Asterios Polyp is an amazing mechanism of a story, a beautiful machine for putting on display the dialogue between Enlightenment and Romantic thinkingAsterios Polyp is an amazing mechanism of a story, a beautiful machine for putting on display the dialogue between Enlightenment and Romantic thinking: Duality and Nonduality brought together to form a duality, but a duality which turns nondual as the two elements interact.
This is one of those stories in which absolutely everything - every character, every color, every font, every stylistic choice - appears to be on some level a blatant storytelling device, a cog in the machine. The whole machine is so smooth and slick, and the core story is so simple and old, that the book itself ends up being like Asterios himself: it weighs duality-nonduality, apparently evenly, and then ends up heavy weighted on the side of duality - but by implication. Then again, it may well turn out on second reading that there's a whole bunch of nonduality lurking in the background (or rather, getting covered up), like Asterios' (ex-)wife Hana - in which case this thing is not just metafiction but HELLAmeta.
And believe me, I WILL be reading this again.
The story? It ain't so original. The device which the story serves? The ideas aren't new, but OH SHIT the device is new.
My comics artist brain is going to be dissecting this for the next couple weeks at least....more
1973. The Oakland Public Library. A rare, pre-1500 printed bible has been stolen. The library's special investigators have only three days to get it b1973. The Oakland Public Library. A rare, pre-1500 printed bible has been stolen. The library's special investigators have only three days to get it back. Sentences are short. Complex library lingo is everywhere.
Jason Shiga is a freakin' genius.
Shiga is a math guy who got diverted into comics, and he comes at the medium with the mindset of a hacker-inventor. As such, one of the remarkable things about this lovely and Awesome-packed little book is that it is completely linear: there are no tabs, no slots, no wheels, no choose-your-own-adventure, no simultaneous-narrative structure or slot machine cranks to pull or mysterious humming devices. It's just a straightforward story comic - and it's a GOOD one, suffused with the same spirit of inventive nerdiness that makes Shiga's experimental work so fun and exciting.
Also, this is a great big in-joke for people who love books and libraries. Call me biased - I certain fall into that category....more
A lovely visual narrative poem that nurtures dreaminess by gentle strokes without becoming overbearing or mawkish. Don't go into this expecting a "novA lovely visual narrative poem that nurtures dreaminess by gentle strokes without becoming overbearing or mawkish. Don't go into this expecting a "novel;" instead, pay attention to the visual grammar, the color, the brushwork, the sense of light in the thing. There's a lot of reward in it.
There are more and more of these well-crafted, technically and aesthetically conscious, small short pieces coming out now. I know a lot of people find them too short, but I think perhaps they're meant to be something analogous to poetry: small, craft-conscious, concentrated, meant to savor and re-read when one is caught in a mood. It may not be The Way Forward for comics, but I do hope the format will continue to be mined, expanded and explored.
Books like this give me something of a taste of the vast untapped potential grammar of comics that I sometimes have to work to convince myself is there....more
Oh, the faces! Jason Lutes can really draw faces, and through them he manages to draw out people who feel very real and characterful. He got his BFA iOh, the faces! Jason Lutes can really draw faces, and through them he manages to draw out people who feel very real and characterful. He got his BFA in illustration at RISD, and it shows; unlike many art-oriented comics artists, however, he manages to work his visuals with such economy that every line and shadow rings with meaning. I seem to recall a reviewer writing that he is a sort of visual Hemingway in that respect, and the comparison feels true to me; although he was a superior story-builder to Mr. Lutes, Lutes' style, his attempt to make everything tight and succinct and emotionally poignant, is very similar to Hemingway's. It works, too: Jar of Fools is sad and quietly moving.
The story itself, while poignant (pardon the overuse of the word, but it sticks), is nothing mind-bending, which would seem to be entirely the point. Lutes is very much a member of the alternative comics movement - he's involved with Fantagraphics and the Center for Cartoon Studies - and his style is part of that movement's reaction against the melodrama of the action-adventure and superhero mainstream, along with figures such as Seth, Chris Ware, and Dan Clowes. Like them, his style turns so far away from melodrama as to veer towards coldness, and he draws his material from the ordinary and the real, without even the touch of magical realism that Clowes and Ware sometimes employ. Unfortunately, the story breaks down a bit into sentimentalism towards the end, dampening the (here I go using that word again!) poignancy which that chilled and quiet style offers up. That the story itself turns out not to be as tightly and masterfully drawn together as its execution is perhaps the book's greatest weakness.
Having read his biographical novella on Houdini - the man likes himself some magicians! - I'm now very eager to digest Lutes' Berlin series, or what exists of it so far.
A NOTE TO GRAPHIC NOVEL NEOPHYTES: Unlike film, in which the pace and timing are completely linear and set by editing, and the written word, in which they're set by description and textual volume, comics gives quite a lot of control over timing and pace to the reader. While the customary pace of reading can be set by cultural convention - Japanese audiences are accustomed to reading very quickly - I think carefully crafted and tightly executed comics, such as Lutes', deserve to be read quite slowly. I'd encourage you to take your time on each page, observing each panel with care, soaking in the ambiance and the details. Happy reading!...more