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Asterios Polyp

Asterios Polyp Asterios Polyp Asterios Polyp

Asterios Polyp back

David Mazzucchelli


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Every memory, no matter how remote its subject, takes place "now", at the moment it's called up in the mind. The more something is recalled, the more the brain has a chance to refine the original experience, because every memory is a re-creation, not a playback."

Oh, comicbook of the year without a shadow of a doubt. It's deliciously funny, immaculately composed and rendered with a witty attention to the smallest of details. Certainly its punchline had me howling outloud with laughter, and I don't know how many reviewers will concentrate on this aspect, but it is a comedy.

It begins halfway through under a breaking thunderstorm, in a Manhattan apartment wrecked by neglect. Its potted plants have wilted or died and its floor is strewn with the detritus of convenience foods, bottled beer and thrown-off dirty laundry. Pots and pans pile up in the sink just as the bills pile up on the occupant's desk. In his bedroom an equally dishevelled middle-aged man watches homemade video recordings from an enormous library over and over again. This is his life, the life of Asterios Polyp, and it's about to go up in smoke.

From here on in, the story like everything else is split into two, before and after the fire alternating, the one informing the other. For as Asterios picks himself up, spends his last cash on a bus ticket to the remote town of Apogee, and within half an hour resourcefully acquires a new room to rent from an employer to work for, he finds his new, warmly lit environment sufficiently nurturing to reflect on what he has lost and why. Key to this is Stiffly Major, the kind and decent man who takes him in, and his voluptuous wife, Ursula Major, all swirls and curls and curvy floral dresses. At first both appear feintly ridiculous: Ursula with her Earth Goddess / Shaman shtick, rearranging Polyp's room as auspiciously as possible according to his birth date (including a table upside down and a chair on its side!); Stiffly with his malapropisms when defending his country's history ("That's a fragrant lie!") or voicing his approval when his wife offers to take Asterios on a picnic ("Knock yourself up!"). Indeed when Ursula Major first appeared I thought she might have been a seductress, but instead she shows an astute understanding which gives Asterios an uncommon pause for true self-reflection:

"Well, you know, in life, things are seldom either/or. It's that kind of simplistic thinking that creates fanatics."

Asterios Polyp, you see, was one such fanatic. This is the world as he saw it:

"Duality is rooted in nature: the brain is divided into right and left hemispheres, electrical current is either positive or negative - our very existence is the result of being male and female. It's yin and yang."
"I disagree. Duality is an invention that seems to be true, but only because the examples you cite share superficial similarities that appear to be dualistic because we define them that way."
"Ah! But it's one of the other, right?"
"(Sigh) I'll give you this: there are two kinds of people in the world - those who break things into two kinds and those who don't."

Asterios used to break everything in two for, as he perceived it, he himself had been broken in two in the womb: severed from a stillborn, identical twin. He then grew up with a craving for knowledge he assiduously absorbed, his career built on a reputation for elaborate architectural plans, not one of whose buildings had ever been constructed. Not Parallel Parks nor Akimbo Arms. Instead it was the theoretical and the abstract which fired him, so he became a lecturer - largely, it seems, because it afforded him every opportunity for withering and supercilious put-downs, and an audience for arguments he was determined to win. Everything to him was a sharply defined counterposition of opposites which he could not resist pontificating upon, jousting for superiority. In short, he liked to show off, grabbing the spotlight wherever and whenever he could and at anyone's expense.

If you're as eagle-eyed as Tom you'll actually spot him figuratively stealing the spotlight on the page, for every single aspect of the above, especially the duality, is represented by Mazzucchelli visually. Whether it's Asterios' squarely boxed capitals stamping over and pushing aside his wife's soft, lower case speech balloons; the cold colours of the past contrasting with the sunshine yellow of the present; or the physical division between Asterios and Hanna on the page, separated by panels, contrasting in colour and rendered apart, she all fuzzy and vague, he a precisely defined, hollow abstract construct of cylinders and line... it's all a matter of perspective and it's all been thought of. No wonder it took Mazzucchelli a decade to compose. The separate palettes do combine towards the end, but I'll leave you to discover the how and the why and what happens next. But it may just be fortunate that Asterios Polyp never got to building anything of his own design because although he's worked theoretically in three dimensions, he's never applied that to life. Nor has he grasped the importance of foundations, for it takes the local band's bass guitarist to point out the obvious:

"Love... trust... respect... Take any one of those away and the whole thing falls apart."

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