When I read advance copies of books, I generally begin writing my review right away, but The Sculptor, a graphic novel by Scott McCloud, requires some time to simmer. David Smith, a young sculptor, frets he will never realize the recognition he deserves. To guarantee his artistic immortality, he makes a deal with Death, who appears as his late Uncle Harry. This apparition promises him fame for exchange for only 200 more days of life.
Then he meets Meg, a quirky young woman he quickly falls for. Knowing his time is limited he resists submitting to a relationship with her. While trying to avoid involvement with Meg, David works on trying to score a solo show at the gallery where his friend Ollie works.
David finds he has super human strength to mold any substance, be in granite, metal or rock, into art with his bare hands. When David feels betrayed by Ollie, who gives the show to someone else, he decides to make his art known by surreptitiously creating sculptures throughout the city. He becomes the most famous “vandal” in the city, even though no one can prove the work is his. Ironically, his anonymous works make him a hot commodity, but he risks arrest if he comes forward.
One universal truth addressed in The Sculptor is it’s futile to resist love, especially when someone so needy and insecure as David. Meg helps him realize his potential. He tends to whine about his work being unfocused, yet she helps him realize he thinks too much. “You can still focus, just go deep, not wide.”
Throughout the tale David attempts to come to terms with his impending death, yet he is still drawn to Meg. He wants to tell her the deal he made with Death, yet the penalty for revealing it will shorten his life even more.
The book offers a subtle criticism of the ugly politics of the art world, where it’s often “all just about celebrity, not the art at all.” In a conversation about art’s purpose with Ollie and another artist, Ollie says, “the viewers are the material. We’re nothing without them.” The novel also addresses a universal question: who will remember us when we die, and for what will be remembered?
The illustrated tale weighs in at nearly 500 pages, and transcends well beyond an ordinary comic book. It’s a full bodied novel. At times David Smith is a pain in the ass with his whininess and histrionics, yet the young are often impatient and impertinent. Besides, David knows he has very little time.
The book will be available Feb 3, 2015, through First Second Books. $29.95