The Sculptor
by Scott McCloud (First Second, 2015)

David Smith, a 26-year-old New York artist, is flat broke, his patron has dropped him and he's experiencing a crushing creative block. With his life crumbling around him, David is about ready to abandon his artistic career when Death -- yes, actual Death -- appears and offers him the deal of a lifetime: the ability to literally shape anything with his hands. There's a catch, of course: he must give up his soul after 200 days.

Self-esteem in the toilet, David agrees. The very next morning that he is able to sculpt anything from anything with just his bare hands. On the same day he meets a girl, Meg, who impacts his life in ways he could never have dreamed.

It's obvious a painstaking amount of detail went into the construction of this 500-page epic. Scott McCloud is undeniably one of the leading voices responsible for helping the graphic novel gain both mainstream acceptance and legitimacy as an art form. His interviews make it clear that David and Meg are based largely on himself and his wife and the ways in which they are trying to work things out, just like Meg and David.

All of elements of a decent story are here. Taken as a whole, The Sculptor is just that, a quite decent story. The one half slice-of-life, one half superhero aspect of the story is charming. McCloud's handling of artistic frustration and the ambition that lies in the heart of every artist is sensitively handled and by far the most realistic attribute of the story.

Concept and artwork, however, can't make up for the shortfalls in character development and storytelling. The plot is a rather standard one about a troubled young artist who's saved from his angry, lonely existence by a manic pixie dream girl of a lover. In their first meeting, Meg is literally presented as an actual angel, swooping down from out of the blue to help him. David falls instantly in love, drawn by her whimsicality -- unaware, until one particularly bad episode, that it's a cover for a much more serious issue. Meg herself never really forms up into a solid character, given that the book is so much about David that she is deprived of any development. A character as promising as Meg deserves much more than simply being a means to advance David's story.

It's difficult to relate easily to someone as self-absorbed as David. His admittedly tragic, pain-filled life has left him unable to focus on anything outside himself, which sadly means that he can only see Meg's problems in terms of how they affect him. Overall, The Sculptor, while beautifully drawn, doesn't really have anything new to say about love or creativity.

review by
Mary Harvey

22 October 2016

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