Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of the Year: Asterios Polyp

Posted by on January 16th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp has garnered its well-deserved praise from a pleasantly surprising number of diverse sources. The comic-book segment of the Attack of the Show program on the G4 network chose Polyp as its comic of the year. In its “Best of …” issue, Wizard named it “Indie of the Year” (a category sufficiently differentiated to eliminate awkward competition with Invincible Iron Man, the magazine’s “Best Ongoing Series”). In our own bailiwick, Charles Hatfield has detailed Polyp’s virtues at length in a piece originally printed in the 300th edition of TCJ and now available online.
The book is visually dazzling. It bristles with ideas. Seldom in comics are you going to find such sorties into intellectual realms executed so fluidly. It’s brainy, electrifying and impeccably fabricated.

So is it possible that a book among the very best of the calendar year could still be a something of a disappointment? Going on track record and projections, here’s how it would happen: In his superlative short stories of Rubber Blanket, Mazzucchelli has demonstrated an enviable facility for broaching intriguing, abstracted issues and subjecting them to smart, considered scrutiny. At this scale, symbiotic inventiveness and visual integration are hardly anything new for him.

©2009 David Mazzucchelli

Comics’ “long form,” its “graphic novel,” affords the opportunity for refined expression and deepened explorations through extended development. One thing — and admittedly only one thing — that sustains reader interest over such extended development is a nurtured relationship with its characters. It’s an interest, an involvement, often built upon empathy, identification or charismatic attraction.
At least for me, the sympathy engendered for the characters of Asterios Polyp — particularly the protagonist — is limited. Certainly theirs are highly skilled depictions with no complicating confusion about who they are or what they represent. Distinct and recognizable, they are well-fashioned and eminently suited to illuminate matters that are presumably central to their author.
They stake their claim for conscious consideration by way of the mind rather than through the heart. In the Mazzucchelli short stories where ideas, conceits and notions come to command center stage, characters are less critical as glue and focusing lens. They do not need to engage so compellingly for so long. Sustaining warmth is not crucial.
By way of analogy (an ironic one, given Polyp’s career), the characters of this volume are like the distinctive examples of trophy homes freshly devised by up-and-coming architects, buildings intended to singularly demonstrate their philosophy on a cerebral level and stun on the sensory. These domiciles tend to be planned and integrated to the nth degree, rigorously executed and instantly striking. They also tend too often to be places that people find difficult to live in for any length of time.
This is a disproportionate amount of space spent on the sour note of the symphony and I regret leaving an exemplary book on a down tick. So if you haven’t done so already, please consider reading Hatfield on Polyp, mere mouse clicks away.

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