Following some of the trends that are now quite common in romantic comedies for younger audiences, The Sculptor is a beautiful and emotional graphic novel with heart and depth. Cartoonist Scott McCloud tells the story of David Smith, a struggling young artist who acquires the ability to sculpt anything he wants using his hands to manipulate the material in front of him. However, this power only lasts two hundred days, and then he will die.
As you read this graphic novel you begin to see similarities between The Sculptor and other works in the genre such as Scott Pilgrim Vs The World,or films like Ruby Sparks, 500 Days of Summer or, more recently, What If. The similarities lie in the fact that all of these focus on a young male who is artistic or creative in some way and toiling for recognition, whilst grappling with money and his love life. Then, out of nowhere swoops the girl of his dreams, with whom he of course falls hopelessly in love.
What separates The Sculptor from the crowd is its underlying message of morality and the inevitability of time and mortality. David Smith strikes a Faustian deal with Death in which he has the power to create anything in any material with his bare hands. The price he has to pay for this is not only that he will die at the end of two hundred days but also that he cannot tell anyone about this or else he risks a penalty of losing three of those days.
Although some of the ideas are recognisable from other graphic novels and films, from the quirky love interest with baggage to the pitying but supportive gay best friend, the characters of Smith and Meg are very well written with much time invested in making them believable and realistic. McCloud adopts several forms of narration from simple images and dialogue through to epistolary elements in the form of Smith’s diary entries. This approach results in a good range of literary styles and shows the many ways in which graphic novels can be serious and impactful quality literature, rather than simply extended comic strips.
David Smith’s interactions with the character of Death (who appears to him as a deceased uncle) are among the more thought provoking moments in this novel. On several occasion they are shown sharing a game of chess, a trope which encapsulates the main messages of The Sculptor very effectively. The idea of playing a game of intellect and stalling to keep Death waiting is very enjoyable. As the plot continues and David Smith fights for relevance and recognition in an increasingly limited period of time, McCloud begins to raise more existential questions of self-actualisation and leaving your mark on the world.
The Sculptor is illustrated with a limited colour palate of blue, white, grey and black. This choice of colours is used in several different ways depending on the mood or tone required in a particular part of the story. When there are more dramatic scenes, the panels take on a darker tone. When the emotional troubles between David and Meg occur, the scheme is more blue and gloomy. This makes it easier to identify with David and sympathise with his situations. Despite being a novel containing art, the restricted palate suits the novel and its overall ethos.
On the surface, The Sculptor has many elements which are very familiar from other films or novels. However, any annoyance at these similarities soon dissipates and instead what emerges is a rather heartfelt tale of time, death, love and struggle. This graphic novel is something which can be cherished and read over and over again. It makes for a refreshing change from reading traditional novels whilst retaining the enjoyment of good narrative, characters and themes.
Hamzah M. Hussain