Friday, October 2, 2009

Color and Alternate Reality in Asterios Polyp

Building on Trithemius's well-made points regarding visual design of characters is Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp, I'd like to focus on color. One chapter in AP is dedicated to an alternate reality, a sequence set off in a different mode through use of color. About three quarters through the book, Polyp the architect is depicted encountering a three-headed dog (an obvious Cerberus reference) in front of a subway station. After briefly petting this 20th century Cerberus (one of whose heads is a poodle head), Polyp descends into the subway station, which is flooded with water, creating a most Sygian impression. He gets off the train, then goes down again (Hades, one presumes) to encounter a vomiting woman, and then a set (chorus) of nattily dressed phantoms (including his parents, others), all emitting/exhaling breath/spirit/geist/whatever from their mouths. He interacts briefly with these phantoms, his own non-speech (depicted as vapor from his mouth) seems to assuage them enough to make them disappear, and Polyp enters a theater, where Aeschylus-ian drama (complete with masks) plays out on stage. This drama depicts a boy meets girl, they both have fun, girl falls/dies, boy sad drama. Then Hana's real-life impresario the choreographer (Willy Chimera, so-called by Polyp) comes in, to announce something to Polyp, summon Hana, and allow Polyp and Hana to depart from the underworld. Hana doesn't make it up; Polyp is left bereft.

First thing to point out here: almost the entire thing is depicted in the purple tone printmakers and comix artists have used for markups. The first thing that occurred to me here was to recall how Gary Panter used the same technique for many of his comics. The effect of the single color print here is, first, to set this chapter aside from everything else. Is it a dream? Is it the narrator (Polyp's dead twin brother) speaking to us more directly? Is it an alternate reality of some non-dream kind? There is no saying. But the color tells us this is separate from the rest of the story. Second, this color can be taken as a very specific reference to Gary Panter's depictions of hellish futurescapes. This is a dystopian purple, through reference to Panter. I could be very wrong about this.

Next post will be on references to Los Bros Hernandez in this sucker.

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