Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The possibilities of comics

About three-quarters of the way through Asterios Polyp, Mazzucchelli takes up an entire chapter with a small, seemingly irrelevant moment in the married life of Hana and Polyp. The event is bookended by Polyp worrying over a blister on his foot. The rest of it (seven pages) has to do with a minor domestic emergency: Hana is swabbing her ear with a q-tip, and the end of the tip breaks off in her ear. She freaks out. Polyp comes to her rescue, using one of those little tweezer doohickies from his Swiss knife to pull it out. At the end of the chapter she hugs her husband and promises him, "That's the last time I buy that pseudo-somebody brand."

Or rather, that's one thing that happens. Mazzuchelli has structured the chapter so that, visually, there are three different sections to every page. The linear narrative I've just given you is the middle section, a series of panels set apart from the top and bottom sections visually through the prominence of the color blue (the other two sections are primarily colored in red and purple). It's also the only section with words. Above and it and below are a series of more or less unconnected vignettes from Hana's life, most of which have some relation to her body, the discharges therefrom: Hana taking a dump, Hana farting, Hana cutting her leg shaving, Hana throwing up in the toilet, Hana slurping noodles, Hana sneezing, Hana kissing her cat, Hana snoring.

There is no clear connection between these panels and the center section (a series of random panels of Hana trying to pull open a subway car door just makes matters more confusing), but for me one of the clear suggestions was of an unarticulated discomfort on Hana's part with her body, with the porousness of the human body, the way that its boundaries often break down. (This only makes sense (maybe) a little later on in the narrative). There is also a least one other sub-theme: the importance of trusting another person, and the difficulty of same. Mazzucchelli is able to communicate this in a way that--to bring up the point from my previous post--I can't see him being able to do with any other medium. Because of how the graphic novel works, you are able to digest all of the information--the various silent panels as well as the middle, verbalized moments--in one glance. For sure, you will pause on a single panel for a closer look, but at the same time all the rest of this information is also coming at you. A novelist wouldn't be able to do that: she would have to toggle from one scene to another as we move down the page. Here, Mazzucchelli is able collapse time, in a way: to give us a sense of these various moments making up the life of a person, at a single go. It's almost like watching a musical score, but in pictures.

Okay, that's enough of me complimenting this guy. My next post is going to be more critical.

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