Asterios Polyp is all about style, but one of its most effectual techniques for me is its use of color. The colors chosen, as well as the shades and intensity chosen within the color, show a lot of thought put into them by the artist (and writer), David Mazzucchelli. The book uses blue, purple, yellow and red, plus the white of the page, and usually uses only two colors plus white at once. The colors change with the situations in the story, highlighting what’s happening in Asterios’ life and thoughts.
The book opens in blue and purple. These are both cool colors. In the opening weather scene they’re both used at about the same saturation (the amount of color as opposed to grayness something has to it) so they flatten each other out, and are pretty high chroma (how bright/intense a color is). This mirrors the weather: intense lightning storm, but still just background stuff.
When the scene shifts to inside Asterios’ apartment, the blue and purple stay but add extra shades that are both lighter in value (closer to white than black) and really low saturation. Basically, they’re boring. Everything is dull, and kind of gray, like Asterios’ life seems to be as he sits dead-faced on his bed watching what seems to be porn. Then the fire starts, and the blue is gone and it’s just intense purple on lots of white and the contrast is as dramatic as the situation and the sound effect. In the following action-y scene of Asterios and the other tenants leaving the building, everything goes yellow and purple. These are contrasting colors, so just looking at them together adds a slap of energy to the images. After that in the book, yellow and purple seem to appear as a page combination whenever the story is happening in present tense, including Asterios’ dreams. Blue and purple become a combination used whenever Asterios is having a flashback. These play up the respective active and inactive feelings associated with those parts of the story.
Red is the last color to appear, immediately associating itself with sex and love-interests, popping up into the middle of a flashback when one of Asterios’ students comes onto him. It’s used later for a short run through of his various girlfriends through the years, but apart from that it is reserved for Hana, his wife. Not only do the scenes with Hana and Asterios together involve red, but the scenes explaining Hana’s earlier life are almost solidly red. The combination of red, blue and purple with respect to Hana and Asterios is another interesting play. Hana always has something red to her, while Asterios always has blue. They both always use purple, though, in combination with these colors. The way the colors are used here mirrors the changes in their relationship; from her mostly red and him mostly blue when they’re first meeting, to mostly purple mixtures with accent colors when they get together.
Color is a fun way to add to a story without being too blatant or taking away from the plot. Mazzucchelli does it with as much thought and style as he adds to the many drawing styles he uses and the written story we follow.