Color, Yin-and-Yang, and the Metapicture

this post contains spoilers

Asterios Polyp, more than any of the other graphic novel’s we have read so far, uses an abstract way of showing emotions and feelings of separation and closeness that is not simply through facial emotions or text.  One such way is Mazzucchelli’s use of color.  Instead of using black for panel borders, text, and outlines of characters, he chooses to use Purple. After reading A Wrinkle In Time which was printed entirely in blue, I didn’t think it that odd. However, unlike Larson’s graphic novel, Asterios Polyp has other colors as well as purple. Most notably, the colors blue and red are used for Asterios and Hana, non-coincidentally being the two colors that make up purple. Asterios is mostly drawn surrounded with shades of blue, Hana mostly in shades of red, the characters themselves are mostly drawn in purple. However, when they are first meeting and again when they are fighting, they are drawn in their separate respective colors. This becomes apparent in a chapter introducing Hana. After her background is introduced to the reader (in shades of red and pink), the readers see Hana meeting Asterios for the first time at a party. Their red and blue colors collide, and later they are drawn in purple. This happens again, in a later scene, where Asterios and Hana get into a fight about video cameras, and Hana is sketched in red. Slowly, the panels shift to her being drawn in purple again, as she realizes Asterios’s feelings, and later on the next page the readers can see Asterios and Hana intertwined as yin-and-yang.

asterios blog picture
The top image, from the same page, shows how Hana and Asterios are drawn in both separate colors, and separate styles. When Asterios’s is dominating the relationship, such as in this panel, the background is mostly blue, when they have equal say in their relationship, there is more purple.
On the bottom, Hana is seen recognizing Asterios’s ideas. Her realization is captured both in her facial expression, her words, and her color, as she shifts to purple, the color she and Asterios share.

The idea yin-and-yang is repeated throughout the book, as well as the idea of duality. Asterios argues that duality can be found in many objects, even though he acknowledges that there is a “continuum between the extremes”. The character believes that contrasting images serve only as a convenient organizing principle, which he argues may be “best suited to children’s stories, or comic books”. This attention to the art through the art, a type of metapicture that Mitchell described in his essay “Metapictures”, falls under a type of metapicture which explores the idea of the image as an image about thinking about metapictures. An example that Mitchell gives in his essay is “Las Meninas”, a painting by Diego Velázquez, which requires the viewers of the painting to ponder what their view as the audience of this painting means, especially in regard to the attention of the subjects in the painting itself.

By bringing the reader’s attention to Asterios’s feelings about the simplicity of duality in regards to comic books, Asterios Polyp becomes a work of metapictures by asking the reader to see the duality in Hana and Asterios as shown by color. Asterios both complicates this relationship by having the color’s separate into red and blue only be during times of separation between the character’s good feelings towards one another, therefore showing that division into two completely different ideas does occur over time and over a continuum, and that the characters themselves cannot be completely identified individually at all times; while also using a color like purple, that contrasts that idea by being made up of both red and blue. Both ideas are present in the work, and are left up to the reader to decide which view they take on both Asterios’s relationship to Hana, and with his feelings of guilt over his twin brother.

  7 comments for “Color, Yin-and-Yang, and the Metapicture

  1. aallen13
    April 10, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post because I finished Asterios Polyp last night, and one of the first things that struck me was the coloring. I liked the use of the red and blue especially during the scenes with Hana and Asterios fighting because I think it depicted him as being completely isolated from Hana. Also the fact that he was drawn as shapes rather than a whole seems to dehumanize him. While I was reading your post I was thinking about another use of perhaps why the red and the blue coloring. I immediately thought of temperature: red being hot and blue being cold. Asterios is kind of cold hearted to Hana by not really praising her as an artist which causes Hana to turn red. She doesn’t appear to be full of anger at first and because it’s not a dark shade, then maybe it will gradually become darker indicating her anger building up. Bottom line, I liked the depiction of the contrast between the two characters.

    • jrandal2
      April 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      That’s really interesting, I hadn’t thought of it like that. But yea, now that I look back at it, Hana does change in shades of red-pink, red when she’s mad at Asterios and more pink when she’s not angry, just drawn separate. Nice find!

  2. joshroberts
    April 12, 2013 at 2:56 am

    The coloring in Asterios Polyp was also one of the first things that struck me as I was reading it. I’m not sure if it’s a metapicture though. I thought that metapictures commented on the nature of pictures and while the red, blue, and purple color scheme did resonate with the theme of duality it never made me question the nature of pictures. The famous “this is not a pipe” example makes the viewer think about how we comprehend images and make certain logical leaps naturally. Even though I liked the contrast in color and the statement it made about duality, I wouldn’t describe it as a “metapicture.”

    • jrandal2
      April 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      I was thinking of it in a different form of metapicture. Remember how the essay talked about there being multiple types, including images that represent themselves (such as the guy drawing the world in “New World”), images that are about pictures, like the Egyptian Life Class, and then there are metapictures about Discursive/contextual self-reference. The last one was the sub-type I was referring to. About half way through the graphic novel, Asterios claims that duality is a simplification left for means such as comic books, which draws attention to itself being a graphic medium, therefore being referential to its own medium. It draws attention to the fact that it is a representation, not real, by making that claim that, because there are images of two surrounding this moment in time, readers are looking at merely an image about reality. I hope that made sense. In a way, it is like the “this is not a pipe” image because it is about the gap between what is perceived in an image, and what we know it is supposed to represent without going out of our way to differentiate between an image and the physical thing.

      • joshroberts
        April 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm

        Ok, that makes sense.

  3. joshroberts
    April 12, 2013 at 2:58 am

    *struck me as unique

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