Normally I don’t do graphic novels for Is Our Writers Learning?, but as the last three reviews have ranged from “meh” to “ugh” I wanted to do something I felt positive about. And I already read this one and I knew it was good, so … (warning, there are spoilers). Cover by McCloud, all rights to current holder.
The Story: David is a frustrated sculptor. He’s broke, his career to date has gone nowhere, and he’s suffering sculptor’s block. Then Death—taking the form of David’s uncle—offers him a deal. For 200 days, David gets the power to sculpt matter by just wishing it, then he dies. And then nothing: death is oblivion, so that’s it
David takes the deal, but of course it does not go as planned. He sculpts enough pieces for a show, but it falls flat with the critics. The weight of the stone ruins his apartment so his landlord throws him out. His friends assure him he just needs time to hone his style and try again, but he doesn’t have time. And then he meets Meg, an actor, and they become friends, then lovers, and he realizes he doesn’t feel so happy about his deal …
WHAT I LEARNED
Sex is About Character. I once read an article that said a good sex scene should show character, not just bodies moving. Here’s a good example. David’s a virgin, self-conscious about it, and a little nervous when the first time comes with Meg. She’s more experienced, not at all bothered by David’s lack of know-how. She leads him to bed, and takes the initiative steering him. A good time is had by both. It takes several pages, but that’s because it’s important to the story, to the characters, to their relationship (at her blog, Foz Meadows discusses the importance of consensual sex scenes).
Don’t Flinch From the Tragic Ending. David wouldn’t be the first person making this kind of deal who gets an out at the end … but he doesn’t. The deal goes down, and he dies. And that’s sad but it works. So does Meg’s death in an accident, before David’s own. It’s tragic and it’s heart-rending, but it fits with what McCloud has said was the theme, that everybody dies and everybody’s forgotten.
One reason the ending works is because David has a mission to accomplish in the 200 days. It’s a personal one, which makes it intense, and it’s hard and frustrating, and every day his time runs out a little more … So knowing what was ahead makes it that much more painful when he fails or loses hope.
It’s Possible to Interest Readers in Stuff They Don’t Care About or Understand. I don’t know sculpting, I don’t know the New York art scene (other than what I see in movies) but McCloud makes it work (in contrast to, say, Polarity). Partly it’s because the real issue is David’s feelings about what he’s doing (as I’ve mentioned before, that can outweigh understanding and knowledge of the topic), and partly because McCloud just writes the interactions with the critics and other artists well. Even if I didn’t have some basic idea of how the art market works, I think I’d be able to follow it (and without any info-dumping).
Ultimately it’s worth reading Sculptor because it’s a heck of a story. But there’s a lot to learn from it too.