The “novel of ideas” is highly feted by the smarty-pants set, but I’ve usually had trouble finishing one. Those few that I’ve read to completion fall considerably short of my “desert island” list. Paul Auster, whose Moon Palace still resides near the top of said list, failed to impress me with his New York Trilogy (A) — City Of Glass was, I thought, especially tedious and self-indulgent. Nevertheless, since I was still young and passionate enough to collect the complete works of a beloved author, I picked up David Mazzucchelli's adaptation of City (A).
This seemed a curious pairing of talents: prior to this I only knew Mazzucchelli as the artist who fleshed out Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (A).
In retrospect, the pairing of Miller to Mazzucchelli was no less unusual. Miller’s aesthetic, while certainly the product of a virtuoso, remains resolutely moored to muscular guys/curvaceous babes. Where Miller habitually defies gravity, Mazzucchelli brought a sagging realism. Batman might be a superhero, but his outfit was a little baggy in spots; Commissioner Gordon had posture troubles, and Gotham seemed choked with grit and litter.
With City Of Glass, Mazzucchelli was relieved of industry parameters and the generic expectations of an adolescent, predominantly male, readership. This proved to provide a very a fertile canvas for Mazzucchelli. To my delight, the characters that had read as aloof abstractions in Auster’s hands were now transformed into emotionally compelling people.
Surprise, surprise: comic book artists can breathe life into the arid Novel Of Ideas.
This preamble is just about as much as I care to say about Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp (A). There are any number of dazzling abstractions set off with pyrotechnic flair in the course of this story — consider the panel below, where Asterios meets Hana, the love of his life:
The setting is a gallery party, populated by various fledgling artists. As Hana sits in solitude, feeling self-conscious and inferior, the others, including Asterios, mill about in their perfectly realized modalities. Once he starts talking to her, however, their own modalities merge to the point of nearly fleshing out — a gorgeous evocation of falling in love.
The rest of the novel's abundant pleasures should remain unspoiled for the new reader. It is fun, it is moving, and it begs to be read again and again: Asterios Polyp is a profound, emotionally resonant graphic novel — of ideas — that has landed on my desert island list.
Links: this person is especially fond of what Mazzucchelli did with Batman.