Book review: The Sculptor - broke and blocked artist cuts deal with Death

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm


The Sculptor
by Scott McCloud

David Smith is a young and somewhat tortured New York artist. Once upon a time, he was hip, having been taken up by a big-time investor. But now his King Midas has dumped him, and he is broke and blocked: reduced to flipping burgers, he may soon find himself homeless. Even his closest friend, a gallerist named Ollie, looks like giving up on him: he has fallen for one of David's most despised rivals, a wannabe called Finn who cruises through life on the back of a fat trust fund.

But then, something weird happens: David meets Death, in the unlikely form of his chess-playing but stern-faced Uncle Harry (David knows it's him because he has the superhero comics he drew as a boy stuffed in his overcoat pocket).

Harry offers him two scenarios. In the first, David leaves the city and moves upstate, where he becomes a teacher in a community college and lives in a little white house with his wife, children and a labrador; in this version of the future, he'll always wonder what might have been. In the second, Harry cuts him a deal: he'll give David a new power - after which, assuming his "nephew" is pleased with his new capability, he will have 200 days to use it to create truly great art, and then he will die.

If it's predictable that David chooses the second option, nothing else is. A mysterious girl with angel wings takes David in, and they fall in love - but he is forbidden to tell her about the ticking clock that follows him wherever he goes. Meanwhile, he works on his art, not always successfully. Frustrated by the critics and collectors, he becomes a Banksy figure, his sculptures appearing in public places in the dead of night.

Will he make it? Will he convince the world of his greatness before it is too late? Or will inspiration elude him even as he faces the grave?

Cartoonist Scott McCloud has also written two classic books of theory - Understanding Comics and Making Comics - and you feel his expertise on every page. The Sculptor manages to be both an inquiry into the subjectivity of art and a zippy portrait of 21st-century hipster urban life.

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