Annotated Asterios Polyp, Pt. 2: The Towering Inferno

An administrative note: I’m gonna try to keep my parceling out of information even, so that I’m not saying everything to be said about, say, the use of color in the book all at once. But I will try to direct readers to stuff that will be important later, and I will get spoiler-ish at times.

So:

cosmoslet’s call this Page 1. Most of the chapters begin with a centered rectangular image on odd-numbered pages, but this might not become apparent until Chapter 3 or so, since the beginning of Ch. 2 is a circle containing Asterios’ visage. For now, though, we can just take this in as it is. Space. The cosmos. Or is it? It’s just blue dots on a purple background. Space will be important to Asterios, in many ways. First of all, this image begins a sequence in which the heavens destroy his apartment. Asterios will downplay the significance of this in a few chapters, but nature will make a stunning return toward the end of the novel. Secondly, he’s an architect, so “space” will be important to his work. Lastly, Asterios is ambivalent on the question of fate/destiny, for which the cosmos are a common metaphor. While he will dismiss astrology in a later chapter, he is susceptible to a number of superstitious beliefs, especially regarding his twin Ignazio. Asterios also retains a strong interest in greek culture, which would certainly include buying into the zodiac.

But in a first read-through, this page is the beginning of our descent to Asterios’s apartment.

Page 2: those rocky-looking shapes on page 1, which on first blush appeared to be space, now look like particles in the purple clouds. Panel 2 shows these clouds gathering over Manhattan. You can make out the World Trade Center (later we learn Asterios is fond of WTC because of its “twin towers”).

Page 3: a bolt of lightning splits the page in half. In greek mythology, Zeus, king of the gods, wields a thunderbolt. This will be important later on.

twintowers

Page 4: here’s where Asterios lives (it’s the left tower). Already we’ve got a lot of doubling going on. There’s tons to come. From panel 2, we can see that things have seriously gone wrong in Asterios’ life. a picture hangs unevenly in one corner, dishes are piled in the sink, and the rain coming in from open windows threatens his midcentury modernist furniture. You’ll notice that Asterios has kept the dresser and coffee table that Hana buys him in the 80s.

Page 5: more of the flotsam from Asterios’s shipwrecked life. A word balloon drifts into each of the three panels. They’re all wobbly, but the first and third are more circle-y than the second, which is almost rectangular. The speakers are Hana and Asterios, but we don’t know that yet; Asterios always speaks in rectangular word balloons. The third balloon’s language is legible: it reads, “mmm . . . oohh . . . that’s good . . .” This conversation is about food, but again we don’t know that yet. The way this last balloon slinks and curls its way around a door, forming a voluptuous B, it’s no wonder I thought it was something sexual. Then again, for Asterios, there probably is a connection between food and sex.

Lots of menacing bank notices pile up on the desk. If the apartment didn’t burn up, he’d be in trouble anyway. He’s got 47 messages waiting on his answering machines. There’s a mug with “Thirteen” on the label. Thirteen is the New York Public Television station (it’s also probably been about 13 years since Asterios saw Hana). 13 is also steeped in superstition: it’s often an unlucky or foreboding number. I could go on and on, but just take a look at the wikipedia page.

Page 6: This is the first time we see Asterios in the book proper, and the first panel gives us a rare frontal view. He’s unshaven and has bags under his eyes. Defying our expectations, he’s wearing a dress shirt and slacks (that is, he’s not having sex, and even if he were watching porn, he’s not masturbating). The glow from the tv creates a blue shadow that spreads around the room and out the window. In panels 1 and 2, Asterios is doubled by his shadow. Asterios absentmindedly plays with a lighter. We can also see that the videocassette boxes are labeled by date.

Page 7: Lightning again separates the page, separating the color plane into deep purlpe and white. Asterios himself seems halved by the flash. The rational perspective also departs for a more expressionistic arrangement of the walls.

Page 8: Introduction of the color yellow: here is serves as a warning (the “eet eet eet” of the fire alarm) and danger itself (the fire). We get an angled frame of Asterios looking out the window, and what he sees.

hop

Page 9: This delightful panel illustrates some classically cartoony lines of movement: the double hop, the jumping beads of sweat, and the double-lined arch of the back. It helps humanize a character we might have erroneously labeled a pervert. As the fire alarm continues to sound in the background, Asterios rushes around to salvage a few items whose value we’ll learn about much later.

Page 10: How does Asterios make it out first? This reminds me at first of that Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza knocks over children and old ladies to escape a fire, but that’s not what’s really going on. Instead, he’s first because he’s alone.

Page 13: The fire takes a slightly different route than we did through the apartment, destroying everything. Instead of heading into the bedroom, it turns off into another room, where we see more labeled videotapes, walls of them. Whoever this guy is, he’s obsessed with something.

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