The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, comic book review: A devilish pact that speaks to every frustrated artist

Five years in the making, and at nearly 500 pages, The Sculptor is both an ode to the comics form and a wonderful graphic novel in its own right

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The Independent Culture

There’s a reason why the publication of The Sculptor has been so greatly hyped, and that reason is Scott McCloud.

Perhaps not as instantly familiar to the general reading population as Stan Lee or Posy Simmonds, McCloud has been called the Aristotle of comics, his theoretical texts making up the core of comic studies, and his early predictions on the digital future of the medium marking him as being ahead of his time.

Creator as well as theorist, McCloud’s Zot series, published in the 1980s, was an underground hit, but fictional works have largely taken a back seat to theory and instruction. Until now.

Five years in the making, and at nearly 500 pages, The Sculptor is both an ode to the comics form and a wonderful graphic novel in its own right. David Smith is desperate to achieve success through his artwork; the young sculptor is obsessed with the idea of being famous long after his death through the power of art. Sensing his opportunities slipping away, David makes a terrifying deal with Death himself: the superhuman ability to sculpt anything with his bare hands in exchange for only 200 more days to live.

McCloud has created a work that speaks to the frustrated creator in every person, forcing the reader to confront the potential inside and to examine the frustration that can obstruct the appreciation of life’s smaller, important moments. In the throes of artistic despair David bargains his life away, before he ever really had a chance to live it. And in 200 days, he finds out that life never goes as planned, even with absolute creative power.

Understanding Comics, published by McCloud in 1993, lays out the basics of comic reading and creating for anyone with an interest in the genre, using the medium of comics itself to explain McCloud’s theories. Reading this is in no way a requirement for enjoying The Sculptor, but side by side it is obvious that it was in the construction of these theories that the The Sculptor was born. It is, quite simply, a masterclass in graphic storytelling.

Technically brilliant work from McCloud will surprise few ardent comic readers but it is the emotional core of The Sculptor that ultimately makes the graphic novel accessible for any reader. At no time is there a struggle to follow the flow of panels, the beat of the page, or the rhythm of the story, and even the narcissistic tendencies of the protagonist and the near “manic pixie dream girl” cast of his love interests are dealt with in a way that reflects truth rather than empty tropes.

If Understanding Comics was the research, The Sculptor is the finished thesis – far more than the sum of its parts, and a wonderful testament to the power of comics.