Pantheon editorial director Dan Frank and Pantheon designer/senior editor Chip Kidd discuss David Mazzucchelli's much anticipated graphic novel, Asterios Polyp (Reviews, Feb. 9), the story of an architect who designs highly theoretical buildings that are never constructed.
Mazzucchelli worked on this book for about 10 years. How did it come to Pantheon?
Dan Frank: A year or so ago we got the first half of the book, around November 2007, like about 180 pages out of a 340-page book .
Chip Kidd: Most cartoonists will either publish in installments or are all too happy to show how things are progressing. He just didn't do that and once it was all in, all of sudden here's the book fully formed.
No editorial process? No drafts, no carefully weighed editorial comments?
DF: It's a process called patience.
I see the book as an incredible love story that is also fascinated with aesthetics, philosophy and the workings of art. What's your reading of Asterios Polyp?
DF: David loves ideas, and all along he's wanted to do something that integrated form and content in an unusual way. He was going to look at everything: negative space, color, the page and the text itself; it's all been thought out to the degree that he's saying, “I want this book to be read in the same way that you're taught to read a novel in school, where every sentence matters and every decision an artist makes is of consequence.” There's a seriousness to David's ambition and a confidence about what he can do.
CK: There's a wonderful scene in the book where Hannah [Asterios' wife] is teaching a sculpture class, and she presents a sculpture that has two rising forms—like the twin towers—and she asks the class, how many shapes do you see? There's three: two physical shapes and the negative space between them. That to me is what it's all about. David's not just writing about architecture or sculpture but the experience of how we learn about these things.
What happens when you have an extremely talented author who would rather not do any media at all?
DF: In David's case you have someone whose standing and reputation within the comics world is quite high because of his past work, so it's not like you're dealing with someone who is completely unknown. The fact that we can put his name on the cover is a huge thing.