Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Published by Pantheon on July 7th, 2009
Genres: Graphic Novel
“What if reality (as perceived) were simply an extension of the self? Wouldn’t that color the way each individual experiences the world?That might explain why some people get along so effortlessly, while others don’t. Although people do keep trying.Yet, despite such predisposition, maybe one person’s construction of the world, could influence someone else’s.”
This has been hailed as one of the best graphic novels ever written. So how had I never heard about it until this month?!
When I was in New York earlier this month, my friends and I made a stop to the Strand Bookstore because, well, we had to! It’s a famous bookstore! We also had to kill some time before our 12:15 a.m. Comedy Cellar show. My friend shoved Asterios Polyp into my hands and told me I had to borrow it from the library when we got home because she refused to let me buy yet another book to bring back home.
It only took a short waiting period before I got it from my library. And I’m so happy I listened to my friend (not only because I loved the graphic novel, but I’m glad I didn’t lug it back in my suitcase that was already way too heavy from all the other books).
Asterios Polyp is about a middle-aged, mildly successful architect and teacher, and womanizer, whose life is turned upside down when his New York City apartment goes up in flames. In a daze, he leaves the city behind and relocates to a small town in the American heartland. But why does he escape?
As the story unfolds, moving between the present and the past, Asterios goes from having a blissful life with Hana — a sweet, smart, first-generation Japanese American artist — to living a lonely life. Where has she gone? Did Asterios do something to drive her away? What happened to her?
This one of the most unique and carefully thought out graphic novels I’ve ever read.
Everything is so strategically crafted — from the colours, the shapes, the fonts, to the speech bubbles.
Everything felt intentional for this simple, yet very emotional and deep story. The characters were masterfully crafted and multi-dimensional.
I liked that it was a gripping story, but was very much rooted in reality. No superpowers, villains, magic spells, or superheros. It was about life, love, and philosophy.
I loved the unique art style. When it came to describing Hana and Asterios’ life together, there was a very distinct use of colours and art style used. My favourite was when Hana and Asterios first met and you could see those two art styles blending together. And when they fought, the distinct art styles became separated.
This is also a really tiny thing, but I appreciated that each character had a different font attached to them. It made it very easy to read and to differentiate the characters. Not only that, the fonts chosen for the characters also suited their personalities!
I also learned quite a bit through this story about a man finding love, meaning, sanity, and perfect architectural proportions. There’s plenty of discussion about art history, design theory, and human perception.
But what I took away most from the book was the fact that at 50 years old, Asterios learns how to be better.
It’s a touching story when you watch Asterios look at his past and try to fix his mistakes by learning from them. It takes him awhile, but he eventually gets there.
But why wasn’t this a 5 bubble tea read for me? I often felt like Asterios’ eccentricities were… over the top. It really grinded my gears whenever he interrupted Hana to mansplain something to her. Also on that note, I wish we got to learn more about Hana!
His obsession with his unborn twin brother became too much to handle especially when it took up a lot of the book. That metaphor could’ve been settled faster. Readers aren’t that stupid, you know! We understand how the twin brother factors into the discussion of randomness and chance in life.
Which leads me to my second point about why it didn’t get 5 bubble teas from me. That ending was disappointing. I understand it in the grand scheme of things, but when I got to the last page, I just felt cheated! After Mazzucchelli’s extraordinary imagined world, this is what we get?
As you’re reading this, you’ll realize why it’s considered to be a great American graphic novel. But beware of the ending! Even though I’m not a fan of the ending, I still loved that I got to go on this journey with Asterios. And I’m considering reading it again before I have to return it to the library!