The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

David Smith is a disgraced artist. Once a rising young star in the art world, he said the wrong thing about the wrong critic and suddenly his career was in the toilet. Now he’s washed up at twenty six and about to be evicted from his apartment. But just when he’s resorted to drinking his days away, Death shows up in the form of his former Uncle Harry and presents him with a proposition he can’t refuse: the ability to sculpt any material with his bare hands in exchange for (what else?) his life in 200 days. David has a little under seven months to make his mark on the world before he leaves it forever. But right away he runs into complications. First of all, there’s the little matter of his rent–he’s still jobless and broke. His landlord throws him out and confiscates all his new work. His phone is cut off. Then the very worst possible thing of all happens. David falls in love with an angel named Meg and the endless 200 days suddenly seem a lot shorter. Can David beat Death at his own game by finding a way to live forever through his artwork? Or will he die in obscurity, content that at least he was truly known and loved by one very special person? Since the “making a deal with Death” is a familiar story, you might think you know how this epic graphic novel ends. But you would be dead wrong. Scott McCloud‘s richly rewarding GN, with its timeless themes of life, death, love and art has the feel of an instant classic. The pale blue artwork is restrained, the panels are perfectly placed.  The moment I finished it, I knew it would become a literary touchstone that I would return to again and again, like Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or S.E. Hinton’s Tex. For anyone who’s ever wondered what they would sacrifice to fulfill their dreams or which dreams they would be willing to sacrifice for a beloved someone.

2 thoughts on “The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

  1. I think it’s great that this book resonated so strongly with you. One of the themes in The Sculptor is around the subjectivity in art, and since you liked the book I’m not commenting here to say that you are wrong in liking it. I read it in two sittings and very much enjoyed it up until the last 50 pages for reasons below. (Possible Spoiler Alert)

    David Smith expresses a great disdain for the art world throughout the book, and rightly so. Nepotism, money, fame, so many things drive the machine that creates illusory value in art objects. Sure, there are masterful works by genius artists, but David Smith rightly points out the illusion surrounding a large percentage of what is highly valued. And so for him to find redemption in the art world accepting him, and for his works to suddenly be valued in that same stratosphere, this was disappointing to me because my hope was that he would achieve success that transcended that value structure. His street art sort of did that in a Banksy fashion but David Smith didn’t feel redemption until the art world acknowledged him. More importantly, to me, I wanted the substance of the street art to be central to the story. It matters, what art is. To think otherwise is to fall in with the gang that defines everything for you.

    Here is my main issue: The Sculptor got a super power and he didn’t make a single good art piece, by what I would call his own standards. I take that back, there were two: the one that was buried in the park and the sphere in the apartment the end, but neither of those were at the center of what McCloud created as his redemptive moments. Instead, those best and only good pieces were barely mentioned and not a part of what Smith discovered with his new success in the art world.

    I kept waiting for The Sculptor to create somewhat amazing. McCloud didn’t have to sculpt something amazing, he just needed to create the concept and the drawings. The fact that the art coming out of The Sculptor was missing substance where it could have expressed depth on so many levels left me feeling like David Smith turned out to be an absolute failure, again by his own standards. But the story did not portend this to be in the cards of his own self awareness, instead he simply found solace in acceptance from the art world that he loathed and in his street art that seemed to have as its only attribute that it was large.

    You could say that the love story carried equal weight with the art story, and the twist in that resolution made up for the lackluster art substance. But the title of the book is The Sculptor and the love story could not have been more typical, knocking off the girl at the end felt like a total copout on what could have lent to a far more interesting ending where The Sculptor created a wonderful body of work for his unborn child and lover.

    Curious if you or anyone else has responses to these thoughts.

  2. Showing my age, I think – I wouldn’t be able to read this book because I couldn’t suspend disbelief sufficiently to accept the main premise. Surely no one would sacrifice a long life for fame?? Well, I guess the book’s main character was willing and maybe some of the recently-deceased “celebrities” we mourn, such as Michael Jackson, but it feels very foreign to me. If the novel is well-plotted and finely illustrated it probably makes a really good read but not for me! Tell me I’m wrong??

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