“The Sculptor,” the new graphic novel by Scott McCloud, published by First Second Books, has an appeal linked to the author’s passion for his subject. Let’s say you’re a struggling artist. You moved to New York City and vowed to make it big. Once there, you learn that merit alone is no guarantee of success. Like Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” where an idealistic young man must come to terms with real world politics, another Mr. Smith, in this case David Smith, in McCloud’s story, must come to terms with not only the machinations of the real art world, but with just about everything else to boot! This, dear friends, is a true coming-of-age tale in the best sense of the word, full of questions, magic, and wonder.
For those who appreciate the details that go into creating a work such as this, an involved comics saga that you usually find in the pages of manga, this is quite an achievement. McCloud brings his A game to this ambitious work. You’ll find an impressive attention to detail in characters, backgrounds and compositions. It’s all condensed into a most pleasing style. We get a nice clean three rows of panels per page as a base from which to detour from. Lots of fun use of bleeded panels and interplay with screens. McCloud makes many interesting choices with fading out backgrounds and text in order to underscore various elements. And McCloud is no doubt sensitive to pacing and, at times, you’ll find panels taking on the tempo of animation.
Layer upon layer of immersive storytelling reveals a compelling relationship between our hero, David, and a young woman, Meg, who stumbles upon his path. But first, before the girl, there’s the deal that David makes that he probably could never truly regret since it’s his main reason for existence. He makes a deal with Death to gain, what he believes to be, his rightful place in art history. He’s obsessed with making his mark on the world and nothing else matters more than that. McCloud has a great time with the Faustian fable. David is doomed right from the start. He gets 200 days with the power to create all the sculptures he’s ever dreamed of creating. After that, it’s curtains for David. Whether or not David was ever cut out for immortality is sort of besides the point. His wish has been heard and granted. He never expected to meet someone like Meg so that complicates matters. The story that unfolds finds us on a journey with a young man still discovering the meaning of life while already with the power to achieve his wildest dreams.
A healthy distrust for the contemporary art world and the story of an idealistic young artist are certainly things that Frank Capra would have agreed with. That’s not the whole picture to what McCloud has to say even though it is easy to see him just rooting for honest forthright artists like his main character. It turns out to be more complicated than that. McCloud also sees one very mixed up kid in his main character. It all adds up to a satisfying read. It has a sentimental quality that’s appealing in its own right.