The Asterios Polyp Book by David Mazzucchelli

Pages: 6
Words: 1635


The book Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli is a comic book written regarding the life of the protagonist Asterios, a former professor of architecture. The narrator is Asterios’ late twin brother Ignazio who died in the womb. The novel begins with Asterios having divorced his ex-wife Hana, who loses his Manhattan apartment to a fire which causes him to change his life as he reflects upon his past. He takes a Greyhound bus as far as it can take him as he seeks to begin life anew. He gets a job at an auto repair shop and works and stays with Stiff Major, a mechanic, his wife, Ursula, and their son Jackson. David Mazzucchelli uses various tropes to classify different characters in the book based on their race and gender, and color to further reinforce the difference. The author uses color and tropes to define the characters based on their socio-cultural context, transcend their stereotypic limitations, and enable the reader to understand them better and use them alongside those of other graphic elements to supplement the literal narration.

David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp

The use of such an element of color in the novel enables the author to further complicate the experience that the readers get by aligning the graphics of the novel with the actual narration of the novel. It is used to indicate various aspects of the characters, including their expression and is applied as a tool that transcends the tropes in the novel. This is clearly depicted by Max Bledstein in the article Beyond Stereotypes: Understanding Color and Characterization in David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. The graphical aspects of the novel depict various classifications regarding the character. Through the colors, the readers experience the novel graphically as the blend of color and discourse furthers the readers’ understanding. This plays a significant role in enabling the visual appeal of the book as well.

The author introduces each character in the novel with a unique trope and color, which is used to outrightly indicate their race and gender. The shape of the body and posture of the character indicates a lot regarding their depiction (Forceville et al. 506). The protagonist is depicted as a white male and a professor. His wife Hana is an Asian American woman who is illustrated as being shy. Stiff is equally a white male mechanic who is majorly focused on his work. Each character is classified into a specific trope based on their age and gender in the novel.

It is essential to note that the classification of the tropes with the characters is based on stereotypes that are pegged on normative expectations. Behind these characters’ designs are rules regarding their color, facial expressions, and shape (Fredriksson 1). Further, the author highlights the challenges that these individuals face based on the barriers set by the system. Comic books preserve stereotypes and exaggeration (Cook and Frey 18). Hence, the tropes are used as indicators of the difficulty of transcending societal expectations of their identities. The differentiation between the tropes in the novel can be attributed to the contrast created between them in the novel.

The color in the novel further indicates a distinction between the experiences that each character goes through in their lives. The experience is influenced by their identities in the narration. For instance, Asterios’ identity as a white male university professor enables him to have a different experience from that of Ursula, who is identified as the wife of Stiff a white male mechanic. Hana’s experience in the novel is different from that of her husband as she is identified as timid, which contrasts with Asterios’ confidence. To some degree, this indicates the impact of sexism and racism on the identities of various individuals.

Further, the use of colors in the narrative does not establish the distinct expression of the comic palette. Color is used in the novel as a dynamic tool that is used to express the characters’ emotions and orientation at various points in the novel. It is used as a mechanism through which characters are defined in the novel beyond the use of the assigned tropes. Through the colors, hermeneutic images emerge in the novel, which are in turn, used to depict the emotions and thoughts of the character in the novel.

Through the colors that the author employs in the novel, the characters can transcend their stereotypical classifications and express their emotions in a varied manner, breaking the barriers that ordinarily seem to categorize individuals based on their gender and race in society. In addition, the use of color in the novel further highlights the influence that different characters have on each other. This use of color in the novel complicates the assumptions (Bledstein, 4). For instance, in the first interaction between Stiff and Asterios, Stiff is majorly drawn in purple with a touch of yellow. When Asterios meets Ursula, who, on learning that Stiff has offered Asterios accommodation, undermines him for his actions, she is drawn in yellow and a little purple. Further, the use of the colors between the individuals indicates how both of them contain elements of the other. This transcends the stereotypic sexism that would otherwise prefer to isolate each individual and indicate that they possess unique and mutually exclusive characters. On the other hand, the contrasts in color indicate differences between the individuals.

The author inverts the color schemes between these individuals to indicate the disagreement on the matter of allowing Asterios to stay with them. Further, the use of these colors indicates they each have little influence over each other, illustrated by the touch of yellow and purple on the individuals. Nonetheless, the predominance of the color purple on him indicates that he retains his decision and is not swayed by Ursula. The literal expression of Stiff supports this to allow Asterios to stay.

Moreover, the ‘distance’ between the colors plays a crucial role in establishing the emotional connection between the characters. The use of proximate color schemes between the individuals indicates their harmony. For instance, the novel’s disagreement between Stiff and Ursula is drawn with either purple or yellow. In addition, as much as this can be attributed to the author’s desire not to confuse the readers, colors such as red and black indicate a disunity between the two. Further, the use of these colors to draw the individuals even in a disagreement indicates their fondness for each other. The use of colors illustrates that these individuals are not as unique and contrasting as they may appear.

On the other hand, the colors used between Asterios and Hana are more distinct than those of Stiff and Ursula. The author illustrates the wit of Asterios on cyan pages and the story of Hana on magenta coloring pages. The contrasting demonstration in the colors indicates the differences between these two individuals. This is consistent with the character’s differences in personalities and those imposed on their identities based on race and gender.

The element of colors depicting the appreciation of a character’s personality and elements of behavior is further implied by the use of colors between Asterios and Hana. As the two characters interact, Hana is shown to spot the cyan color that was initially identified with Asterios. Conversely, Asterios consistently maintains his color without spotting any magenta color. This illustrates the adoption of Asterio’s personality by Hana, further indicating her diffident nature. On the other hand, the maintenance by Asterios of his color highlights his confidence.

The return of the magenta color in the conflict between Hana and Asterios indicates her ability to detach from Asterios’ frame. The author introduces a neutral color purple which is observed as Asterios explains the purpose of the cameras in the house. Further, during the flashback of Asterios to his childhood, the illustration of him in cyan while surrounded by magenta children indicates his unique character and personality from the time he carries to the present day.

When Hana gets to work with Willy, she is depicted in cyanic clothes which indicate her bond with Asterios and her contempt towards Willy. Through this shade of color, the author seeks to indicate that Willy is not as influential on Hana as he might think. This becomes apparent when the author shows his weakness when he shows his discontent with the Orpheus myth. Further. The drawing of Willy in magenta in reflections of his past further indicates his weakness and shows the misjudgment by Hana of him being strong.

As much as the color indicates a bond between the characters, it also indicates the differences when Asterios and Hana disagree. The shift to green on Hana shows the continued differences between them. It indicates the shift in her emotional position towards him, and even though they are drawn in magenta and purple as they talk, the predominant green indicates a drastic change from her initial attachment to Asterios. It can be noted to indicate a shift in her personality after their breakup and her resolve to be a different person altogether.


In conclusion, Mazzucchelli utilizes color and tropes to transcend their stereotypic limitations and enable the reader to understand them better and their use alongside those of other graphic elements to supplement the literal narration. Through the colors, the author advances and elaborates on the characters at different points of the narration. In addition, according to Bledstein, the use of these features highlight the stereotypic understanding of the characters based on gender and race. Further, altering characters in the novel diminishes the women and other characters of color (Hunt 96). Further, according to the representation of the characters in the novel, the tropes and colors indicate the distinct classification of their identities in society. The novel through the graphics identifies the effects and the limitations that are brought about by ethnic and gendered stereotypes.

Works Cited

Cook, Mike P., and Ryle Frey. “Using Superheroes to Visually and Critically Analyze Comics, Stereotypes, and Society.” SANE Journal: Sequential Art Narrative in Education 2.2 2017, pp. 1-31.

Forceville, Charles, et al. “Stylistics and Comics.” In: Michael Burke (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics. Routledge, 2017, pp. 503-517.

Fredriksson, Emma. “Combining Shape, Color and Postures for Ambiguous Character Roles.” Upsala University Press 2017, pp. 1-81

Hunt, Whitney. “Negotiating New Racism: ‘It’s Not Racist or Sexist. It’s Just the Way it Is’.” Media, Culture & Society 41.1 2019, pp. 86-103.