Defying Ideologies

David Mazucchelli’s Asterios Polyp defies limitations of the mind by telling a story that alters between intellectual thoughts, sentimental notions, present events, past memories. Everything from color to texture to narrative forms are used to expand the universe in which the story is told.

The first way Mazucchelli breaks from the mold of conventional storytelling is through the use of the narrator. In most cases, the narrator of a story is either the protagonist of the tale or an omniscient being who is not an actual character in the scenes. However, in Asterios Polyp the story is told through Asterios’s dead brother, Ignazio. Ignazio appears in a number of scenes throughout the graphic novel, all of which are dream sequences that occur within Asterios’s mind. Through using Ignazio as the narrator and including him in multiple dream sequences, Mazucchelli causes the line between figments of the mind and reality to become blurred. While there are certain scenes that feel real and others that seem too surreal to be reality, it is never clarified as to which sections are the truth and which sections of Asterios’s memory are stretching the truth.

The other way Mazzucchelli breaks the mold is through the use of colors and texture. While it’s not necessarily a color graphic novel, it is not a black and white novel either. The colors blue, purple, white, yellow, and pink are the only colors used throughout the course of the entire novel. This, like the use of Ignazio as narrator, helps blur lines between reality and dream. Yellow, blue, and purple seem to be used just to convey every day actions (much like black and white do in a black and white film). The pink comes into motion when there is a great deal of feeling behind the actions taking place. In the scene where Asterios is seeing his mother feed his dying father, Asterios’s shirt is pink. Whenever he talks about Hana, pink is in the scene. The scenes with Willy Ilium use pink (showing his anger and irritation toward the man).

The final thing I realized about the colors, whether it was intentional or coincidental, is that the colors used in Asterios Polyp are associated with 3D. When you think of 80s 3D glasses and 3D film reels, they are composed of the same colors this graphic novel is. Maybe Mazucchelli did this on purpose to convey to the reader that the stories within the realms of the pages have more to the eye than what appears on the 2D surface.

2 thoughts on “Defying Ideologies”

  1. Asterios Polyp plays heavily on the role binaries play in the character’s lives and I often wondered how it didn’t come off so heavy-handed. As you mentioned, he alters intelectual and emotional thoughts with the past and the present. Should the story had been in chronological order, I get the feeling that the use of color (blue and red) to demonstrate opposites would’ve suffocated the plot. The enlacing of so many elements make the story easy to digest. Many times, when I come across stories touching on themes of dualities I want to scream, “I get it! Pairs! Binaries! Folds! Now can you move on and say something else about the human condition?” But here there’s so much more going on that I am too distracted to see this as a one dimensional thematic structure.

    A large part of this has to do with the sense of texture created by the 3D effect (comparing it to 3D glasses is a very effective way of describing this… this is exactly what I was thinking but couldn’t really think of a proper way to express it). What I mean by this is that since the graphic novel medium so heavily relies on the visual aspect, it sometimes forgets to appeal to our other senses, especially touch. And not just comics… a lot of mediums find the sense of “touch” difficult to convey.

    The 3D effect made this comic an interesting read.

  2. I like the point you make about the colors being reminiscent of the old 3D glasses. We could probably connect that idea to how Asterios sees the world, in a kind of reverse 3D process. He takes the rich, complex, multidimensional world around him and constantly reduces it to a series of binaries, to a 2D world.

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