I know it early in 2015, but is it too early to call The Sculptor by Scott McCloud my “book of the year”? I was sent an early review copy of McCloud’s novel by First Second Publishing, and it has not just blown me away. It’s story and imagery has stayed with me, lingering for the last few weeks in my mind. I’m almost ready to dive right back in and read it again, and if you know me, you know I rarely re-read books.
While the story has familar echoes — you sell your soul to the ferryman for some artistic element or edge in your life that you have long desired and never attained (think Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, or even Charlie Daniels Band’s Devil Went Down to Georgia) — the way that McCloud uses the graphic novel format and visual storytelling brings The Sculptor to a new level.
McCloud is very famous for his groundbreaking work about deconstructing comics and graphic novels as unique and innovative storytelling platforms, and sharing his knowledge with the world. His Understand Comics is a must-read for anyone interested in the storytelling possibilities of graphic arts.
For The Sculptor, it seems like he aimed to pull out all the stops, with whole sequences of art that will floor you, even as he weaves the story of his protagonist, David Smith, who literally gives up his life for his art, and gains the power to sculpt any material with his own hands.
And then, David finds love in the days before his time runs out (by the way, here, the Devil is not the nasty dude you might imagine him to be), and he races to create the great Art Project of his life before it is too late. I won’t give the story away, but the narrative power of writing and illustration packs a real emotional punch. The way McCloud uses the comic medium to bring the reader into the story is inspiring.
Note: this book is not for younger readers, and with some scenes of nudity and adult themes, it may not be suitable for even high school students. You should read it first before bringing it into your classroom. I hope some university class eventually uses it as a literature text, however. It’s that good, in my opinion.
Peace (in the story),