You just like assholes, my boyfriend tells me.
I don’t think this is universally true. But it is probably pretty true when it comes to fiction, and certainly true in the case of that blow hard who is the title character in David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel, Asterios Polyp.
The story opens with the debt-riddled sad sack’s Manhattan apartment on fire. AP grabs the three things he considers worth saving — a lighter, a pocket knife, and a watch — and ditches out for a new life. He holds up a wad of cash at a ticket window and says “How far would this take me?”
Answer: Small town, USA. A place where mechanics mate with hippies, treehouses are constructed, and picnic food is eaten on the banks of a vast earth dimple.
The story is told in past and present with digressions on duality, philosophy, politics, religion. Asterios Polyp is an idea man — so much so that although he is an award-winning architect, none of his plans have come to fruition. His twin brother never saw the light at the end of the uterus, and presents an invisible presence filled with “What ifs” in AP’s life. In its most charming moments, AP is holding court at a faculty dinner party and making hilarious dick jokes when he becomes interested in a quiet new art professor, Hana, who specializes in installations with found objects. She’s drawn by the spotlight that focuses on his angular face. Thus begins one of those romances where the thing that initially attracts people to each other grows into a caricature of itself and becomes the things a couple loathes about each other. They end up parting.
In the small town, AP takes a job working with a hearty mechanic who is married to this spiritual hippie sort, and it must be in this place where things change for AP. His ego takes a back seat and he passes off all but one of his three prized possessions. He talks less, listens more, and continues on the road to Most Improved Protagonist.
Anyway, the outlining the plot makes the whole thing sound like a sort of Lifetime Original Movie where everyone learns a thing or two about love. But it’s charming. Funny. Smart and clever. And the drawings are fantastic. Each character’s stylistically different, right down to style of script that comes out of their talk bubbles. In some moments the colors overlap, in others AP fades to dotted lines and more of the suggestion of a character than a physical presence. And it’s all color coded to represent the characters and to differentiate the past and present.
I think I read this entire story with a smile on my face. Including its what-the-hell finale.