .Asterios Polyp.. Like – you know: it’s a nice solid piece of work (or as James so nicely put it): a bit of a masterpiece. 
 
So yeah – what I want to know: what is it with you guys saying it’s – you know – “cold formalism” and the lights are on and nobody’s home or whatever. I mean you’re all saying it’s leaving you cold: but what I want to know is – why? Would you prefer another version of AP where Mutant Nazis machine-gun their way into things? Or you want a main character who’s more sympathetic or what?   
 
Like I reckon there’s a whole bunch of stuff you could say about the themes and all that that AP deals with (just off the top of my head having not read it for a year or two: Philosophy, Love, Relationships. Memory. Space blah blah blah – which I’m pretty sure is only scratching the surface). 
 
But then also: yeah – just to say/pick up on a remark Jonas made: AP is so very very very much a graphic novel/comic (whichever): that the idea of it just being a (no pictures) book is just kinda silly. It’s like if someone made a film of Ulysses. It’s just – well – missing the point completely. 
 
Although: having said that
 
(shakes head)
 
#thetimeswelivein
 
 

JONAS
Twitter

 

 
I would pay good money for a copy of AP with Mutant Nazis in! Also Dark Knight Rises was such a serious let down, but the main theme it explored was how to make a bucket load of money without trying very hard…
 
 

 

Yes, I do agree that a strong story can be a critical element but – AP feat. Mutant Nazis??? Hold the phone, though, I think I might be coming round to the idea now I think about it…
 
Nevertheless, I am not still sure I want to try to do a comprehensive demolition job on AP (although that was not really Joel’s suggestion). I accept that it is a creative work. It’s not that I hated it or anything, nor that I want to try to out-clever it (I would fail, anyway)  with assumed erudition –  it just left me cold. I very much responded to Jonas’ honest appreciation of this “not being the kind of book that draws me in” and I can’t do any better than that.
 
Turning to story and so on, I would say a comic, graphic novel or a film with a weak storyline can still pack a hefty mood-punch if the artwork conveys a time, place or atmosphere. I declare an interest here – I would watch a film just for the colours… I just did! – ‘Mr Turner’ (plotline: countdown to effete, dandyish fop blathering away in ridiculously posh accent about Art while surly working class J M W Turner knocks him dead with a guttural grunt of primitive creative genius. Tick, tick, tick -bzzzzt!)
 

A bit more seriously, I did just read Art Spiegelman’s foreword to City of Glass (hey, Ilia!) and he has some really interesting things to say here about the birth of the “Graphic Novel”. The gist (if I have it right) is that Maus was the only one around for a while and that it begged for work of a comparable standard which would justify bookshops having a “graphic novel” section. This got mixed in with Spiegelman’s personal frustration at the fantasy and role-play stuff that Maus was shelved with in these sections in the meantime, despite his initial scepticism about the thirst for respectability evident in the “Graphic Novel” rebrand. So, he put the team that made City of Glass (including David Mazzuchelli) together…

 

Asterios Polyp Comic Books

So I think Mazzuchelli’s AP is another product of this want of high-quality material and, personally, that it tries too hard to fulfil it. For what it is worth, I read it feeling a sense of obligation, on my part as a reader, willing it to succeed in filling this gap. Plus it was recommended to me by someone who really knows what he is talking about. In a way I am sorry not be able to come to the party. On the other hand, it makes me wonder whether the Graphic Novel thing was a good idea. What was ever so wrong with genre comics anyway?

 

 
‘But the main theme it explored was how to make a bucket load of money without trying very hard…’
The thing is that while I DO want to do good work, if I could get a bucket load of money without trying to hard, I kind of would. 😦 Or do I mean :-).

Comments on AP:

I haven’t reread it yet, but I really did love the bit later in the book where we find out what film AP was watching at the very beginning of the book.

I did love the way the art supported the story, AP all in blue geometric lines, Hanna all in red lines, and the way the room around them matched each person, but also segued/switched from one to the other. I think that got the effect of the dolly-zoom, and it shows how in an argument you focus in on your own point of view, becoming unable, when you are hot and bothered, to even see that there might be another point of view. 
 

RUDY

 

Here’s my two cents:

I love the artwork style of AP- from an artist to artist perspective I can really appreciate what Mazzuchelli has done. I’d probably say that most comic artists create one visual language and roll with that – but he’s created a visual language for each character which is pretty amazing. That being said, if the book hadn’t been so beautifully drawn, there’s no way in hell I would have finished reading it. It’s like he spent so long creating this aesthetic challenge that he forgot he needed to create a narrative that would hold. More than just being weak, I find the narrative damaging. To me it says even if you’re a completely narcissistic self-absorbed jerk-bag don’t worry because there will be a woman who will love you regardless. It’s basically a message about being a shitty person and that’s completely ok because someone is gonna love you for it and see it as these adorable idiosyncrasies. I have a real problem with comics like that because I think it reinforces sexist thinking and abusive relationships. Also, I didn’t feel like I really got a sense of what Hana is about- she seemed like a manic pixie dream girl/ facilitator. When you bring in the racial dynamic as well of Hana and AP and the way that Hana is portrayed – well I’m just gonna say I’m feeling sketchy about the way her character was created altogether.

Personally I like serious and fun comics – and what the artwork looks like does matter to me. If I don’t like the artwork it’s going to be a real struggle getting me to read it. But I’d rather have an awesome story with an important message than pretty images that are completely vacuous.  
 
 

 

Re: Hana
I think background facilitator, manic pixie dream girl is a bit strong. As far as I remember I thought Hana was well enough drawn to be a step above that, we saw her teaching, she had her big project which AP felt very left out of and was acting badly over (so perhaps he was acting a bit worse than normal in the scenes we are shown, not an excuse though).

On the other hand you do raise a very good point as I was thinking yesterday, what did Hana see in AP? I couldn’t really remember much. Good food? Of course there is a reason given for why Hana was attracted to AP in the first place, but that couldn’t explain why she stuck round.

Unless it was just the way she was neglected by her parents so coming second place was ‘comfortably uncomfortable’? Truth in television, but not very edifying, if it applies to Hana.

Also I should point out that being a manic pixie dream girl is quite a serious condition, there is a video here :-).
http://www.cracked.com/video_18380_the-dark-secret-behind-quirky-romantic-comedies.html

For awesome story over amazing art check out the webcomic ‘Order of the stick’. All stick figures, but plenty of story.
 
 

 

Right. Ok. I had a reread of AP last night and basically it feels like I’ve got a billion things that I wanna say: 

 
First off: Hana. Why does her storyline / character have to be “edifying”? I mean – she’s a well-drawn character and all of her reasons and motivations are there if you want to look (there’s that constant use of the spotlight). I mean – I totally get that we live in an awful patriarchy and women are constantly being treated as second class citizens and that’s (obvs) a bad thing. But I don’t think that the solution to that is that all women in all stories ever should only be depicted as making good decisions and only having healthy relationships and always being happy because – well – (stating the obvious here): in Heaven all stories are basically non-existent. I mean: stories are basically all about conflict anyway (basic story structure is – I want this thing but I can’t get it so need to do this thing to get it). And well yeah: sad but true – people with some sort of damage make the best stories (eg. Hamlet – it’s a story about a guy that can’t make up his mind. I mean: if you were like: that’s awful – it would be much better if he was less indecisive, then, well – it’s a much shorter story and not everyone dies in the end and well – no one wants that). 
 
So yeah – Hana might not be the best role model and maybe she would have been better off if she never got involved with Asterios in the first place but – well: there’s stuff in the book that explains her reasons why if you take the time to look and also – well – yeah: sometimes people will go out with and marry people who maybe it’s the best person in the world for them. I mean – life (and relationships) are all about compromise you know? And if you’re holding out for someone who’s going to be your 100% perfect dreamboy/dreamgirl – then (sorry) – chances are you’re probably going to waiting a long time… 

 

 
Also: (and this kinda reminds me of what Mazin was saying about the Dark Knight Returns “is there any argument to say that the hero of a story always has the final stamp?” etc): I mean it’s very obvious (well – obvious to me?) that while – ok – Asterios is the main character of the book: the book (or his dead twin Ignazio if you wanna get specific) isn’t really on his side all that much: for the vast majority of the running time, you’re supposed to be thinking that he’s a bit of dick. If you’re like: oh man – this guy is totally up himself / he’s a pompous douchebag / etc. whatever – well: that’s a feature not a bug – you know? I mean there’s even points where the book itself directly pokes fun at him (“Hey! Lookit me! Some attention over here! I’m talking about penises!”). Yes yes – of course there are other points where you’re encouraged to laugh with him too (and man – my aim for this week is to try to work the phrase “Trenchant Pedestrianism” into conversation): but then – that’s what happens when you start reading complicated books (oh boy – I hope I’m not sounding too much like a douchebag here myself): he’s halfway between sympathetic and – well – non. 
 
But then well yeah: there’s reasons for the way he behaves and who he is at various points in his life and – (sorry) – but I think it’s wrong to say that the message of the book is about being a shitty person and that’s completely ok because someone is gonna love you for it and see it as those adorable idiosyncrasies. I mean yes – ok: Hana does put up with him for quite a long time: but come on – when the book starts (just before his flat goes up in flames): his whole life/flat is in disarray/filthy mess mainly because (well) he’s divorced – Hana finally had enough and couldn’t put up with all of his “adorable idiosyncrasies” anymore and so she dumped his ass: and – as we see as he makes his way through the subway and on to the greyhound bus: he’s basically been left with nothing (well – ok three things: but hey: check out which items he gives away and which item he keeps). And then yeah – he spends time with this cool family, does some honest manual labour, (finally) builds something (even if it is just a treehouse), changes the errors of his ways and then goes to try and win Hana back (and whether or not she even wants anything to do with him other than just seeing him for one night is a question that’s left completely open). I mean yeah – it’s complicated by the fact that as he moves forward the book is filling in the past and showing us the guy that he used to be (and yeah well – he used to be a massive arse): but if anything the message of the book is: hey – don’t be a shitty person because it’s rubbish and you’ll end up alone. Instead – be a good person and overcome your damage and be nice to people and you’ll have a better life. 
 
Also: use libraries because it’ll help you get a job! And libraries are great!   
 

 

When it comes to Asterios, I thought the principal problem with the narrative was the extent to which he was so crudely obnoxious, conceited and controlling. I see this reflected in the coldly mechanistic and symbolic artwork with which he is depicted before his fall.
 
My interpretation is that Mazzuchelli sketched him in with such a complete absence of redeeming features – begging the question of what on earth Hana sees in him – precisely in order to avoid an impression that he endorses his hold over her. So, I see no manifesto for abusive relationships, even if that is partly the subject.
 
But the consequential problem is that the story becomes unbelievable. Why does a mere house fire destroy such a colossal ego? His personal crisis and self-reinvention – after which I recall he is depicted in more rounded artwork – then seem equally incredible, sourced from nowhere.
 

 

 
But why is it a problem that Asterios is “obnoxious, conceited and controlling”?
 
I mean – obviously if he was a real person then – yeah – we’d have a problem (and god – just even being in the same room as him would be totally awful): but come on – this is fiction: so how is that even a problem?
 
I mean: I could be taking this too far (and you guys let me know if you mean something different): but is this just the case of wanting to have your main character be more sympathetic or (even more strongly) someone you can identify with? I mean: are you telling me that AP would be a better book if Asterios was a nicer guy? I mean (as I hope I’ve kinda shown?) the whole point of the book is that it’s a redemption narrative. In the past – he wasn’t a nice guy and he was damaging and condescending to everyone around him (“Do you find that people patronize you? That means that they talk down to you.”)  and then he went through a load of stuff and at the end he’s a little bit softer, a little bit nicer and a little bit wiser…
 
Good example: there’s that point halfway through the book where him and Hana are telling a story “that time in Florence” and he’s all like this: 
 
Asterios Polyp Yap Yap Yap
 

 

 
And yes yes he’s all three of the things James said: obnoxious, conceited and controlling (three for three – woo!). 
 
But then: right towards the end (I can’t find it online: but I’m guessing you all know the bit I mean – right?) where they repeat the scene – but this time instead of Asterios being all obnoxious, conceited and controlling: he’s kind and open and reciprocal (and ok yeah: it’s totally beautiful in how it plays out: the way their speech bubbles reach out and intertwine).
 
But the thing is: you can’t have that moment of grace at the end without the dickishness at the start. Right? 
 

And taking on James’ other issue: (“But the consequential problem is that the story becomes unbelievable. Why does a mere house fire destroy such a colossal ego? His personal crisis and self-reinvention – after which I recall he is depicted in more rounded artwork – then seem equally incredible, sourced from nowhere.”) 

 
Well – (in the politest possible way) no. I don’t think Asterios’ redemption comes from nowhere. I mean – I totally get that it may seem like that at first glance: but I think that’s a slightly superficial reading. In fact this kinda feeds into one of the points that I wanted to make (so that’s good): more than any other comic that I can think of (with the possible exception of Scott Pilgrim and Chris Ware’s stuff (but oh boy: Chris Ware is kinda a mission)) AP is really densely packed with all sorts of narrative information (and this is the important part): like a really well written (no pictures) novel or a Woody Allen film (and is it just me (?) but AP really reminds me of a really good Woody Allen film): that isn’t coming to you in a an easy way: namely – well – the chronology: as it’s moving forward on two parallel timelines: 
 
Timeline 1 (the present) – Asterios’ house burns down and so he leaves the city and becomes a better person.
Timeline 2 (the past) – Asterios and Hana’s relationship plays out – they meet / they fall in love / she realises how awful he is. 
 
Of course how Timeline 2 ends (and what we don’t see) is the bit where they get divorced (actually – now I think about it – we don’t actually see them get married either do we?). One nice example of this is that at the start of the book we see his flat and it’s all a giant ugly mess: 
 
 

 

    

 
But as the book goes on – we see it as it was at the beginning (and where some of those various bits of furniture comes from) and the various stages it goes through. 
 
But yeah – I mean in terms of narrative information (because hey what the hell does that even mean right?): just look at the state of that living room and ask yourself: does that seem like place of someone who’s happy or sad? I mean – come on: even the fact that Mazzucchelli decided to colour it blue (which – despite what some people might tell you isn’t actually the warmest colour) is a bit of a major tip of that it’s not actually supposed to be Shiny Mr Happy Fun Times. 
 
And – throwing in a little bit of Zizek if I may – the destruction of his apartment gets me thinking of this
 
Let us take the case of the death of a beloved person. In the case of a symptom, I “repress” this death and try not to think about it, but the repressed trauma returns in the symptom. In the case of a fetish, on the contrary, I “rationally” fully accept this death, and yet I cling to the fetish, to some feature that embodies for me the disavowal of this death. In this sense, a fetish can play a very constructive role in allowing us to cope with the harsh reality. Fetishists are not dreamers lost in their private worlds. They are thorough “realists” capable of accepting the way things effectively are, given that they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to cancel the full impact of reality. In Nevil Shute’s melodramatic World War II novel Requiem for a WREN, the heroine survives her lover’s death without any visible traumas. She goes on with her life and is even able to talk rationally about her lover’s death because she still has the dog that was the lover’s favored pet. When, some time after, the dog is accidentally run over by a truck, she collapses and her entire world disintegrates.
 
I’d argue that Asterios’ flat is taking the place of the dog in this case. I mean – his wife has left him. He’s all alone. He’s miserable. But he’s keeping it together – until one night – oooof: 
 
 
 

 

 
And yeah: with the destruction of his materialistic life, what is he left with? Well – that’s what the rest of the book is about isn’t it? And that’s what takes him about 300 pages to work out. 
 
So. His personal crisis and self-reinvention is “sourced from nowhere”? Well – I would say that it’s not – but I would say that you really need to pay very close attention to what the comics is doing in order to get this stuff. And that’s in no way intended as a cuss or anything: I mean – the massive massive majority of comics (that I’ve read at least) are no way near as stringent and demanding. I mean: it’s a bit like going from David Almond to David Foster Wallace. But then – hey – that’s what makes it such a fantastic comic. 

 

 

Well, maybe I think it is a problem because life is rarely as simple as that. It seems to me that the redemption narrative in AP – for sure it is supposed to be there – suffers from the bad Asterios being so emphatically drawn that there is no credible connection with the good Asterios.
 
So, in a way, yes. I would like him to more sympathetic and complex – to make the narrative hang together. Here, I think it needs to be clearer what Hana sees in him (or alternatively the facilitator concept could be developed – Mazzuchelli might make something of why Hana puts up with him for so long) so the reader goes on their own journey with her to concluding she should get out. “Identifying” with a more nuanced Asterios could then be genuinely scary and challenging. But all I see in bad Asterios is a cardboard cut-out villain. Answer: yes, AP would be a better book if Asterios were a (slightly) nicer guy.
 
But I think Mazzuchelli shied away from these challenges– maybe for fear of being perceived as an apologist for Patriarchy. Instead, I interpret that he chose the formula of a creative artwork housing a didactic, simplistic, even safe story.
 
 

 

Why does a mere house fire destroy such a colossal ego? There WAS that tape collection. Every moment of his life up in smoke. If he felt a compulsion to keep that he must have felt some comfort blanket was being stripped away. 

On the other hand perhaps a tape collection like that implies that you should be watching the tapes, and though he evidently watched a few good bits, he certainly wasn’t watching anything like the whole collection.

So maybe that was clutter-induced psychic weight. Always hanging over you that you SHOULD be doing something or other with the tapes. That would drive me crazy. 

So maybe having those tapes forcibly stripped away was initially traumatising but in the end freeing and better.

(I can’t imagine what I would do with my time if I didn’t have a stupid giant e-mail inbox looming over me, constantly needing to be read, constantly filling up with 77 unread messages and 567 things I ought to do).
 

 

I haven’t finished rereading the book yet, but want to come in quickly on Joel vs James. My gut feeling is that James is right to think that the change in Asterios is sudden and inexplicable, but for me it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the meta makes it ok. As has been pointed out already, the book is structured into two overlapping narratives constantly switching between each other: one blue and one yellow (pre and post fire). Likewise, the protagonist is abstracted into two opposing ends of a spectrum – which allows the author to do his work. The technique is certainly forced, but the style of the entire book is like the opposite of naturalistic (it’s narrated by a dead foetus!) so for me it wasn’t a problem.
 
On the likability stuff, perhaps I shouldn’t admit this but even the “bad” Asterios has likable qualities that make me root for him. I suspect Willy Illium is introduced at the end partly to show up some of these positives: he is brusque and patronising, sure: but he isn’t a fraud, and he does support Hana and her work throughout. Joel brought up Woody Allen, and this does follow the arc of Annie Hall just a tad – in that it’s the story of a gal falling in love with and then outgrowing a guy. I love the movie, but Allen is deffo quite patronising towards Annie (she’s a floozy transformed in the film), while it’s suggested that Hana will go far even without Asterios wading into her life.
 
Patriarchy is most evident in the comic not through it being an apologetic for male assholes (Hana does leave him after all) but in that it’s yet another story about a middle-class white guy and his personal problems (rather than being a comic from Hana’s perspective for example). And that is partly a wider problem about who gets to write and publish comics. A lot of the top comics talent can write amazing female / BME / queer / etc. characters – but the vast majority of them still look a lot like David Mazzucchell. Until that changes we’re going to get a lot more middle class white guys hogging the limelight.

 

Yes, as Joel and Christine have shown, I now need to take a closer look at the story.  And either way, it’s going to be fun to look at AP again now. It is possible that the external stuff I brought to AP has somewhat biased me against it. I think it is great that Ilia points out that the bad Asterios does, in fact, possess some redeeming features. Maybe I discounted them somewhat. I definitely think they are absolutely essential for a credible story.
 
I think IMD shows that some men are genuinely trying to refound a diversity of positive masculinities, instead of a hierarchy of one. I would really like to read more from this perspective, whoever pens, draws, or even embodies it. I felt disappointed by AP because the reinvention of the 2D Asterios I saw looked incredible. Moreover, I see 2D as a problem in effecting change in the wider sphere of society – I do not think blanket condemnation works and neither do I think it is warranted as often as it is used.
 

 

There’s that really cool bit (well – in this book there’s lots and lots and lots of really cool bits) where’s he on the greyhound bus and that dude asks him if he’s married and Asterios’ speech bubble breaks up into three parts that go “uh yes no”?


And yeah – well: I wanted to find a picture of it online and so I googled “asterios polyp uh yes no” and the first thing that popped up (before I could even click images) was this thing that I wrote back when I still doing the Islington Comic Forum: http://islingtoncomic.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/asterios-polyp.html (and basically spending my time not serving customers and doing storytimes writing stuff about comics). 
 
But yeah – at the risk of sounding like “hey everyone! check out how amazing I am!” – I thought I’d mention especially because (in a strange way for me – but not particularly surprising thing for anyone else) a lot of it was exactly the stuff that I was planning to say here anyway (damn you past self – you got there before me!). 
 

 

I haven’t chimed in on AP before now because I had to buy and reread it and because I mostly didn’t want to get drawn in to whether Asterios is a good person or not. I think that’s actually pretty nuanced, like many of the things in the comic. I do agree that there are probably enough comics about white, middle-aged straight men, but that doesn’t actually detract from the value of AP. Asterios is a bit of a wanker, though. One thing that personally infuriated me is his insistence on calling Hana ‘Daisy’. I kind of hate nicknames to begin with, and it struck me as him marginalising her and her identity.

I thought it was interesting that he goes from a purely theoretical person (designing buildings that will never be built) to a practical one (working with his hands; fixing cars and building treehouses). That treehouse is pretty important, I think. There’s a reason it appears right at the end as a sign of the good that Asterios’s practical work brings to other people. This stands in sharp contrast with his derogatory comments about his students’ building designs. You can argue that the treehouse is a good symbol of human endeavour (which Asterios represents) building around the natural world (that’s Hana, naturally. Her name literally means Flower Sunshine!). I think fixing up the solar-powered car is another example of this.

What do we think of the meteorite, btw? I thought it was a bit surreal as an ending, but I read it as a parallel for the fire that destroys Asterios and lets him rebuild as something better. Did anyone have any other readings?

Technically speaking, the book is brilliant. Mazzucchelli builds an incredible visual language that’s more effective at telling a story than most comics could ever dream of. I almost feel that any story would struggle to live up to that. Or maybe the fact that people think the story is weaker than the way it’s told is the ‘Polyp effect’ coming up again – he’s able to conjure brilliant things on paper, but can’t deal with humans and their emotions properly.

There are so many incredible techniques and subtle touches in there. More than I could ever cover, but I was just looking at the end, when Asterios turns up at Hana’s place. She covers him with the blue (pre-fire Asterios) blanket, then, as she warms to him after he tells her he’s given up smoking, she puts a neutral yellow blanket on top of it. The blankets come off altogether after she reveals the platonic solids and the two of them stand, bathed in a blue glow. It’s a nice moment that shows he’s had as much of an effect on her as she has on him.

It’s clever, and it’s funny and I like it. And no, I wouldn’t like it more if it were called ‘A Serious Plop’ or if it had mutant Nazis in.
 

 

I just finished reading AP for the first time.

I don’t really look at comics as serious or fun because I think “serious” comics can be fun (intentionally or unintentionally) and the same goes for “fun” comics being serious. If I ever walk into a comic book shop and see them grouped into those genres then I might rethink my stance :).  Like some of the previous contributors to this thread, I focus first and foremost on story. If I’m going to really really get excited about a book/comic/film it is usually because the story resonates with me and/or get some part of me animated.

Asterios Polyp That's Good

Story: From a high level perspective, AP’s story is somewhat simple: materially successful man, is brought to his knees, goes on a trip of self-discovery and eventually realises what is important (sees error of his ways). There isn’t a lot in there to make this story extraordinary. What I found different from most stories that follow this format, and allowed me to appreciate it more, were the small detours it makes into philosophical questions. I enjoyed thinking about some of his theories and the questions his dead twin raised about his perception of reality. I must admit I spent far more time than I should have thinking about which views I agreed with and which ones I disagreed with. I couldn’t help pausing to consider Willy Ilium’s statement about life and death not being opposites. Not incredibly original, but in the context of the book I felt the need to revisit it. It felt like different theories were thrown out by the characters (Asterios, Ursula, Ignazio, Willy) just to give the reader something to think about as the story progressed. If I didn’t enjoy thinking about these things, the story would have been a lot weaker. Before I say anything else, I would like to say how much I dislike Willy Ilium! I know his character is there to be a dick (very successful), but whenever his character appeared I couldn’t shake the feeling Mazzuchelli was trying too hard to be clever and seemed (to me) self-indulgent. As far as stories go, it wasn’t amazing but there was enough in there to keep me interested and it wasn’t completely predictable (I smiled when I saw the asteroid in the end). I never really got excited or shocked, but that was fine because sometimes a nice drive down a country road is preferable to a roller coaster ride.

Artwork: I like how the artwork was used to tell parts of the story and to convey meaning. The transition from clashing shapes to more harmonious ones as characters came to understand one another was cool and something new to me. It was a great example of one of the advantages this medium has over others. It added an extra layer to the narrative because not only could you feel a growing connection between Asterios and Hana from their dialogue, but you could actually see it happening from the way they were drawn as well as the clever use of thought bubbles near the end.

As a story I thought it was alright, as a showcase of what you can convey in a comic book it was great. That’s probably why people are either very impressed or underwhelmed… it mostly boils down to what you were looking for. AP has a lot of layers to it and it’s almost like there is a little something for everyone. Whether you like it or hate it, I feel you will engage with the material on several levels. I would definitely recommend it to someone. 

 

 

Ok – yeah: there’s this thing that’s been bugging me – I know I kinda mentioned it at the Barbican Comic Forum on Thursday night (so sorry to those of you who’ve already heard it before) but I guess it would be nice to get it down in written words: 

 
Basically it’s this idea or thought (or whatever) that AP “doesn’t really have a story”.
 
Unless my brain is making this up it’s something that’s been said a few times (or more) as everyone has chipped in with their comments (I mean – I know I could just go back and do a search: but yeah – ok – I’ll admit it: I’m lazy). It’s also kinda in this very nice Sean T Collins review (or at least I think so. He does say: “What I’m having harder time with, where I feel really out of my depth, is in trying to locate the book’s story content” but then goes on to say loads more stuff so maybe I’ve misunderstood him or something?) but yeah. 
 
I mean (for me at least) this is a really really interesting thing that kinda reoccurs a lot in reviews of lots of stuff (comics, films, TV) where (for some strange reason) certain types of stories (or ways of telling stories) are kinda dismissed (or misunderstood?) as not “really having a story.” The best example I can think of (and yeah ok – this is the one that I used at the BCF) is the “Fly” episode of Breaking Bad where Walt and Jesse are basically just sitting around talking (and trying to locate and kill a pesky insect). I mean – yeah – there was a bunch of people at the time who were all like: “That was a rubbish episode. Where was the story? It was just them talking. Where was the story? It was a nice little detour maybe but I’m looking forward to them getting back to the story. Where was the story?” etc etc. 

 

 
I mean I really love comics and I think they’re cool. But the thing that I’m really really interested in is story and how does (how do) stories work and what do they mean and how do they mean what they mean and all the rest of this stuff and so yeah my brain starts bleeping like crazy (what – you’re telling me your brain never bleeps?) when people watch something (or read something or whatever) and say – after the 344 pages of AP – “oh yeah it was alright: but there was no real story.” Because well yeah: I have no real understanding of what that even means. 
 
Is it just another way of saying that there was no real incident? In which case: yeah ok – I mean apart from the fire, and the dead twin, the sex, the fights, the underworld and all the rest of it (I mean – obviously for the full effect here I would keep on writing several lines of things that happen: but yeah – like I said – I’m lazy). But hey: I do kinda get that. Because yeah: actually most of the incident isn’t happening externally: it’s all (very much) internal stuff. The way that Asterios’s character slowly changes over time. The way Hana changes. And they way their interactions change. 
 
And I guess that’s the through-line with that Breaking Bad episode: because I guess that even though nothing much is changing in the external world (there’s no explosions or train robberies or mutant Nazis etc.) there is lots and lots happening inside people – which I mean – come on: that’s what all good stories are about right? People doing stuff and then coming back having changed.
 
So yeah – I guess my next question is: wow – what’s happened to everyone (because it’s not just one person who thinks AP has no story – it’s a lot). Like – without being too much of a doomsday drama queen: is it that popular culture has melted everyone’s brains? And that the only thing that people have been programmed (is that too harsh a word?) to understand is the external changes and that anything that happens internally is discounted? I mean – come on: Hana is a major character and even though she might not say much – you can trace her whole view-point on her relationship with Asterios (and her opinion of Willy) just by the look on her face and her body language and stuff. I mean: just because it’s not explicit: it doesn’t mean it’s not there (not every story needs a Basil Exposition you know? Christopher Nolan take note! ). 

Asterios Polyp Can't See The Horizon

Kinda reminds me of this Atlantic article of the latest Doctor Who where it talks about a dream scene in the penultimate episode (erm small spoilers for Doctor Who): “The scene… is effective (if you ignore the fact that both of them can open the TARDIS without using a key), but ends with a reversal that undercuts it. It only seemed like she had the upper hand. It was all a dream! When she tried to roofie him, he roofied her right back! And then forgave her! Agency, schmagency.”
 
I mean – there’s a lot that I think is wrong with that: but the main part is “ends with a reversal that undercuts it” (the reversal being the fact it was a dream – well: ok more a joint-dream thing: I mean – it’s a little weird because it’s Doctor Who so erm yeah): because yeah – I don’t understand how it being a dream undercuts anything. Is it that only real life and reality is real and that anything that’s not is basically useless? I mean: you learn a lot in that (dream) scene about both characters and loads of stuff about how they work and why and what’s important to them and what lengths they will go to in order to get those things (“Agency, schmagency?” What the what? I mean: Clara does stuff and it has an effect (maybe not the effect she wanted) – so why say there is there no agency there? I mean – it’s like watching Wizard of Oz and saying it’s all meaningless at the end because Dorothy thinks it was all a dream?).
 
But yeah – maybe this is all just crazy ramblings. I dunno. What do you think?  
     

 

This reminds me of something I heard once
‘Why is a wedding considered the END of the story, it’s the BEGINNING of the story for those two people’.

Emphasis on the last three words.
Before people get together, it’s all ‘will they won’t they, who will you pick.’*

Who gets together with who is interesting to other people, who have their own ideas about it and might try to make their own ideas happen.

But the work of building the relationship? Who cares. The two people get on with it.

Like in Rome where the mother asked her daughter how she was getting on with her husband and she said ‘oh we’ve had our problems but we are working our way through, I think we’re much happier now’ and her mother was all ‘tough sh*t, get divorced, I need you single for further political marriages’.

So yes we definitely DO discount the internal stuff in favour of the external wizzing and crashing. I’m not saying that is right. So maybe we are slowly getting more stories that consider us growing as a person, and some people don’t get/enjoy that (Brene Brown is great on this topic, albeit not a comic, but a thin book, so that’s almost as good).

Sometimes we say there is not much story when the events are on a small scale, e.g. Castle Waiting Volume 2. (Highly recommended)

Somebody has a [broken ankle] and is on crutches for a while, two people move house (within 100 meters), They knock a hole through the wall. There is a disappointing lack of zombies** in the secret tunnel, which is sunlit with a reading nook with cushions. The hole in the wall is paid for with some new clothes. The Dr misses his wife and has a Venus Fly Trap.

So maybe we are learning to pay more attention to our internal lives and in 20 years time people will rewatch Breaking Bad and feel, ‘Oh there is one brilliant episode, Fly, where SO MUCH HAPPENS, but the rest of the series is just people blindly running around. God I’m glad we’ve got proper health care and social security nowadays. How could they live like that!’



*In the olden days, in some classes, a woman’s choice of husband could determine her whole life and career: political hostess, diplomat travelling the world, living in a quiet vicarage, poverty, abandonment etc. [a lot of these old jobs were actually partnerships with a very definite, albeit unpaid, role for the wife].

**I love the anomalies in Castle Waiting: ‘someone should write a book about this castle’ in the same scene where the characters, set in medieval Europe, mention kangaroos! Also zombies, also Alice bands (named after Alice in Wonderland in vol. 1).

*** I’m only doing stars because Joel told us off for potty mouths, not because I actually write like that. 

 

 

On Joel’s story angst: always find it helpful to use a schema I learned in GCSE Media Studies when we were being introduced to film: you can break down visual narrative into plot, character, themes and mise-en-scène. Every film has all four of these. “Story” is actually a really vague term, so splitting it up like this helps me quite a bit, in that you can start talking about plot-heavy or character-heavy stories, and also about your own preferences (I for example find plot the least interesting part of a story: character and theme are the top dogs for me). Incidentally, it’s also the formula a lot of critics use for reviews: brief synopsis, a look at the characters and the way the actors realise them, an appraisal of the visuals and finally a brief discussion of what it’s all about.

 
I think it’s fair enough to describe AP as light on plot: the main concern is exploring the titular character, and using as many stylistic tricks available to the comics artist to do so (whatever the equivalent of mise-en-scène for comics is, AP has it in spades). If your preference is for plot-heavy stories, then the complaint that AP doesn’t have any makes sense. I think that attitude misses all of the clever stylistic and thematic content in the book – there’s plenty of “story” there, albeit more broadly defined.

Asterios Polyp Weren't Imaginative

 

 

I read the asteroid in a meta direction – the obliteration of the narrative and the world that has been created in the book. It’s just a neat little ribbon to tie things up, and I don’t attach a great deal of significance to it. The hand of the author is quite visible throughout the book: pushing his characters around with freak acts of nature. The call back to the beginning is therefore OTM. To push that further: it’s a reminder that the story we are reading is an artifice, the characters are not as complex as real people, and the ideas presented are subjective rather than true. 

Far more interesting for me is the dream-like descent into hell that provides an allegorical commentary on Asterios’s marriage (love allegory, can’t get enough). It’s a retelling of the Orpheus myth (Asterios’s Greek ancestry isn’t an accident, and I suspect there are quite a few nods in that direction squirreled away in the book). Orpheus is instructed not to look back at Eurydice when he retrieves her from Hades, but he does so anyway and loses her forever. How this maps onto the story Mazzucchelli gives us is far harder to work out. Here’s my go:
 
Asterios sees actors perform at love, and finds it moving (his relationships prior to Hana?). He is then presented with Hana in the flesh by Willy Illium, and tries to flee Hades with her (their courtship and marriage, with Willy reinforcing Hanna’s uniqueness?). But he doesn’t do as he is told: he keeps looking back so that Hana has to dodge his gaze (Asterios’s superciliousness and the breakdown of their marriage?). Eventually she loses faith in him, and just as she slips away, he realises what he’s lost (the new transfigured Asterios?). In that final moment he can see her again clearly, but she is consumed in fire (the comet?).
 
 

 

Argh, sorry for being late. Thanks for all the emails. And sorry for blurting mine in one go at the end.

 
The debate over how much story there is: I mean, there is a story, a on-the-face-of-it simple story, and yes, just more internal than external (quite literally – Asterios’s change is often prompted/heralded by dreams (is this more classical civilisation allusion?): sunflowers in the car engine inspiring him to take the solar-powered car, the dream of the twin’s alternative life’s roaring success preceding Asterios finally putting his theory into practice and building a treehouse for the kid.) 
 
But ‘internal’ stories are no bad thing. Some of the best of them are (see [insert your fave modernist short story writer here]). James, Joel, Jonas (all the J’s!) have covered this question well. It’s just another kind of story. 
 
So the milieu did feel quite familiar then (familieu). Joel and Ilia have mentioned Woody Allen and specifically Annie Hall: yes very much so:  Asterios was what Alvy Singer would be like without the neuroses. But I bring up this comparison to explain why I was, initially, a bit cool in my response to the story: guy is a smart but controlling asshole, slowly becomes less of an asshole, epiphany about self, minor reconciliation. It was in fact probably a little more rosy than sommit like Annie Hall, where (spoilers!) Alvy and Annie meet up after their break up but then obviously depart as only friends.
 
The other interest then for me was the whole comic form playfulness. If certain films can be called cinematic, and certain books literary (though this is now a term of abuse, for complicated reasons), then what’s the equivalent term for comics? Comicky? Because AP is a very comicky comic.
 
Almost too much so: I thought it was even a bit naff, initially, that different characters were represented as different drawing styles, with different speech bubble shapes and different lettering (or even people made up of letters!) (weirdly reminded me of an educational cartoon, like say a Sesame Street cartoon called  ‘People! Are! Different! Yay!’
Asterios Polyp Made of Words

 

(Similarly the, for want of a better phrase, intemellectual references, were on the nose, reminding me of what we were talking about with Alison Bechdel and Fun Home, a sort of aspirational room-at-the-table urge. I mean, a town called Apogee?)
 
(Similar, too, with some of the tropes: the falling in with a wacky family and their friends who bring the dry intellectual back down to earth. BUT then this also gets – well, more on this later…).
 
But then on second reading, a lot of the subtler techniques became apparent. The stretching of time, and anticipation therefore, during the car journey at the end. And something I wanted to talk about previously: those comics where ideas and form slot together: like the recurring use of the spotlight, which initially is this obvious visual metaphor – being out of the spotlight – but then later when Asterios is praising Hana, and the spotlight is on her at last, but then he starts fading back to talking about himself and his ideas, and the spotlight starts moving away, slowly, back on to him:
 

 


As for the asteroid at the end: the page-turn reveal did initially surprise me in a bit of a WTF way. Like, oooookay! But then the crazy guy in the diner did warn everyone about asteroids… And all the ‘external whizzing and banging’ is, to take Christine’s phrase literally, forever these violent interruptions, like Zeus zapping people with lightning; so it’s thematically on point: the major events that we more traditionally think of as being more storylike, are in fact arbitrary, so the comic takes this to a logical extreme and throws in a lightning strike here, a bottling there. Is there meaning to it? The guy that bottles Asterios is the same one that he gave his dad’s lighter to on the coach. The coincidence invites us to draw meaning. To me, it’s like a comment on the desire to make stories: to make sense: to make safe. But what if the gods weren’t trying to teach you anything? What if it was just for fun? Or worse, to provoke you into searching for some meaning? (Speaking of, I’ll do just that: what’s in the Asterios/Asteroid verbal association?)

 
My absolute favourite part, the most moving part for me, was the ‘Bodies’ chapter, where that kind of collage of memories of Hana as a physical being, is cut through (literally) by the strand of Asterios helping her retrieve the tip of a q-tip from her ear. So, the old joke is that men don’t believe women shit or fart. Then it’s partly a sign of Asterios’s change that he remembers, dwells on all the physical, even gunky aspects of her. She’s not an idea or ideal! She’s a human animal! But then it’s all so tender: relationships as unnatural proximity to another human, love being (partly) the overcoming of disgust. It kinda made me wanna cry (just as a tribute to all the bodily fluids, though). Asterios’s growing awareness of the physical is key to his spiritual development (woah there guru); after all, the bogey man / bogeyman on subway and the vomiting woman in station appear in his Orpheus epiphany.
 
Regarding Hana, I’m with Christine, I think manic pixie is a bit strong, in fact, too strong for her character. She has a backstory, her own wants, needs, projects (literally). It’s never clear who divorced who, but I’m going to guess it was her. 

Asterios Polyp Shoeness


Ilia’s right, the gender question is a meta question – why another story about a middle-class straight white guy? So for example, one of the things that bugged me initially, going back to the whole Different Styles for Different Characters thing, was why did the man have to be the straight-lined, geometric one, and the woman the sketchy, flowing, messy, arty one? That seemed a bit trite: men are like this! women are like this! (Similarly, Mañana’s no-nonsense simple relationship wisdom versus the guys’ systemising theories.) 

 
But it’s more complicated than that. Case in point: initially it’s like, oh surprise, Asterios, the guy, notices the damaged machine in the car crash that they witness together, while Hana witnesses the injured/dead animal (women: more in touch with nature).

But this dualism is necessary to set up a later reveal, or incremental change in Asterios. He learns to share her sympathies: I think not long after the deer flashback is when we have Asterios saving a cat from being crushed under the wheel of a car. 

So in general, it’d be nice to have more stories with arty, nature-conscious, soft-lined men and geometrical, systemising, planar women, but in-story it makes sense. Or at least isn’t just arbitrary or un-thought-out gender role reinforcement. 
 
To me the name ‘Daisy’ wasn’t patronising, or was only inasmuch as any pet name is (pet names – clue’s in the ‘pet’). It’s at least a reference to the meaning of her name. She’s is a flower: he individuates it (though this perhaps is cluing in to his need to control: he narrows her from generic to specific).
 
The treatment of the Ursula character ended up being one of my fave bits about the comic. She starts off as that crazy landlady character, with her zodiacs and her feng shuis, argh, quirky. But then her take on astrology, though the standard one that people into that shit give (“water!”), does make you give her a second thought. It’s still a bit ‘the surprising wisdom of the zany hippy’. Fine. But then, better, she has smart things to say about genders, which Asterios concedes is not only a good point, but the world would be better if more people thought like her on the subject. (Yes, yes, pot/kettle irony alert, but for example this is good.)
 

Asterios Polyp Vegatarian 

 
As for his change coming out of nowhere, the seeds are there from the start. He’s not a total asshole. He has some sympathy for her. He doesn’t know, hasn’t asked if she’s a vegetarian, but on finding out, he improvises and still makes her a great meal. He can be supportive, telling her they’d be idiots to pass her up (sure, this is to make him a bit of a hypocrite too, again like how Alvy Singer in Annie Hall is the one who wants to ‘improve’ Annie, but when she does,he gets jealous), or saying ‘nice lesson’ when seeing her teach about the importance of spaces around shapes
 
(Still, I think though there should be an alternative story where Asterios is just a perv, and he wings his story about his dead twin to explain the hidden camera. Because let’s be honest, she takes it quite well. Even if I believed the story, I’d be like ‘soooo you film me because of your dead twin’s ghost. Okay, so I’ve got like a meeting to go to, can’t stay for breakfast BYE (car screech sound))
 
Rudy, I get where you’re coming from about what the book might teach narcissistic asshole men (“do what you want, they’ll still love you for your quirks”). (I like the bit too about how narcissism of personality sits within a wider narcissism of culture/ history: our time that we live in just happens to be the bestest most clear-headed and fruitful time! Well that’s lucky.) But I think the take-home is more that, if you’re gonna be an asshole, you’ll hurt and lose the people you love (Hana literally dreams about being literally smothered by Asterios), and you’ll suffer for it in other ways and, even when you learn a bit, learn the hard way, and struggle (as through snow) to try make things up, the best you might get is a minor reconciliation, which, in any case, may well be too late because cue SPACE ROCK. Like, AP very much has a moral. It’s very much not pro-asshole. If it was, it’d ended with him as blue planar geometrical outline version of himself, and her as red sketchy scribbly version of herself, back at a marriage altar.

 

 
Instead, their final encounter is the story’s point, represented not only by content, and incident – Hana has combined her skill for weird sculpture with his obsession for Platonic solids – or the fact that Asterios is showing a genuine interest, sympathy, that they know what the other’s thinking, BUT stylistically as well, their speech bubbles intertwine, and though they retain their individual shapes, they show us how they can sometimes chime/overlap (“Rest in Peace!”). 
 
The other key hinge of the story ‘Why do you let him talk to me like that?’ is so effective because it’s not the reveal you were expecting (or at least wasn’t for me (I miss these things, usually). I assumed there’d be a moment of confrontation where Hana finally calls out Asterios’s self-absorption, but, ha-ha, I malely assumed it’d be about their respective work, when in fact, it’s about how he lets other people treat her. I (we?) took Willy Ilium’s comments as just part of his rambunctious personality, which at most she’s embarrassed about, and perhaps is even a sign  of some underlying relationship (taking in here Asterios’s own jealous POV), when in fact it’s harassment, and he doesn’t even notice let alone defend her. 
 
In a story about dualism (or say ‘the myth of __’) , Willy Ilium is a foil and warning to Asterios, his other twin. He’s not there by accident. His play is called Orpheus, and Asterios imagines himself as the same (of course he does! “I am the hero of my own story” as the comic says.) 

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there Ilia. You say “he keeps looking back so that Hanna has to dodge his gaze (Asterios’s superciliousness and the breakdown of their marriage?)”. But the opposite is happening in the panels. Asterios is keeping his eyes closed, arm over face, while Hana is ducking around trying to get him to see her. That for me is the point of the Orpheus sequence. His refusal to see her is his refusal to value, know, find out about her during their relationship. And then when he does finally look, it’s too late, she withdraws, is consumed by the fire (the fire to me links back to the fire in the apartment, not the asteroid, the visual and colour is the same. But maybe they’re both linked)

The Orpheus sequence confuses me though. Because if my take on it is right – that the reason he loses her is because he looks at her too late – then that implies that if he was looking at her from the start it would also be bad / result in losing her. But then maybe, seeing as it’s his dream (?), it’s about what he perversely fears is the consequence of knowing her: losing her. 
 
Because when he finally does see her, at the end: what happens? Out of the blue: the fireball.
 

EMMELINE
emeraldsong

 

I liked Asterios Polyp a lot. It has a “miniplot” rather than “arcplot”, to use Robert McKee’s terms from screenwriting textbook Story. The characters are passive rather than forging ahead on some kind of quest. I think it’s a good fit for what it achieves.
 
I find Nana’s comments harmonise best with my enjoyment of the comic, the main themes of dualism versus holistic thinking, and relationships and family, are commented on by the different characters and situations. It’s a feast in an analytical way, but less so in terms of emotional engagement. I keep trying to piece together Hana’s motives for divorce, and although I can list ways we learn that Asterios is arrogant, disrespectful of others etc., I don’t feel her anguish or sense of exhaustion. When Willy makes his innuendos I can’t decipher any discomfort from her reactions; on first read-through I was blindsided that she had found them distressing, and on second time around I figured that Mazzucchelli hadn’t dropped sufficient clues to foreshadow that.
 
It’s not an empathy-driven read but an analytical and observational one. Asterios Polyp invites a wealth of formal and narrative detective-work. (Consider the contrasting interiors of Asterios’ flat, the room Ursula arranges for him, Kalvin Kohoutek’s apartment, and others. Or wonder what the distant, lone aircraft in certain skies might symbolise? Both Asterios and Jackson live with an invisible partner… etc.) I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but it clearly has its fans.
 
Oh, and I noticed that even the binding on the book’s spine has blue thread at the top and pink thread at the bottom!

 

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