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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 71

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp…


Asterios Polyp was probably the most acclaimed comic book release of 2009, but I think that it’s one of the rare examples where so much of the acclaim might have actually skewed the expectations people have about the actual book itself.

You see, Asterios Polyp is a masterpiece of comic book art – Mazzucchelli practically delivers a Master’s course just on how to use different artistic approaches to deliver a comic book story.

However, BECAUSE of the great acclaim his style has received, I think that the actual plot of the comic has been SO over shadowed by Mazzucchelli’s technical wizardry that it is seen as not that good, and I think that that is a shame, as there is a strong story at the heart of Asterios Polyp, about a man who seems unable to adapt himself to others learning to do so.

But yes, the general plot of the book is not as important as the character work, developed both through the writing and the stunning artwork by Mazzucchelli.

When we first meet Asterios, his life is in a bit of a shambles, and we see him watching something on television…

And that’s when lightning destroys his apartment…

With only enough time to grab a few things, Asterios takes three objects…

The symbolism of the three objects is explained over the work…

Mazzucchelli does an especially nice job taking advantage of the comic book format when it comes to demonstrating things like flashbacks, like in this look back at Asterios’ life (Asterios is a renowned architect who has never actually had a building built – he is more of a theorist/critic)….

The book is actually narrated by Asterios’ never-born twin brother, Ignazio, who died in the womb.

Asterios, now with a life totally thrown out of kilter, ends up just taking a bus to a rather random town and applies for a job at an auto repair shop. He promptly then learns about how to repair cars…

Asterios ends up getting caught up in the lives of the man who hires him and that man’s wife and son (plus their friends), and he slowly learns that he CAN let go of his hubris, his ego, his inability to adapt to others because of the high esteem he holds himself in.

Here is interacting with the other family…

That lack of being able to separate himself from his hubris is the main reason for the separation with his wife.

His wife, Hana, is spotlighted by, well, the lack of a spotlight (a wonderful little touch by Mazzucchelli)…

And when they first met, well, they were clearly different people…

The relationship between Hana and Asterios builds the foundation for most of the book, and it is expertly done by Mazzucchelli, as he shows Hana going from being drawn to Asterios’ strong personality to eventually resenting the way that he cannot allow himself to let her have the spotlight ever, demonstrated in this incredible sequence…

What’s awesome is that there is SO much more to the comic than what I’m showing you, including a number of dramatic dreams by Asterios, including a brilliant one involving Asterios going to Hades.

As you can see from the samples provided, this is a remarkable artistic achievement by Mazzucchelli, but it’s also a good story, as Asterios changes in a way that makes his relationship with Hana possible once again.

A question for those who have read the book – would you say that the comic has a “happy” ending?


This is a great book. That party scene ins probably my favorite part of the book. It’s amazing how Mazzuchelli can convey so much with less. I thought his earlier work was already boiled down to it’s essence but this goes many steps further.

Asterios Polyp is hands down one of the best comics I’ve read in years…maybe ever. I was incredibly moved by it. Really amazing stuff. I devoured it whole in one sitting and have read it again twice I think since then.

As for the happy ending question. For me it was a happy ending…because (without giving too much away) the characters grow and change – especially Asterios – so it feels successful to me. A great pick Brian!

Yes the ending is happy, but sad at the same time.

Happy that the characters got to the point they did, but sad that it took them so long.

There is much-needed reconcilliation in the ending, but the actual last scene, whether literal or symbolic, isn’t exactly happy. Of course, Asterios & Hana aren’t actually aware of what’s going on right outside their home, so they end (however you want that word to mean) happily.

Death by meteorite is always a happy ending.

And so much for not spoiling it. That part struck me as the only thing I didn’t like in the book. Sort of a “Oh, c’mon, I can’t believe he just did that!”-type reaction from this corner.

I could read this over and over again. I enjoy how the book’s cover/design echoes the duality that is found in the book.

This is a simply sensational pick, Brian. Anyone who has not read this needs to rectify that mistake by immediately going out and buying a copy. Mazzucchelli is one of the greatest artists to ever work in comics.

Mike: He telegraphed it from almost the first page.

My problem with the ending is that it felt just a bit sexist to me. It worked really well for Asterios’ character, but in some ways I felt it really turned Hana into a device for his narrative of self realization. It’s a fantastic book and I really do love it, but it isn’t the revolution of the form that some people have made it out to be.

And of course there’s the Greek allusions — his full last name was Polyphemus, the name of the cyclops (get it?) who captured Odysseus and his men and was trapped in a cave (Plato’s cave?) and hurled giant rocks at his enemies.

Very rich story, and what makes it a great comic is that the art tells at least 50% of what we know of the narrative and the characters.

Of course there’s a happy ending. The family in the treehouse lives happily ever after. :P

I would argue that it’s a sad ending for Hana, and a happy ending for Asterios. He’s mostly finished his journey, while she’s still in a weird place (as noted by the fact that she jumps from red to green, and that we’ve not really been given any context to know what her being green truly means.)

(I’m ignoring the obvious point, because there are readings of the book that let you see it in multiple ways, taking into account tricks of perspective.)

And of course there’s the Greek allusions — his full last name was Polyphemus, the name of the cyclops (get it?) who captured Odysseus and his men and was trapped in a cave (Plato’s cave?) and hurled giant rocks at his enemies.

Huh. I thought his name was a reference to the concept of Polyphony. Of course, given the point of the book, it’s almost certainly a reference to both.

That lack of being able to separate himself from his hubris is the main reason for the separation with his wife.

This is true, and yet I feel it misses about half of what caused their divorce.


March 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I’d say it was a happy ending, mostly.

Daredevil, Batman Year One, Rubber Blanket, City of Glass and now this, Wow what an impressive career in comics. I love that Mazzuchellie never seems to sit still and is always reaching to find new ways to tell a story.

Ok. Now I have to get this.

I think the ending is a happy ending. Hana seems happy too. I like her platonic solids sculptures.
I think the meteorite scene was more to mean “this is the end of the path” than to mean their end. I thought it wasn’t really real.

I finally just read this book, and it was great. I decided to go back to see what was said about it here on CSBG and so glad I waited until reading the book to do so. Telegraphed or not, the meteorite spoil would have pissed me off.

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