With words and pictures you can tell any story. Some stories can only be told using both. Asterios Polyp is such a story, with multiple layers of art, design and structure that every person who reads it will take away something different. Slice of life is one of the best genres in comics, though often not widely celebrated. Asterios Polyp easily leads the pack as one of the best for not only the genre, but the medium is as well.
Everything in this book was done by David Mazzucchelli, famous for drawing Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One. This is easily a celebration of the medium. Having read it a few times, I took away a different meaning each time. The layers in this are so intricately woven that they provide something for everyone to enjoy while avoiding the pitfall of being pretentious or condescending.
The first element that stuck out to me was the lettering. Every character had a different font and word bubble shape, indicating the type of person they were and how they spoke. This put their voices in my head, making them feel more alive. The other was the coloring. Seeing how Asterios and his wife, Hana, saw the world, with her being more filled in (I’m sure there’s a word for it, but an art student, I am not), and his being more geometric. This element easily conveyed their relationship, helping to further define them.
As for the themes, there are numerous. The one in the forefront was duality. The narration was from Ignazio, Asterios’ stillborn twin brother. Asterios is obsessed with categorization, breaking everything into categories of two. Something is either functional, or not, etc. He’s a man who is well spoken and intelligent, but is consumed with always being right. This eventually destroys his marriage, and forces him to change. He feels that he’s becoming a new person, or turning into his brother, shown via dreams.
The new and old Asterios is juxtaposed via flashbacks. The story starts with him, divorced and an unworking, broken man. Due to a lightning strike, his apartment catches fire and we see him leave, taking a bus as far as the cash he has will take him. He lands in Anywhere, U.S.A., and works as a mechanic. Through flashbacks, we see the man he was, and how he arrived at this point. This reinforces the duality concept, solidifying many of the overall themes.
Asterios Polyp isn’t for everyone. It deserves to be read, but slowly and multiple times. There have been a few slice of life stories that have stuck with me, calling me back. Each time, depending on what phase of my life I am in, I take away something new. The first time I read this I was still in college, then again as a bachelor, a family man, and more. Each time I had a different outlook. For that reason alone, I can’t recommend this book enough.
What element stuck out to you the most? What’s your favorite slice of life story? Comment below!
I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed.