Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Sculptor

I have to say that I had a lot of expectations about this book. I have been reading Scott McCloud's work for years now. I have heard him speak, and he is downright smart and hilarious. Zot! was one of my favorite comic books as a teenager, and the series told powerful, affecting stories while also being exciting sci-fi adventures. It was also was my introduction to the world of mini-comics, with its back-up strips by Matt Feazell and others. He entertained me with oversized superhero parody Destroy! and perhaps set me on the path to comics scholarship with Understanding Comics, his book that uses comics to explain comics theory and semiotics. I was also very interested into his experimental forays into digital comics and 24 hour comics and was somewhat disappointed by his The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln as well as his follow-ups to UC. This book, The Sculptor, is a thick chunk of comics, almost 500 pages long, and people are talking about it with terms like "masterpiece" and "magnum opus." Also, he is getting featured in prestigious venues like The New York Times. So, like I said, "expectations."

To put it simply, this was one of the best books, graphic novels included, I have read. It made me think, kept me guessing, and moved me in ways that few books do. The final pages kept me utterly compelled but also full of dread because I knew the book had to end. When I was finished, I literally had goosebumps, something I can only say about a handful of comics, most recently I Kill Giants and Goodbye, Chunky Rice.

The set up is this: David Smith is an artist whose career is in the dumps. One day he is visited by a person who offers him the ability to sculpt anything that his heart desires, but the catch is that if he accepts this bargain he will only have 200 days to live. Not to spoil things too much, but he takes the Faustian deal and sets a very complicated set of events in motion.

I got all these images from io9 (see link below)

I found the story so interesting and intricate, with many twists and turns. All of that was amplified by the simple and affecting character design and further driven by McCloud's masterful and clear storytelling. He does small, emotional scenes well; he does wide city scenes well; he just makes some great comics here. I found myself drawn into the images completely, and the ending sequence of the book was completely engrossing and powerful. I cannot say enough great things about this book.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and wrote, "Drawn in sharp, sure-handed lines that jump from intimate blocks of wry but poignant interactions with other characters to dramatically realized city scenery, McCloud's epic generates magic and makes an early play for graphic novel of the year." Cameron Hatheway remarked that McCloud "practices what he’s been preaching for years, forever immortalizing himself in the pantheon of comic book greats." Kim, age 15 gushed, "This book was utterly brilliant. Even though it’s about two inches think, I finished it in a couple hours." Kirkus Reviews offered a more tempered view, summing it up as "Masterfully paneled and attractively illustrated but populated by archetypes."

A preview and much more is available here from The Sculptor's publisher, First Second. There is a different preview at NPR, and another at io9.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

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