I thought we’d take a pause in the middle of our Asterios Polyp roundtable to highlight some of the points that have come up in comments.
Craig Fischer had a fascinating comment on Mazzucchelli’s use of word balloons:
You can see how appealing and effective Mazzucchelli’s word balloons are by comparing them to the balloons in most contemporary mainstream comics, which look ugly to me: resolutely rectangular, filled with text that looks like it was generated by computer.
Mainstream creators have struggled with personalizing captions, especially when the text moves across panels and the speaker is unseen in the second panel.
Kurt Busiek will sometimes write one panel where a character says something like, “If we can’t stop that dinosaur…” This panel is then followed by another that (1.) visually eliminates the speaker (showing, say, only the rampaging dinosaur); but (2.) continues his/her speech (“…we’re all DEAD!”) in a caption.
Alert readers realize that the words in the second-panel represents the character continuing to talk. But Busiek and his collaborators have tried to insert other cues to eliminate any ambiguity about who’s speaking. One solution: characters are assigned different colors, and their captions are always in that color.
When Busiek wrote THE AVENGERS, he sometimes included the logo of the speaking character at the beginning of the caption box. For instance, a little shield appeared at the beginning of the caption if Captain America was talking but was unseen.
All of this really cluttered up the visuals, though–sometimes you’d have five different logos and colors for the captions littering a single page–and was nowhere nearly as elegant as the balloons in ASTERIOS POLYP.
Suat compares Asterios Polyp and Born Again (scroll down in comments for my response.)
What’s also interesting is that Born Again is filled with hoary cliches: damsel in distress, betrayal and redemption, the hero’s “rebirth” etc. Exactly the kind of thing which Noah decries in his review of AP. How many times have we seen the noir hero pull himself up from the gutter? (Darwyn Cooke’s Parker must be the most recent example/adaptation in comics)
And yet Born Again seems less tiresome in that respect when compared with AP which is similarly choked with cliches (or archetypes, whichever way you want to look at it). Does genre work at a different level than work of more serious intent? Does it appeal to some subconscious craving particularly in the male mind? I imagine that some of Born Again’s success must be put down to its pacing and the detailing of emotions(the later of which is lacking in AP possibly by choice). But is it only that extra twist of lemon in the plotting and the characterization?
Sidenote: You can actually see some of the dry brush work mentioned by Derik (re: the rocks in AP) in Born Again. I presume it became an even greater aspect of his art following his sojourn in Japan. Born Again would appear to be a steep learning curve for Mazzucchelli – you can see him improving as an artist right up to the final issue.
Robert Stanley Martin provides a choice Mazzucchelli quote
Here’s Mazzucchelli’s account of his collaboration with Miller on Born Again, from TCJ #194:
Frank was writing full scripts, but we were also discussing the stories. In fact, it was Frank’s idea to list our credits on the book as just reading “by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli,” not broken up into writer/artist/whatever. He asked me if that would be okay with me, because he didn’t want there to be any confusion. And as far as I was concerned it was perfectly acceptable, because the way we were working, there were ideas going back and forth where it would have been difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation–this came from one person, this came from the other person. Frank had the ideas for the stories, and he would call me up and we’d talk about it. And we’d hash it out and I’d have ideas of my own: “Well, what if this happens? And how about if we show it this way?” or whatever. And then he’d write a full script and then we’d have another long discussion about the script and then I’d draw from that. In fact, as I recall, everything that happens in the first three issues or so Frank initially wanted to put into the first issue. But because of discussions we had, we ended up expanding that, so that it was much slower, more densely packed.
And Daniel BT highlights the fact that the roundtable has been awfully cranky.
Anyways, one thing that bothers me about all this reviewing about Asterios Polyp is that nobody seems to ENJOY the comic. Rather than point out the innovations in the drawings, they’d rather point out how superficial the story is, how one-dimensional the characters are, and how unlikeable the main character is. I don’t like Woody Allen that much either, but I prefer Asterios better, since he’s not as neurotic, even when the spotlight keeps shining on him.
Lot’s more chatter in comments, and three more reviews to go (by Caroline Small, Robert Stanley Martin, and Matthias Wivel) before the roundtable winds down.