Writer/Artist: Scott McCloud
Release Date: 3rd February, 2015
The Sculptor marks Scott McCloud’s long awaited return to the world of fiction, and introduces us to David Smith, a depressed young artist struggling to express his overwhelming creative urges amidst the stifling snobbery of the New York art community. As part of a deal struck with Death himself, David is gifted the ability to sculpt anything he can possibly imagine with just his bare hands. However, as one of the conditions of this bargain, he now has only two hundred days to live, forcing him to frantically try to decide just what his artistic ‘legacy’ is going be; a situation that only worsens when a chance encounter with a young woman called Meg finally gives him something worth living for.
It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that McCloud – the author of the seminal work ‘Understanding Comics’ – well, understands comics. The Sculptor is as technically flawless a graphic novel as I think I’ve ever seen, with precise technique and straightforward yet utterly expressive artwork. Despite a narrative that frequently jumps from place to place, past to present, McCloud’s smooth, cohesive panel layouts keep everything perfectly balanced, making this a book which is utterly effortless to read – even in spite of the powerful story contained within its pages.
On the technical side, it bears mentioning that The Sculptor contains perhaps the most impressive use of lettering that I think I’ve ever seen. Partially obscured ‘speech bubbles’ give us snippets of barely overheard conversations. Words fade as David finds himself lost in a daydream, oblivious to what’s being said. Raised voices explode forth from their speech bubbles, overtaking the panels that struggle to contain them. As I said above, this is a technically flawless book, and quite possibly merits just as much examination as McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’ by eager creators hoping to discover the ‘right way’ of doing things.
The story itself is a sprawling, multi-layered affair, covering a lot of different angles – from the inherent frustration of the creative process to McCloud’s own views on the cruelly subjective nature of ‘art’ to the chronicling of a tragic, painful, all-consuming love. The relationship between David and Meg is impressively believable and utterly devoid of cliché, drawing you in completely as you find yourself willing these two utterly flawed characters to find happiness. David himself is a fully realised, three-dimensional protagonist with complex hopes and desires, struggling to deal with the grief and frustration that has plagued his life. This isn’t a young man fuelled by ego, desperate to be remembered in years to come, but rather a sad, frustrated individual burdened by a crippling desire simply to not be forgotten.
I’m going to avoid delving too deeply into the events of this book – as I tend to do during these reviews – for fear of diminishing the eventual impact to you as a reader, but I will say that this book is about as emotional a piece as I think I’ve ever read, with David’s frantic desperation – both creatively and romantically – spurring the story forwards as his final days gradually tick away. The last chapter is guaranteed to leave a lump in even the most cynical of throats, and the overwhelming message of the book – the fact that, even with absolute creative power, happiness is far from guaranteed – is bound to resonate within all of us.
Emotional, passionate, humorous and utterly unforgettable, The Sculptor is a story that is both complex and simple, epic and intimate, and I defy anyone to make their way through its five hundred pages without seeing something of themselves in David Smith’s life. I’ve given quite a few books five-star ratings in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever meant it quite as emphatically as I do here. Scott McCloud has crafted nothing less than a storytelling masterclass, and The Sculptor is absolutely essential reading for every single one of you who have taken the time to read this review. Trust me on this one.
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