Asterios Polyp

Stuff We Love: Line and form in David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp

Contributed by
Oct 18, 2017

If you’re a fan of the classics, you likely think of David Mazzucchelli as Frank Miller’s artist on Daredevil: Born Again or Batman: Year One, as well you should, but Mazzuchelli’s got another side to him, as beautifully displayed in his creator-owned masterwork 2009 graphic novel, Asterios Polyp. Or perhaps more to the story’s point, he’s got a lot of other sides.

I found this gem recently during our SYFY anniversary list-bonanza, in this case on our 25 greatest comics stories from the last 25 years list. There, among resplendent heroes like Captain America and the Justice League, appeared a man who didn’t look like a hero at all, or even like a comic book character of the last 25 years: Asterios Polyp, the award-winning “paper” architect and professor, whose designs have never moved beyond the realm of theory, who has based his worldview on a system of opposites, where everything falls into one of two categories: line/form, destiny/free-will man/woman, Appollonian/Dionysian, and the like. Interesting, I thought to myself, as I added the graphic novel to my ever-growing list.

Asterios Polyp

(Image: Pantheon Books)

Well, now that I’ve devoured the book, I’d like to second our list’s emotion, because I can’t recall the last time I was more moved – to tears at times – by a comic. Maybe it’s the way I related to the insufferable dilettante that is Asterios, (being similarly overeducated and righteous about what I know). Or maybe it’s the way that the idea of man’s duality, his light and dark nature, is presented as a mind-blowing fallacy. Or maybe it’s the way that woman have to teach Asterios this lesson. Or maybe it’s the way that every damn frame of the book holds within an art lesson about line and form, if you just look closely enough.

I can definitively say the moment I realized as much about line and form within Mazzucchelli’s illustrations is the very moment I became so enthralled with the book. It’s the same moment I realized how much intricacy resides in the simplicity of the throwback style (right down to the different caption boxes for each character). And the same can be said of the story itself.

Asterios Polyp

(Image: Pantheon Books)

You can see the moment I’m referring to in the panel above, when we are first introduced to Asterios’ wife, Hana, whose quiet, unassuming beauty and intellect shine a much-needed light on his own shadowed world-view, although he’s far too full of himself to see that initially.

She’s all form, he’s all line. But within the book’s pages, you can see how line and form connect and disconnect as the love story unfolds. It’s far more than a love story, though, as Asterios’ epic, Homerian adventure deconstructs the lines of his life along the road somewhere in America, into a fuller, more perfect form. Just in time for Open eyeClose eye Show Spoiler Armageddon .