I bought “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazzucchelli back when it came out in 2009. I even wrote a blog review about it. http://radiantcomics.com/comics-i-bought-this-week-october-1-2009/ I remember liking it but not being overly enthusiastic about the book. In rereading my review I think that comes across. I meant to give the book another look after some time had passed and somehow not just a couple of years went by but eleven. It’s hard to believe over a decade has passed since “Asterios Polyp” came out.

Asterios Polyp is the name of the lead character in this graphic novel. He is a “Paper Architect.” That means that none of his buildings have ever been built. He has spent his career in academia teaching architecture. He wrote some books that got him some fame and he’s well respected in his field despite having no standing buildings.

The story begins with lightning striking Asterios’s NYC apartment and sets it on fire. Asterios grabs three things: a lighter, a watch, and a Swiss Army knife and leaves. He doesn’t even look back as he flees the fire but instead heads up to what I assume to be Port Authority Bus Station and takes a bus out of town. So the story begins.

I was very aware of time in this story. I think it starts with the fact that back in 2009 when I first read this comic I was younger than Asterios Polyp. Now I’m older than him. I think that affected my perception of the story but I was also calculating ages overall in the story.

Asterios is fifty when the story begins and he is recently retired and divorced. It flashes back to his youth and early days teaching and gives us years for them. He met his wife Hana at a faculty party in 1984. It also says his wife’s parents were married in 1948, had four sons in five years, and his wife six years later. So his wife was born in 1959. That makes her fifty in 2009. That was a bit confusing since she seemed younger than him but then it’s later mentioned that the story takes place in the year 2000. So he was fifty then and she was forty one. She was in her mid twenties when they met and he was in his mid thirties.

There seemed to be a lot of recalculating in this story for me. Things that might not be clear in the beginning, like the three things Asterios grabbed as the fire burned, became clear later on in the story. The many flashbacks in the story emphasized this as we got glimpses into important moments in Asterios’s life. We got insight into him, his career, and his marriage.

In the story’s present Asterios takes the bus to a random town, gets off and finds a job as a car mechanic, and rents a room at his boss’s house. He blends right in with his boss’s family. Asterios is a really smart guy and has lots of interesting conversation with the people around him. It seems he wants to learn something about life from everyone he meets.

Let me drop in a word about the art. First of all Mazzucchelli is a visual storyteller of the highest order. His panel to panel storytelling is as clear and concise as can be. Never once was I wondering what was happening in a scene nor was I ever visually confused. This helps so much in entering the world of a comic and believing in it. Everyone loves him from his Batman and Daredevil days but this art is his much more cartoony style. He even keeps the color basic and uses it sparingly. But never once did I think the color wasn’t right on.

Mazzucchelli also used some interesting techniques in his drawing. He had a few scenes of Asterios and Hana (who was also a teacher and artist) arguing and the art style changed during those arguments. In those scenes Asterios was drawn as if he was made out of geometric shapes while Hana was drawn more loosely in a sketchy style. It reflected their points of view with him being rigid and material as she was more emotional and feeling. It really changed the mood in an interesting way when this happened.

I also learned an interesting thing about the art from a friend who went to a lecture back in 2009 where Mazzucchelli spoke about the book. He drew Asterios’s face with elipse templates rather than the normal freehand way. That’s because he wanted the same exact curves to Asterios’s face every time. He wanted a certain rigidity to the drawing. Since there was a rigidity to the character I found that fitting.

I really didn’t remember a lot of the story consciously since reading it back in 2009 but I think some things must have stuck in my subconscious. I was very aware of things, like those three fire items, that were going to pay off further in the story. Plus there were themes and little snippets of conversation that repeated themselves. Little inside jokes between husband and wife. It all seemed to work for me this time around.

I think that back in 2009 this seemed like just another midlife crisis story to me. It wasn’t bad but I had seen stuff like it before. This time around I didn’t get that feeling. Instead of a midlife crisis it seemed like more of an adventure story. After all he really wasn’t having a crisis. He just kind of abandoned his life because he was tired of it.

There is one more theme that was in this story. During the fire we see a room that has what looks like shelves full of video tapes with dates on them. We have no idea what these are. It isn’t until well into the book we get a flashback to Asterios and Hana in Asterios’s apartment in about 1985. Asterios reveals to her that he has video cameras all throughout his apartment recording everything. Hana freaks out at the weirdness but Asterios explains that he had a twin brother who was stillborn and that haunts him (his ghost twin is actually another character in the book who occasionally haunts Asterios’s dreams). He never watches nor does he want to watch the videos but they give him comfort knowing that there is a twin of himself on the videos. A lot of this book is about time’s passing.

With this second read so many years later I have to say there is a lot more stuff in this book than I caught the first time around. I haven’t even mentioned a lot of it here. Give it a read.