We attended the David Mazzucchelli/Dan Nadel conversation last night at MoCCA and the place was SRO (We mean it, even the book’s editor, Chip Kidd, had to stand in the back of the room) and the audience was chock-a-block full of present and former Mazzucchelli students, aka present and future cartooning stars. We were going to type up a few notes, but INCREDIBLY, Squally Showers has typed up THE WHOLE THING, in record time. [Link via Journalista]

The whole conversation is of great interest, but we were particularly struck by Mazzucchelli’s description of how when he drew something he didn’t like he would draw another one right next to it, and then just Photoshop in the right one.

The at show currently up at MoCCA is probably the best show ever at the museum, and easily one of the finest cartoonist’s retrospectives we’ve ever seen and if you live anywhere near New York and like comics or art or both you owe it to yourself to see it. The show closes at the end of August but may have an extension.

Anyway, looking at the art from POLYP on the walls it was fascinating to see where Mazzucchelli had rejected an element — perhaps just the number 7 or a bit of lettering — and redone them. Why these choices? The originals looked unflawed to our untrained eye, but it’s that level of perfectionism that makes POLYP a book deserving of much study and enjoyment. And the “doubles” flawed and unflawed, consciously or not, also reflect the book’s themes of duality and twins.

How much study is POLYP deserving of? Why…this much. A blogger at Stumptown Notes has gone through the entire book in the following fashion:

As Mazzucchelli does a great job of explaining several points along the way, I am limiting my notes to places where he has not explained what is happening on the page.

Page 3, Panel 1. Exterior of Asterios Polyp’s apartment. It is important to note the symmetry of both the apartment building and the lit windows.

Page 3, Panel 2. Interior of the apartment of Asterios Polyp. This panel will be repeated often throughout the book. It is important to note how this apartment looks now to compare it to the view of the apartment later in the book.

The book is endlessly open to such analysis, but we suggest reading it first, then checking the annotations to see what you missed. The story is too rich to be slowed down by analysis on first reading.

FINALLY, POLYP also comes in second on this week’s GN Bestsellers list at the Times.

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  1. This looked like a great book when I first saw it, but I had no (and still have no) idea what it’s all about!!?? O.o

  2. This looked like a great book when I first saw it, but I had no (and still have no) idea what it’s all about!!?? O.o

    Warning: These two reviews might tell you more than you want to know about ASTERIOS POLYP, but the critical analyses can be taken as respect fir Mazzucchelli’s talent and goals:

    From Open Letters:

    Asterios Polyp, tiresomely, has more lofty literary goals than telling a story using compelling language – instead, the writing labors over existential and theoretical ramifications of an architecture professor going through a mid-life crisis. Even the startling image of lightning hitting an apartment building becomes an opportunity to foist another insight upon the reader. The lightning cuts the page into two parts, initiating the inspection of doubles and doppelgangers that occurs throughout the novel. Later, the basic form of a bisecting line is explained by the professor’s colleague and wife, Hana, as she teaches class: [. . .]

    While the author’s language includes elaborate observations concerning the patterns and doubles in one man’s life, the illustrations effortlessly demonstrate what the prose so tortuously covers. The clean, blue lines of Asterios’s form render a man interested in neat definitions and tidy explanations, but Hana’s cross-hatched, pink portrait depict a woman concerned with contradictions and the sensitivities of feeling. The drawings make the charming insight that these qualities, though seemingly contradictory, overlap seamlessly when the two lovers meet. Their styles complement each other.

    The storyline of Asterios Polyp is too laborious to strike the grace notes of the artistry. Compounding the dualistic past/present rendering of the protagonist’s life, the narrator is Asterios’s unborn identical twin brother, Ignazio. This somewhat precious technique of having the unborn brother tell the story, even as Asterios feels haunted by the brother he never knew, never quitelives up to its thought-provoking potential.

    From the Walrus Magazine blogs:

    The neat division of the narrative into two chronologies and two colour schemes is an engaging way to tell this story, allowing the evolution of the present-day Asterios to play out in counterpoint to the slow sabotage his younger self enacts on his marriage. Departures from these timeframes—reaching farther into the past for a bit of pertinent biography, or breaking away into a dream sequence—are narrated by, or haunted by, Asterios’s identical twin who died at birth. It’s here, though, that Mazzucchelli’s larger thematic concerns threaten to overwhelm his book, as we learn that, for Asterios, everything is divided, or twinned, or thought of purely in binary terms—present/past, living/dead, cyan/magenta, man/woman, Asterios/Hana.

    Granted, the book as a whole recounts how this dualistic view of the world fails Asterios, of how he “mistakes the system for reality.” And Mazzucchelli wrings an incredible number of permutations out of the idea—Asterios appears mainly in leonine profile, as though there were only two sides to his stubborn head; when husband and wife fight, they separate into their own pink and blue hues and distinctive drawing styles, he blocky and geometric while she’s hatched with decorative lines; even the cover of the book is split perfectly down the middle. But cleaving to this worldview does little to combat the argument that Mazzucchelli is smart enough to raise (though he then dismisses it out of hand): “Some might argue that such simplification is best suited to children’s stories, or comic books.”