Last night, I had some very rare free time, so I went to the bookstore down the street. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just thought I’d see what was new in the world of literature. I perused the movies and music to see what I have been missing out on the last few weeks. I looked at toys for my son because even my free time revolves around that little guy. I then finished up with graphic novels and comics (following me through a bookstore is much like a Family Circus cartoon). When I was satisfied that there wasn’t a single thing I needed to spend money on, I started to weave my way back to the entrance.
My exit was delayed by casual glances at the end caps and cash wrap shelves and that’s when something caught my eye. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud sat on a shelf amongst James Patterson’s newest whatever and a collection of novels currently with movie adaptations. Feeling the magic of finding an unexpected treasure, I flipped open the front cover and read the synopsis. I began thinking about the journeys I took with Craig Thompson’s Blankets (a book that profoundly moved me in my early 20s) and other true graphic novels. I had to read The Sculptor.
The basic foundation of The Sculptor follows down and out artist, David Smith, as he tries to rediscover the taste for fame he once had. The plot flawlessly weaves in and out of its major themes and literary devices to show the lengths taken to realize a dream, and how realizing that dream may not uncover the happiness one might expect.
McCloud takes both the art and writing responsibilities for this story, and both are impressive in their own right. It is a difficult thing to balance realism and fantasy into a piece of graphic fiction, yet McCloud finds the perfect weight for each aspect. On one hand, The Sculptor develops very real characters. The disappointment and near frantic need for public approval David faces as he descends into depression from his failed career as an artist reaches out to the reader and forces self-reflection. Meg – who acts as the catalyst for David’s growth as a human – has her own problems as she too suffers from severe depression and refuses to medicate herself for it. The relationship between these characters slowly builds to a point where the story’s timeline become something tangible.
McCloud mixes surrealism into the plot as David discovers he does have the power to achieve fame. As David cultivates, obsesses, and abuses his gift, the realization that no amount of actual or imagined power can make a person successful quietly creeps into the reader’s mind. This aspect makes the relationship progression between Meg and David feel heavy on a spiritual level. When the story ends, readers will be left with an emotional heaviness that inspires self-reflection and a hole in their heart that begs for more stories like this.
McCloud’s art is simple and complex all at once. The entire novel is inked in shades of black and blue, which could be viewed as a metaphor in and of itself for the bruised emotional states of the characters. The panels themselves are a perfect mixture of simplistic character construction and complex detail work. McCloud’s blending of white, light and dark shades of blue, and black creates the illusion of depth in every panel. This depth added to the characters’ emotional states and the surrealism aspect of the plot makes it feel as if we’re living out the drama.
It’s not often a story can grab your attention so fiercely that time slows down and your environment begins to blend with the reality of the book. Scott McCloud easily achieves that level of writing transcendence with The Sculptor. McCloud’s story fills its readers with a vast emptiness in their fiction-loving soul; an emptiness that McCloud’s story-telling excavates and leaves you wishing there was more.