I borrowed Asterios Polyp from one of my professors, and spent a lot of time going through the text and images this past weekend. It is written and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, whose name you normally see associated with DC or Marvel Comics like Daredevil or Batman. This is not a superhero comic.
Asterios Polyp is narrated by Asterios’ stillborn twin brother, Ignazio. It tells the story of Asterios and Hana, and where Hana might have gone. This graphic novel is rooted in modernist art. Right away, Mazzucchelli visually differentiates his characters with colour, font, and form.
As Asterios and Hana begin their relationship, their visual difference is startling. As their relationship develops and grows, the two characters are outlined in purple, wearing blue (Asterios) and pink (Hana) clothing. At one point, perhaps the height of their relationship, they switch colours.
Mazzucchelli also differentiates between characters by changing fonts, and the fonts seem to reflect the personality of that individual. There are several panels, too, where Mazzucchelli displays a variety of art forms to represent different types of people.
Before I read this graphic novel, I must have misheard my professor or misread an article about it – I thought this was going to be a novel about a professor of Greek mythology. Actually, Asterios is a Greek professor of architecture, but there are several Greek myth references throughout the text, the obvious one being a complete retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, with Asterios as Orpheus holding a t-square instead of a lyre.
In the chapter where Asterios looks back on his relationship with Hana, Mazzucchelli has created pages that illustrate moments in time, flashes of Hana that only an intimate lover would have. These pages are, perhaps, among my favourite graphic novel sequences.
Finally, my comics background is not that strong. Here’s an article that provides a more in-depth treatment to Asterios Polyp and a guide to related on-line material.