Gutter Space #14 by Leslie Salas
Portrayal of Perception: Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli
It’s hard for me to play favorites when it comes to graphic novels, but the one book I just cannot stop raving about is David Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp. It’s the first book in several years that made me genuinely upset me at the end. Wholly and totally upset.
Yeah. Like that.
Asterios Polyp is a stunning graphic novel. It is one of the most well-thought-out and well-paced works I’ve ever read—ever. Notice the lack of distinction in mediums. It’s a powerful work of art, and it seems that the full decade Mazzcchelli spent writing it was totally worth it.
One of the many stunning things that Mazzucchelli does well in Asterios Polyp is the way he visually portrays perception on the page. In some instances, people are depicted in the manner in which they see the world. Angular, structural, detailed, soft, round, impressionist, tactile—each person sees the world a little bit differently, so they look the way they see.
And when two different people find a common ground, they blend beautifully.
This visual trick is used recurrently throughout the graphic novel, as a clear way to show highlight whether or not two characters are on the same plane. For instance, when the title character, Asterios, and his wife, Hana, have an argument, a bitter line is drawn between their worlds in a very he-said/she-said fashion
But despite these arguments and when the character’s don’t see eye to eye, there can be a softening effect of emotions, where the barriers wear down and both characters are back on even ground.
I find this fascinating from the perspective of how visual literacy can be incorporated to strengthen sequential art. Just by looking at the pictures, we know what is going on. We don’t need the symbolism explained to us; we intuitively “get it.”
And that kind of “getting it” can really set a good work of literature apart from the rest. There is much to be said about the merits of a novel or poem that makes the reader work to understand it’s meaning. But there’s also value in the simplicity of understanding and the accessibility of a storyline or device. Asterios Polyp is by no means a simple book—it is intellectually stimulating and emotionally charged. But the simple trick of the portrayal of perception really adds depth to the story, and provides a unique lens for which to view the fractured and unified world around us.
Leslie Salas writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.