Review | The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

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The creator of Understanding Comics returns to fiction with an exploration of just how far an artist will go for his art.

“What would you give for your art?” It’s a question many artists are asked, whether the question comes from teachers, friends, or even themselves. It’s an important question with no right or wrong answers. However, in the new graphic novel The Sculptor from Scott McCloud, we see the story of one artist who gives his all for his work.
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The Sculptor is the story of David, an artist with tremendous dreams but diminishing options. A stone sculptor by trade, he can no longer afford the materials he needs for his work and is too proud to turn to others for help. Then one day, down to his final few dollars, he is approached by Death in a form both familiar and yet completely foreign to him. In an encounter that would change his life, Death asks him one question, “What would you give for your art?”
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From that question came a bargain, one that David took. He would be given a gift, the ability to make even the least malleable materials like putty in his hands, with the caveat that he would only have 200 days to use it, and at the end of that time, David would die.
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From there, armed with the ability to turn his wildest imaginings into concrete reality, David begins his quest to break into the art world, even if he has to carve away the walls to do it. Yet despite his resolve, he finds himself stymied at every turn, whether it’s by favoritism, politics, or just bad luck, and all along he feels the clock ticking away.
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Then, just as he is about to lose hope, David finds an anchor in the form of a young woman named Meg. After a rather dramatic meeting, she scoops him up and helps him rebuild himself. As they grow closer, David’s art starts to change, as does the direction of the remainder of his life.
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The brilliance of Scott McCloud’s telling of this tale lies in the details. The reader doesn’t just see David’s struggle; you can feel it as McCloud feeds you bits and pieces of David’s history. You watch as one by one his family members slipped away from him, the moments of hope and sorrow that he wishes to share with the world, and his agony when no one is willing to see them.
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This is paired nicely with McCloud’s artwork, which instead of being in color or the more traditional black and white, is a dizzyingly impressive use of blacks and blues in every shade imaginable. In addition, the world surrounding David is expansive, a tremendous, thriving city filled with a sea of people. Yet all of that can fade away in an instant, focusing on a single figure, a solitary object in a field of white with hints of pale blue, always ensuring you see what the artist wants you to see.
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However, the most interesting visual aspect of this story is the sculptures. McCloud rises to the challenge of not just describing, but illustrating the work of a man that can literally craft anything he can imagine, without the usual constraints of physics or even the limitations of what a human can accomplish by hand. For that alone he should be applauded.
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Considering this story is from the same man that taught many of us how to understand comics, it comes as no surprise that McCloud has managed to redefine the genre again. There are a lot of stories out there about a man who made a deal with Death, but there are none out there quite like this. For a fresh perspective on life, on art, and the struggle to understand the nature of both, The Sculptor is a read I would recommend. | Brent Mueller
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