Yesterday, at around 4:00pm, I picked up a book from our Baker & Taylor guy’s office. I’d seen it at the conference and read a good review of it in Ain’t It Cool News (a reliable source, I think, for closet nerds). It’s called Asterios Polyp. (I never knew “polyp” was a word until my friends corrected me last weekend on the way to Coney Island.) By this morning, I’d finished the book. Graphic novels do tend to go fast, but at 344 pages, this one still should’ve taken me awhile.
Anyway, my point is: IT WAS SO GOOD. I’d say it’s neck-and-neck with Blankets (Top Shelf Productions, 2003) for my favorite graphic novel ever. The story itself is nothing all that new. An arrogant, miserable, self-absorbed former professor goes through a personal crisis and then finds a new life somewhere unexpected. (I saw two movies like that last year.) However, the way the story is told is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s narrated with unbelievable intelligence by Asterios’s unborn twin brother and drawn in different styles throughout to help “flesh” out the characters even further. I write “flesh” in quotes, because in some of the drawings, the artist does away with “flesh” and the characters become abstractions or sets of lines, in blue or pink or yellow.
Panel-by-panel narrative conventions are totally exploded, which allows feeling and mood and caprice to sink more deeply in. And that is the point of making a graphic novel. The drawings are there to express what words can’t. That’s what makes this such a courageous, endlessly innovative work of art that, if not re-invents, then certainly expands on the possibilities of the medium itself.