Asterios Polyp is a famous “paper architect” (Mazzuccheli makes much of the fact none of his designs have ever actually been built) who is obsessed with dividing the worlds into opposites. Linear versus Plastic. Functional versus Decorative. Apollonian versus Dionysian. Men versus Women.
We first meet Asterios on his fiftieth birthday, the night his Manhattan apartment gets struck by lightning and burns to the ground. He buys a ticket to the farthest place he can afford, ending up in a town called Apogee, where he gets a job as an auto mechanic and moves in with the Major family. The Asterios we’re dealt in the “present” is a mournful man, divorced and stripped of all his worldly armor. Fortunately, the graphic novel bounces around in time so we get to see how he got that way.
In the past, Asterios was, for all intents and purposes, a pompous prig. He had the good fortune to marry a lovely yet intensely shy sculptor named Hana Schoenstein, who is all soft curves to his hard right angles.
When Asterios and Hana first meet, Mazzuchelli shows us their inner world. Asterios is illustrated as a series of blue geometric shapes while Hana is made up of entirely pink, sketchy lines. As Asterios and Hana fall in love, their inner shapes combine, so Hana is given an underlying structure of blue geometry and Asterios is enlivened with comforting pinkness.
Much to Mazzuchelli’s credit, it is impossible to separate Asterios’ story from the cartoon medium in which it is told. Asterios Polyp is not merely a story told in words and pictures but THROUGH words and pictures. It helps that Mazzuccheli is casually brilliant. His grasp of illustrative technique is nothing short of profound. From the perfect linear perspective of Asterios’ Apollonian ideal to the moody cross-hatching of the Orpheus sequence to the simple-perfect line work of his cartoonish characters, Asterios Polyp is a master class in illustration.(via)
One of the mainstays of the 1980s independent comics scene, Paul Chadwick’s Concrete tells the story of Ron Lithgow (Concrete), a soft-spoken speechwriter whose brain has been transplanted into a hulking stone body by mysterious aliens (they are never seen again in the series).
Now he can see more than perfectly well in darkness, hold his breath for an hour, and survive leaping hundreds of feet from a search and rescue plane into a lake. In a super-hero book, a life of perpetual adventure would beckon. But the Concrete of Paul Chadwick’s Complete Short Stories (1986-1989) inhabits a world that is – his own anomalous existence aside – no different to that of our Earth in the long-past Eighties. There are simply no super-villains to fight or super-heroes with whom to quarrel, pummel, and / or bond. There are no supernatural or science-fiction elements to any stories.
Concrete paved the way for impassioned, reflective comic literature focused on realism. In the absence of any of the Sturm und Drang of the super-hero book, life itself proves difficult and dispiriting enough for Concrete. Even the most apparently minor and taken-for-granted activity is now a challenging business. Real-world physics apply to Concrete. Examples include Concrete breaking objects by sitting on them (he has to sit and sleep on furniture made of bricks), or Concrete being shot forward from a braking car, due to the momentum of his large body. He is constantly breaking telephones and doorknobs. He tries to use his body for noble endeavors, such as helping out on a family farm. Later, Concrete climbs Mount Everest, becomes involved with a group of hardline environmental militants, and reluctantly agrees to become the spokesperson of a campaign to voluntarily reduce the Earth’s population.
Wherever he travels, he’s inescapably marked out as utterly different, and yet there’s little beyond his otherness to mark him out as worthy of attention. Landlocked in a sexless body, reliant on his few intimates for company and support, Concrete hasn’t been liberated, let alone empowered, by the ordeal of his whole-body transplant. Instead, he’s isolated, alienated, and almost perpetually baffled.
Unlike the traditional monster in genre fiction, who has the choice of becoming one of us or staying one of them, of becoming a redeemed member of the community or not, Concrete has no physical peers of any kind to stand with or against. In that, he inhabits an unaccommodating world in which he’s neither definitively human nor super-human, hero nor villain. Concrete’s struggles, as a consequence, are fundamentally existential. In the absence of a comforting and appropriate label that might legitimise him in the eyes of the wider society, Ron Lithgow is forced to create a life for himself in a body that can’t even deliver the most basic of human functions. Not only is sex beyond him, but so too might even be death. Over and over again, Chadwick’s gently amusing and yet telling stories investigate the same dilemma: Who are we and what can we aspire to when we’ve no social identity beyond that of an aberration? (via)
Published in 2008, the seventh issue of the prestigious alt-comics anthology Kramers Ergotmeasures a “modest” 16x21 inches and features an all-star lineup, with lavish full-color spreads by the likes of Matt Groening, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Kim Deitch, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Seth, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine and dozens of others. The massive dimensions of the book, an homage to early 20th century broadsheet comics like Frank King’s Gasoline Alley or Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo, turn the reading experience into a visual feast. A decade from now or two decades from now when someone asks you what this decade was like in alternative comics, this is the book you’re going to hand them.
More than once. Many times. Before I began reading his comics, before I was even reading comics.
Jean Giraud is responsible, either directly through his involvement or indirectly through his influence, for the aesthetic behind Alien, Blade Runner, Akira, Neuromancer, The Fifth Element, Tron, The Abyss, Frank Miller’s Ronin, Frank Quitely’s X-Men, Geoff Darrow, Walt Simonson, Mike Mignola, Taiyo Matsumoto’s No.5, the Empire Strikes Back, and Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind – all of which I’d obsessed over and metabolized long before I ever read a single page of Moebius’ comics. The most resonant image of the future, the one which has dominated both the fringe and popular cultures of the past 40 years.
No artist, let alone a comics artist, has been as singularly influential on the way we as a species see ourselves moving forward. For good or ill, Moebius and his contemporaries imagined what we now think of as the modern urbanized city (or the cyberpunk city), we couldn’t have conceived of it. While the idea has many, many precedents, none of them ring as true. None of them are still relevant. Not one of them captures what city blocks teeming with dozens of kinds of people all together in one space would look like. Walls of faces, some alien, all familiar. None have the locations and trappings of “the future” as used, lived-in. Science fiction of the past 30 years is indelibly linked to Moebius, he is everywhere you look.