One of the most interesting aspects of Asterios Polyp to me is its use of art techniques to tell a story. It is a very high-concept graphic novel, and raises questions as to what art is, along with questions of what it is to be human.
First, I’d like to look at how Asterios and Hana are drawn, especially when they interact with one another. Asterios is a very clinical and withdrawn kind of person, and when his views or personality come into conflict with Hana’s, he is drawn to look very architectural, using an underlying shape drawing style and he turns blue. The very carefully constructed look of Asterios in conflict meshes with his carefully constructed personality, especially considering he is an architect. Hana, on the other hand, becomes sketchy-looking and the artist uses a gestural style of drawing, and her color turns red. This sketchy look is very descriptive in that it implies the looseness and passion of Hana’s character, and like Asterios, makes sense with her being an artist. However, when both are interacting harmoniously together, they are drawn in purple outlines with blue shadows. The purple outlines I find particularly interesting because, as many people know, purple is a combination of red and blue, so when the two characters fight, they are separately the two colors that make up purple. Blue suits Asterios well, as people tend to think of blue as a cold, calm and logical color, whereas red suits Hana the sculptor because of its bold, rash and passionate connotations.
Not only does Asterios Polyp use certain drawing techniques to imply character, but it uses many references to antiquity, as art throughout history has done time and time again. For instance, it isn’t clear exactly whether Asterios is dreaming or not, but Mazzucchelli includes an allusion to the story of Orpheus, from ancient Greek mythology. The story was of the great musician Orpheus, whose wife Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died, lost to the underworld. However, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and managed to strike a bargain with Hades in order to win his wife back. If he could walk out of the underworld without turning back to glance at Eurydice, she would be allowed to join the world of the living again. Orpheus almost accomplished this goal, but near the end of the journey, before Eurydice had fully stepped out of the Underworld, he turned back to look at her, and so she had to go back Hades. In Asterios Polyp, Asterios is the Orpheus of the story, who carries an architect’s tool with strings on it that he plays as if it’s an instrument. He also passes several of his dead loved ones or people from his past in the Underworld, including his mother and father. He then enters a theatre in which the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is mimed by two interpretive dancers. Willy Ilium acts as Hades, who allows Hana (playing Eurydice) to leave the Underworld with Asterios. But Hana tries to get Asterios to look at her, and finally he gives in, which causes her to fade back into the Underworld. What is also interesting about the story is that Willy Ilium even mentions the Orpheus as being a show he is interested in choreographing, called Orpheus (Underground), which could provide an explanation as to why he plays Hades in Asterios’ dream, as well as the fact that he is a choreographer, therefore in charge of the look of a performance.
The entire book is an ode to academia, to its prententions as well as its application to what it means to be human. Shy Hana uses her art to express something within herself, and yearns for a spotlight although she is self-conscious about wanting said spotlight. Logical Asterios is part of the academic world only, and never ends up constructing any of his designs, except near the end when he helps construct a tree house and helps to create a solar-powered car, both of which are major points of character development for Asterios. Even Asterios’ name is a Greek name, referring back to antiquity, to a time when people believe art to be the epitome of culture. Art and academia are a central part of Asterios Polyp, and through its uses, characters find themselves, and it helps us to understand them.