Written and Drawn by Scott McCloud
Published by First Second
Reviewed by Marc Mason
I have long held Scott McCloud’s work in the highest esteem. From the early days of ZOT! to the groundbreaking nature of UNDERSTANDING COMICS to the gloriousness that is DESTROY, he has shown himself to be a creator of singular talents, someone who knows how to use the medium of comics in significant and intriguing ways. Hell, at this very moment, I am teaching a Masters-level course in writing comics and graphic novels, and I’m using UNDERSTANDING COMICS as the primary text – a book that is over twenty-years old, yet has lost none of its power and importance.
Scott McCloud is just that good.
So when I tell you that THE SCULPTOR is the finest artistic achievement of his storied career, I hope you understand what that means. It is a work of vision, emotion, power, philosophy, and love. And it is going to win a metric ton of awards, as well as become a perennial seller. It is modern and it is timeless. It is a staggering piece of work.
The story introduces us to a young artist named David Smith, a sculptor who has reached rock bottom in his career rather quickly, which is doubly humiliating because he shares a name with another, quite successful artist. But one day, as he attempts to drink away his sorrows, Death himself arrives in the form of one of his relatives and offers him a deal: he will gain the (super) power to use his hands to create whatever he can imagine, producing art like the world has never seen… but after 200 days, he will die.
It isn’t really a spoiler to tell you that he takes the deal.
But as with all deals of this nature, and with life vicissitudes, David’s life changes in other, significant ways, including meeting Meg, a troubled young actress with whom he immediately falls in love. Yet McCloud works hard to avoid that scenario feeling too much like a cliché. Indeed, Meg is far more complex than your traditional manic pixie dream girl, and she is hiding some secrets of her own. Plus, David is hardly redeemed from his more dick-ish qualities despite his ability to create, and his gift for treating people terribly doesn’t fade away. Both of these people have a lot of work to do, and not just on their art.
That was what impressed me most about the book, I think – McCloud never has the characters take an easy way out. Even with David’s looming (pardon the pun) deadline, he struggles with simply trying to learn to be a better person as much as he struggles with creating his art. The one thing he cannot use his hands to mold is his personality.
Artistically, McCloud uses the whole bag of tricks and then some to tell the tale. He focuses on negative space to enhance a character’s vision. He uses dynamic sequences of silent panels to inform and move the story along. There are moments of stark impressionism. Really, the look to the book is wildly inventive, and a feast for the eyes. While some parts might tempt you to read quickly, you shouldn’t; watch how he tackles storytelling, movement, and emotion on the page. He’s putting the lessons of UNDERSTANDING COMICS to good use here.
I could go on, but you get the idea. THE SCULPTOR is an absolute triumph. I give it my highest recommendation.