I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Illustrator: Scott McCloud
Published by First Second, Macmillan Publishers, Roaring Brook Press on 3rd February 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Young Adult
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David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn't making it any easier.
This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world's greatest city. It's about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface.
“It’ll be done by tomorrow. I don’t care if anyone likes it. Except her.”
I’m not sure if I’m one for graphic novels.
Make no mistake: I think it a fascinating medium, marrying as it does the visual power of film with the narrative abilities of text. Telling a story through both pictures and words makes for a potentially heady combination if done skillfully, and this I find remarkable.
I’m simply not adept at consuming it.
I suppose the issue lies in the pacing. When one picks up a book such as The Sculptor with the hope of finding within its pages a good yarn, the desire is twofold. You want to take the time to appreciate the artwork, to study its subtleties and make worthwhile the many, many hours that the creator has poured into his work in order to construct even a single panel, much less hundreds of them. Yet you also wish to bury yourself in the plot and its characters, to let the words that help construct them flow and keep you immersed in the world that the author has so painstakingly constructed.
And perhaps it is just me, but I never can seem to fulfill these two hopes simultaneously. My attempts at submersion lead to my skimming the visual elements, while my efforts at careful examination cause my interest in the dialogue and its rhythm to be continually halted and regulated to short bursts.
There is simply no ease to my reading graphic novels, and it is frustrating. Though this is not why I rated this particular piece of work as I did.
It is because I may very well be bitter.
To look at The Sculptor is to find a tale that has blended many elements of what we may consider a traditionally “good” story into a singular, lovely package. There is romance that builds realistically into an imperfect but ultimately sweet relationship. There are curious supernatural elements that add flair to an otherwise grounded piece of drama. There are complicated characters who make poor decisions and have their ticks, yet are generally easy to like and become invested in. There is humor alongside solemn examinations of genuine emotional issues and concerns. And it is all tied together by an artistic style that is frequently in flux, at times almost embracing the simplicity of sketches and at others detailing itself in elaborate and dramatic ways. It is easy on the eyes, and not like to bore.
“I’m learning to master my power. I can will any material to bend or rise as I touch it, even the parts I’m not in direct contact with. I can feel it all from the inside, like an extension of my body.”
Listen, if a story of a magic sculptor, the looming shadow of Death in the guise of an elderly gentleman, the high stakes and competition of the professional art scene, and the happiness that can be found between two flawed people sounds to you like damn good fiction, then I encourage you to pick up a copy once it hits the shelves. You may very well enjoy it, and I will fully understand if you do. It is good fiction.
So why the middling rating?
Context is the enemy here. Taken as a singular object, The Sculpture is a wonderful read. When considered against a lengthy history with fiction, however, it doesn’t quite hold up.
Because I’ve about reached my limit with these sorts of tales. I can’t fully enjoy another rendition of the “tragic, brilliant male artist” trope because I’ve seen it too many times before. I can’t connect with yet another masculine protagonist who is oftentimes selfish and mean-spirited, but is forgiven because his work is unappreciated and he has yet to know “true love.” I can’t deeply care for a character who makes a deal with some devil only to later — surprise — regret his decision and desperately attempt to void his contract, because I’ve witnessed this precise scenario play out again and again. I can’t bring myself to invest in a relationship that is well-devised but ultimately doomed because of an otherworldly twist of fate, because it’s nothing new to anyone who has digested their fair share of the fantastic.
The ideas are good. Their execution is solid. But they are predictable. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with something that is easily anticipated. Such objects can be all the more enjoyable due to their familiarity, comfortable and safe as they are. Not every bit of storytelling that we consume has to be somehow novel, somehow unexpected, somehow daring and intellectually challenging. Sometimes, the best tales are the ones that are simple, habitual and intimately affable, like a well-worn sweater or a favorite pillow.
“I promised I wouldn’t say the ‘L’ word again. Unless she says it first. It’ll never happen. Still, every day, she’s near.”
But there comes a point where the commonplace becomes flat. It doesn’t excite. It is not “bad” or of poor quality, but rather creates a wall between the object and its audience, able to be appreciated for its theoretical strengths but not its emotional punch. And that is what The Sculpture is to me.
So, if the blurb intrigues you, read The Sculpture. If the artwork captures your attention, purchase a copy. If other reviews convince you that it is worth your time, give it a go. I don’t want to discourage anyone from its pages, but be sure to consider your desires and expectations when it comes to prospective reads. If the medium or the tropes at work here leave you passive, you may be in the same position as I.
Overexposure and repetition can and will lead to apathy. It is the same for literature as it is for anything else. What once worked does so no longer, and there is ultimately no party to blame. One can only accept the state and handle it as best they can. For me, that involves remaining in the separate, (relatively) impartial state of a reviewer and nothing more.
Or perhaps I’m simply callous. Who can tell?
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