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The Sculptor, by Scott McCloud

Review copy provided by First Second.

The Sculptor seems aimed at young artists and wannabes: a sad-sack sculptor makes a deal with Death that he can sculpt whatever he wants, with his bare hands, in exchange for shortening his life to 200 days. Death’s motivations in this are pretty dodgy, and the text spends hundreds of pages crapping all over the main character (David) and then aims for cheap pathos in the ending.

Oh, sorry, do I sound unimpressed?

The thing is, there was enough good stuff about The Sculptor that I did want to keep reading. One of the things that favorably impressed me is that for all the rest of the times he falls for young-artist-narrative cliches, McCloud is clear that having your work turn out exactly as you intended doesn’t solve everything. Or sometimes anything. That’s pretty important–it’s a mistake I see a lot of young writers making, thinking that the only problem is that it’s not like it is in their heads. Stuff is like it is in David’s head, and nobody cares. He sometimes has bad ideas, he sometimes has obscure ideas, he’s terrible at promoting himself…and superpowers don’t change that.

Some of the sculptures are cool to look at on the page, and it’s an idea that’s fun to think about: if you could sculpt any material with your bare hands, including granite, concrete, etc. at very large scale, what would you come up with? How would you present it to the world? But the idea is better than the execution. The rule isn’t actually “do the worst possible thing to your characters,” it’s “do the worst possible thing that’s interesting.”

Ah well. Even at several hundred pages, it’s a quick read. And it’s not terrible. It’s just…well, it’s just like its protagonist: you start to think its lack of success is because it’s ultimately pretty shallow.

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