Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
For decades, Mazzucchelli has been a master without a masterpiece. Now he has one. His long-awaited graphic novel is a huge, knotty marvel, the comics equivalent of a Pynchon or Gaddis novel, and radically different from anything he's done before. Asterios Polyp, its arrogant, prickly protagonist, is an award-winning architect who's never built an actual building, and a pedant in the midst of a spiritual crisis. After the structure of his own life falls apart, he runs away to try to rebuild it into something new. There are fascinating digressions on aesthetic philosophy, as well as some very broad satire, but the core of the book is Mazzucchelli's odyssey of style—every major character in the book is associated with a specific drawing style and visual motifs, and the design, color scheme and formal techniques of every page change to reinforce whatever's happening in the story. Although Mazzucchelli stacks the deck—few characters besides Polyp and his inamorata, the impossibly good-hearted sculptor Hana, are more than caricatures—the book's bravado and mastery make it riveting even when it's frustrating, and provide a powerful example of how comics use visual information to illustrate complex, interconnected topics. Easily one of the best books of 2009.