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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Review: The Sculptor

The Sculptor is Scott McCloud's graphic novel about art, young love, and a deal with death. The protagonist is David Smith, who has a meeting with Death at a depressed time of his life: he's lost his family, his girlfriend, his supporting patron, and the money required to acquire more raw material to sculpt. Death grants him a gift which could potentially make him the greatest sculptor of all time, in exchange for giving him only 200 days to live.

The story can't possibly be that simple, of course, and the course of his life soon takes a turn and he meets someone truly special. Along the way we discover the true nature of David Smith's successes and failures: he's not a people person, speaks his mind too quickly and too loudly, makes assumptions about people that are unwarranted out of ignorance, and is a very flawed human being. What I liked abou McCloud's depiction of Smith is that he gets you this nuanced view of Smith indirectly, slowly unveiling it. You understand his strengths, his will, and his devotion to his art as well.

As a story, McCloud steadfastly ignores all the possibilities for a typical Hollywood ending, and the logic of the tale remains consistent all the way to the end. It's very well done, and every time I think I have McCloud's story worked out, he surprises me with a "twist" that nevertheless makes sense in the context of the story.

The artwork of the novel is simplistic in style, though not simple. McCloud clearly understands the medium he works in and makes great use of it.

Unfortunately, the limitations of the graphic novel also has me thinking that in many ways, this story could have been told better as a movie. In the pre-CGI days, I think it would have been true that The Sculptor would be too expensive to be told as a comic book, but that's no longer true. It is true, however, that telling it as a graphic novel ensures that McCloud controls every aspect of the story, including the visual presentation, but all through reading the novel I thought it could be done just as well (with appropriate actors and directors, of course) as a film.

In any case, I can recommend the novel. It's short (2 hours reading time), explores interesting themes, and is executed competently. I'm glad I picked it up.

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