Book Review: Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor

I’ve owned this graphic novel for less than two weeks, and I’ve already read it three times, and cried at the end each time. (Of course, because I’m clearly just so manly, I had to physically force the tears out of the ducts, and there were only one or two tears. Yeah. Totally.) Each time I’ve read it it just gets better and better.

Scott McCloud’s art does play second fiddle to the story, but the story couldn’t have worked without it- this is one of the definite examples of a story that wouldn’t be possible as prose, and I have doubts about whether it would really work in any other medium.

The Sculptor follows a young, down on his luck sculptor, David Smith (not that David Smith), who is trying to make it big in New York. With nothing going his way, he makes a deal with Death, gaining the ability to easily sculpt anything he wants with his bare hands- in exchange, however, he only has two hundred days to live.

The relatively simple, bold, black and white (well, blue, black and white) art works perfectly for this story. Characters are immediately, easily distinguishable, and it’s immensely easy to find yourself caring about even the simplest of them, even making up backstory and attributing personalities to people with just a few appearances, and maybe one or two lines. Scott McCloud’s facial expressions communicate immense depths- to be fair, that’s often considered a strength of the medium when done well, but it’s especially powerful here. It’s also a pleasure to see much more normal people- the unending streams of beautiful people you run into in so many comics (superheroes, I’m looking at you) actually get genuinely boring after a while- so many of them just lack the endearing flaws of everyday people.  The cast of The Sculptor is flawed, broken, weird, and profoundly human, in a way matched by so few characters in any medium.

(Speaking of superheroes, he does not in anyway use these powers to fight crime or otherwise engage in the usual nonsense. It’s a story about an artist doing art and finding love, not assault the poor and desperate with his powers. There are one or two cute jokes about it, though.)

That’s not to say the book is perfect- there are a couple awkward poses in action scenes, there are… shit. Actually, that’s nearly all I can think of. I’m sure there are more, of course, but at this point my brain has basically glossed them over, I love it so much. Sure, many of the characters make stupid decisions, and make you want to yell at them, but that’s not a problem with the book, it’s part of its humanity.

The Sculptor is the best graphic novel I’ve read in years. This is what comics should be striving for. The Sculptor is now one of my absolute favorite graphic novels of all time- more than Sandman, more than Watchmen, more than We3. Is it my favorite ever? I can’t say for sure. There are a few challengers to it still, like King City and Maus, but just the fact that it’s jockeying for that spot should tell you exactly how I feel about it.

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