Only rarely does a book take you completely by surprise. Logicomix (Bloomsbury, $22.95) is compelling not only for the history, philosophy, and mathematics it presents, or for its narrative, art, and format, but for how all these elements come together to create a perfect and intriguing whole. As a testament to the book’s writers and artists, Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, one need not be well versed in the life and work of Bertrand Russell (Logicomix serves as something of a biography), or have any appreciation of mathematics (the book recounts the pursuit of a logical foundation for all mathematics); the storytelling alone takes over to such a degree that this book is simply astonishing.
David Small’s deftly woven tale of his childhood, Stiches (W.W. Norton, $24.95), manages not only to draw readers in with its powerful washed ink-work and sometimes nightmarish depiction of childhood, but also to whisk them into childish fantasy. Here are images of embryonic babies running down hallways, of Small and his characters melting into pages, and the consolation of imagined sanctuaries. From the mysterious lump that appears on David’s neck in his adolescence, to the Eisnerian drawings which document Small’s family history, Stitches is a revelatory tale of acceptance, forgiveness, and strength.
Ten years in the making, Asterios Polyp (Pantheon, $29.95) has everything literary fiction has: compelling plot, complex characters, ideas, social critique, symbolism, allusions—plus great images. David Mazzucchelli’s colors are brilliant and, with his versatile lines, styles, and fonts, signal a scene’s emotional frequency, flesh out character, heighten drama, distinguish dream from reality, and deepen all kinds of resonances. As for the plot, it’s a late-coming-of-age tale, a love story, an odyssey. Asterios is of the anti-hero tradition, yet he’s oddly affecting despite being arrogant, pedantic, and so inflexible that his dialogue balloons are always sharp rectangles. When he loses everything—wife, career, possessions—and hops a bus for wherever, he starts to put the pieces back together. Many of these pieces come from classical myths (Castor and Pollux, Polyphemus, Orpheus), offering yet more interpretive fun.