Panels, pages and balloons book club: a few notes on Asterios Polyp

asterios cover

This Saturday, December 17, we’ll be hosting a final live book club meeting in the Dweck Center at the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. This time we’ll be discussing Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli.

As we did last time, we’re planning to start by showing some slides to introduce a topic of cartooning that is related to Mazzucchelli’s book. For our first meeting, discussing Fun Home, we talked a bit about the use of text in comics and how it interacts with images. For our Ice Haven meeting, we talked about how cartoonists can use drawing and storytelling styles associated with different genres and formats as part of their storytelling toolkit. A striking aspect of Lucille when you open it is that it uses no panel borders. Asterios Polyp explores all of these techniques and, perhaps most strikingly, makes very distinctive use of color. We’ll talk a bit about his coloring method and show some other examples of the narrative use of color in comics.


Here are a few general questions/topics that will likely come up in Saturday’s conversation

  • There are of course images of twins/doubling/reflections throughout the book
  • How much of the books opinions or viewpoint(s) should be attributed to the author vs. Asterios—or Ignazio? (Or Hana.)
  • there are some deliberately wonky perspectives, esp. when Ursula Major is involved…
  • DM employs different lettering styles for characters’ dialogue. What other uses does he  make of lettering?
  • Repeat views of Asterios’ apartment and other domestic spaces over time
  • How is color used in different ways throughout the book?
  • How would you describe DM’s page layouts? Is there an underlying grid or a more organic use of design?
  • It appears that no detail in this book is accidental: In addition to numerous winks to famous cartoonists, notice how brand names and background art often comments on the story.
  • There’s quite a bit of corny and/or bawdy humor in this book (even in the title) even if the overall tone is more somber and reflective. How essential is humor to the work as a whole?

And here are references to a few specific sequences, and panels that struck us for one reason or another (aargh! another book with no pagination!):

  • The visual essay near the beginning about perception of reality as an extension of the self (after the grid of apples drawn in different styles)
  • Ursula Major’s page-spinning defense of the zodiac
  • Visual polyphony in the visit to Kalvin Kohoutek’s studio
  • the flashback sparked by the blister in AP’s foot
  • The Orpheus dream/fantasy sequence (compare to AP’s subway ride at the beginning of the book, among other echoes)
  • We’ll leave you with an image by an artist that DM makes more than one reference to in the book, Saul Steinberg:
Steinberg Dinner Party

Saul Steinberg Techniques at a Party 1953 ink, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, 14-1/2 x 23 inches. The Saul Steinberg Foundation, New York


2 Comments to Panels, pages and balloons book club: a few notes on Asterios Polyp

  • by Caroline Niesley

    On October 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Thank you for this post. This is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever seen. Wish I had seen your presentation.

  • by Caroline Niesley

    On October 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you for this post. This is one of the best graphic novels of our generation. A revelation to me. I predict there will be great things done in the genre.

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