"The Sculptor" - Book Review

I knew of Scott McCloud because of his brilliant Understanding Comics - a work that I've told many people is essentially a Ph.D. thesis on comics - in the form of a comic. If you want to understand the history, development, and structure of comics ... that is THE book. He followed that up with Reinventing Comics, which was his view of the current landscape of comics and where they were going: the reviews suggested it was only "good," and I was left so gobsmacked by Understanding Comics that I didn't want the let-down of reading something merely "good."

But it's quite a few years later, and of course McCloud is a comics artist who has to make a living, and I got an advance copy of his latest book The Sculptor from the library. It's a massive book (500 pages) and must have taken him a very long time to draw. The main character is David Smith, a sculptor who finds himself in a really bad stretch in his life. Death offers him a deal: the ability to sculpt anything with his bare hands, in return for his death in 200 days. He takes it. It's important to note that his deal isn't with the Devil: it's a Faustian deal, but Death isn't trying to sabotage David or adhere to the letter of the deal rather than the spirit. In fact, Death keeps showing up to see how it's going - he's interested. Unfortunately, David is pretty good at sabotaging himself. And he meets a woman who might well have been the love of his life had he not been about to die.

It's essentially in black and white, although it's highlighted throughout in a light shade of blue-gray. The artwork is great. The characters are great: David is a bit of an asshole, and Meg has got some major issues, but they fit. And David's inability to focus, even in the face of death, is something I think most of us can relate to. Having a magical ability doesn't mean that you stop needing to eat, sleep, or interact with other humans. The ending is predictably sad, but David finally finds some focus and I thought the final artwork was eminently satisfying and fitting.