Physical Language: Asterios Polyp Speech Bubble Analysis

Asterios does not only live in a box, but he speaks in one also.

The big idea is Characterization through Curvature. 

Everyone else has more rounded speech bubbles with some curvature variations, which serve as characteristic cues; however, Asterios’ speech is almost always rigid and square–like he is.

With Women: Speech bubbles seem to not only differentiate women from Asterios, but the shape of each bubble also serves as a tool to revealing each woman’s personality.

Take for example…

Asterios’ Various Sexual Escapades


Woman #1: A typical female orgasm scene. Her speech bubble is rippling with curves, like her perfectly-proportioned body, and implies that she is a woman at the height of her femininity, and so to Asterios she is the most dynamic and curvy.

Woman #2: Since this woman is singing in the shower and her face is never seen, it can be inferred by her rounded speech bubble she has little to no complexity—as far as Asterio is concerned, and so her bubble has no character (or curvature).

Woman #3: An assumed masochist/BDSM enthusiast. She has a mix of soft, rounded curves and some jagged edges, which implies that she is employing both the masculine and feminine– as BDSM uses both—in her speech, and therefore her speech bubble functions as a reflection of her personality. It can also imply that Asterios’ view of woman is beginning to become jaded at his point, and he is projecting that onto her.

Woman #4: The speech bubble is literally a puff of smoke. This woman may have some complexity, but her straightforward speech, and Asterios’ eagerness to leave (putting on his shoes) suggests that women are little more than a passing thought to Asterios, at this time.

Hana’s Story Retelling


Asterios’ contestant interruption of Hana’s story serves as evidence that the square boxes represent something intrusive, jarring, and slightly aggressive – hence Asterios (masculine). Hana is very down-to-earth and so her speech bubble is simply round and a little plain to be honest. This stands in stark contrast to Asterios’ sharp, abrasive bubbles solidifying that they are very un identical people.


The conclusion can be drawn that the more curves a character’s speech bubble has, the more complex they are. Concerning women in general, the more “well-rounded” the speech bubble is, the more feminine the woman.

There are other character contrasts made by curvature that do not involve Asterios: between Stiff Major and Ursula Major, it is obvious to see that her speech contains more curvature as she is a more complex (mostly mystical) character compared to her husband, a humble mechanic. The same can be said of Gerry, Major’s radical young Communistic friend, and even Steven, the astronomer– his  speech bubbles all mimic clouds.

My favourite character, Manana, speaks in a particularly cutesy font that mimics her overall cute demeanor, and adds an element of approachability to her character. She also has very rounded speech bubbles (like most other women in the narrative), which also happen to mimic the voluptuous curves of her body.


Through these various examples, it is clear that Mazzucchelli has created sort of a physical language, which is a very fresh and surprising invention.

Hopefully, Asterios does not continue to be so square throughout the whole narrative and evolves into a more dynamic, well-rounded character.

–  based on Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli 64 -122


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