by Scott McCloud
First Second Books, 488 pages
reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore
Scott McCloud is a mentor. Most first meet him in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, where he instantly disarms with his bespectacled, plaid glory, celebrating and clarifying the medium for readers. Witnessing McCloud usher original characters into the world with the same warmth and care in The Sculptor, his new graphic novel, is nothing short of a privilege. Rarely do we find characters presented in a manner I am compelled to call gentle: set down on the page as if being laid into bed, allowed to speak their dreamlike thoughts before sleep. And, like a dream, The Sculptor is equal parts muted and epic: you will notice it in your waking life—you will experience an eerie hum at the resemblance.
McCloud introduces David Smith: a character written in the legacy of Doctor Faustus, here reincarnated in modern day New York as a struggling artist who agrees to shorten his time on earth for fantastic sculpting abilities. With a common name, David offers a relatable face for individuals dying for creative breakthrough, a cliché McCloud literalizes by instituting life and death stakes.
The Sculptor could have easily thrilled with its grand narrative scale alone—its panels are charged with the same energy as recent action movies highlighting comic greats. And David Smith could have easily slid into the heroic tradition of struggling yet gifted men, offering a focused desire to create rather than disassemble. But McCloud implodes our expectations and instead writes the veritable textbook on misdirection. The Sculptor is not about a deal with death; The Sculptor is about falling in love when the stakes are viciously high. A forecast is spelled, and then quieted: because there is a girl, and she is beautiful, and that observance is an art form unto itself.
Meg, the “object” of David’s affections, challenges his predominantly tactile relationship with the world. He cannot mold her, only model after her. He studies her face with his hands, creates busts after every one of her expressions. And Meg has many expressions: she is no smooth screen built to receive the projection of his fantasies. She ripples, she rips, and she creases.
Inked entirely in black and blue, The Sculptor is a mesmerizing bruise you find yourself reaching to touch over and over. It will make you ache. In fact, it should. This story compels you to wonder: what if I had such little time? How could I possibly choose between what I love to create, and what was created while I wasn’t paying attention—this love, this human, this a priori sculpture?
Amy Victoria Blakemore is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, where she served for three years as a writing tutor. She earned honors for her senior thesis on contemporary iterations of Superman in comics and graphic literature, and she also was awarded an Academy of American Poetry Prize. Her work appears in the The Kenyon Review, [PANK], and The Susquehanna Review.