Rating: 5/5 – The Clock Is Ticking. Go Get and Read The Sculptor Now!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow
If I’ve done my job, you should resent the hell out of me by the end of this review, because reading it is keeping you from going out and reading The Sculptor. One thing is consistent about Scott McCloud: When he steps to the plate, he does not bunt. He does not pop a sacrifice fly to allow someone else to score, nor is he content to take a base on balls. No, when McCloud swings, he swings for the fences. Whether creating one of the best examples of what independent comics could be in a time when independent comics weren’t something readily accessible to everyone (I know I wasn’t picking issues of Zot! at my local convenience store), writing one of the Bibles of sequential art (Understanding Comics), or in his latest work, The Sculptor, defining just what it means to be – not an artist – but truly alive. McCloud does not go for small base hits. He’s aiming for that back wall every time.
Art is cruel. She does not love you, but she demands that you love her. Oh, you may think you have a good relationship with her, but you’re lying to yourself. She will leave you for the next big thing the moment you start thinking in those terms. You think you understand her? You have no idea.
David Smith thought he had a good handle on what she was, but just as he got an opportunity to pursue her and receive fame and adulation, everything backfired, and the world cast their gaze on the “next big thing.” Now David finds himself nearly penniless – a true starving artist – when he meets Death, who offers him a Faustian bargain: For 200 days he will be able to create anything he sets his mind to, with ease and without flaws. The catch? On day 200 he will die. No takebacks.
Would you take such a bargain, if you were at the end of your rope? Obviously David does, or we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we? 200 days for him to make his mark on the artistic world, giving them an amazing array of sculptures and designs that would set the world afire and send the pretenders and also-rans heading back to their trust fund hovels or their quiet normal boring lives. And then he falls in love. With the one. The one to end all others for him. Art is cruel.
That David Smith isn’t a wholly likeable character is one of the great things about McCloud. David is temperamental, whiny, makes inappropriate comments at inappropriate times…in short he’s not a character you’re going to necessarily fall in love with. That said, you won’t forget him, either, because he’s real. He doesn’t apologize for who he is…McCloud won’t let him. Every character in the book is flawed. Pleasant some times, unapproachable the next. And that’s the beauty of it…they’re among the most human characters you’re likely to meet in comics.
If you’ve ever read a McCloud book, you know what to expect from the person who broke down the medium into its component parts and continually strives to find new ways to advance it forward. Few people can make a book, for want of a better word, flow the way he’s able to, and The Sculptor stands as another testament to that ongoing work. Read Understanding Comics if you haven’t already. Then read The Sculptor to see those ideas and theories given form. Now, let’s get back to art being cruel. She won’t suffer the hobbyist, the weekend warrior, the passing faddist…no, you’ll serve her or you’ll move on because she’ll make you move on. You’ll devote all your time to her or she’ll make you regret the day you ever started courting her. This is the true not-so-hidden message of The Sculptor. David Smith has 200 days. His clock is ticking. In those 200 days, David meets the woman he’s waited his whole life to meet, tries to make a name for himself in the artistic world, discovers what’s truly important to him, and to tell you anything more destroys what McCloud worked hard to create.
Unlike David, we don’t know when our own clocks will stop, and upon closing the last page of the book, I allowed myself a few moments to reflect on just how many precious seconds of my own life I’ve given away to things that didn’t matter. Art is cruel, as I’ve said, but time is crueler. Because art at least cares, or pretends to care for your benefit. Time does not. Musician and public speaker Henry Rollins said it best: “No such thing as spare time. No such thing as free time. No such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go.” And I’ve just taken a couple minutes of yours to read these words. You should resent me for robbing you of something so precious. If it gets you to pick this book up, though, I’m willing to put up with your ire. Now get off facebook, stop staring at screens, and go contribute something beautiful to the world before you leave it. The clock is ticking. Go.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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