Week 22: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Published in 2015 by First Second | Hardcover: 488 pages | Goodreads Rating: 3.96 based on 7,072 ratings
Published in 2015 by First Second | Hardcover: 488 pages | Goodreads Rating: 3.96 based on 7,072 ratings

I went to my local book store a few weeks ago with the intention of picking up something that would straight up murder me emotionally: Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I’d been told, by a very credible source, that it was one of the most powerful and emotional books I’d read this year, so I was prepared and ready to be devastated.

I’m glad I’d done that emotional prep work, because I ended up walking out with Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor instead, an extremely sentimental graphic novel from, unarguably, the master of modern comic theory.

For the last two decades McCloud’s been famous for writing Understanding Comics. It’s essentially become the medium’s Bible, the go-to text of every instructor on the subject for both artists and authors. It’s been hailed by Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman (of Maus fame), Will Eisner, and the human incarnation of Oscar the Grouch: Alan Moore. But over twenty years the question remained: is McCloud a talented comics creator or just an incredibly intelligent comics theorist?

With The Sculptor that question has been put to bed. This behemoth (at 488 pages) is absolutely brilliant. An instant classic. A master class in both art and writing (both of which were done by McCloud). I read the whole thing in two sittings. As Random House’s Michael Kindness put it, “I need more stars. Five stars is not enough.”

sculptor mccloud review

David Smith (not the famous artist, but the other David Smith) is a struggling 20-something sculptor who once had a whiff of fame but is now whittling away in obscurity. His greatest fear–that his talent will result in nothing substantial, that one day he’ll be forgotten forever–is looking more and more likely.

That is, until he makes a Faustian deal with Death, who appears to David in the form of his uncle Marty. Death offers David the power to create, from stone, anything he can can think of. To him, stone will become as moldable as clay. His reach will only be exceeded by his imagination. It’s everything David’s ever wanted.

But there’s a catch. In exchange, David must agree to die in just 200 days. He immediately accepts.

And then David falls in love.

The Sculptor is beautiful, tragic, and extremely grounded despite its supernatural elements. It’s sweet, it’s incredibly smart, and best of all, it’s got layers upon layers. This is the highest compliment I have for a graphic novel. If I can finish a book in a few hours, I better be able to read it again and get something else out of it. I’ve read The Sculptor twice in the last few weeks, and the second won’t be the last time.

This book will forever sit on my shelf with Essex CountyY: The Last Man, Fables, Maus, Asterios Polyp, and Blankets. It’s that good. It’s not without its flaws, but holy hell is it moving. Neil Gaiman said of The Sculptor, “this is the best graphic novel I’ve read in years.”

This is a story about passion, regret, mental illness, legacy, the value of art, the value of time, the apparent virtue that is talent, the meaning of family, love, connection, and the things that might be worth throwing all of this away for.

I don’t want to go into details. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. Instead, I want you to experience the story knowing as little about it as possible, like I did, because I’d never heard about The Sculptor before it caught my eye in the book store.

Hanya Yanagihara, you’ve got one steep hill to climb.


What’s the most romantic book to give someone for Valentine’s Day? I can’t believe someone at Buzzfeed was paid to put this together. [Buzzfeed]

9 big time books coming out this month. Need a 10th? Add The High Mountains of Portugal to the list. [Entertainment Weekly]

What fictional character shares your taste in music? I got Dewey Finn … Jack Black’s character in School of Rock. So awesome. [Buzzfeed]

Beyond the Classroom: the importance of reading to your children. [Miami Herald]

Famous authors who were not fans of other famous authors. This is hilarious. [Goodreads]

A quiz to guess how old you are based on the books you’ve read. Be forewarned, the age buckets they use seem hilariously large. [Independent]

Ever wonder what the point of blogging, or criticism in general, might be? A. O. Scott gives his take. [NY Times]

A Book I Can’t Wait to Read

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood
The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood

On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. Elspeth ‘Knell’ Conroy is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece.

But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is ‘The Ecliptic’, and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England?

*Summary taken from Goodreads


8 thoughts on “Week 22: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

  1. Now I need to know what happens!

    “The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.” Haha.
    Also, if Mark Twain hate P&P so much, why did he read it more than once?


  2. “Something about bells, balls and bulls…” pretty brutal. But I get why people would want to insult the Big H. While his writing may be good, he seems to have been a total dick in life.
    I liked The Sculptor quite a lot. Clearly, the story has been told before, but for me it was the artwork and the mastery of the paneled storytelling that just lifted this work to a new level. The dialogue and plot wasn’t genius (in my opinion) but the visual representation of the depth of emotion that goes into creating just killed me. He clearly knows how to use this medium at a higher level than most.
    But, again in my opinion, it’s no Asterios Polyp – I doubt I’ll ever read a graphic novel that will hit me the way that book hit me. -Tania


    1. Agreed. If you were to just read the script of The Sculptor I don’t think it would blow anyone away. It’s the interplay between the words and the art that really makes it work.

      Asterios Polyp is great. Essex County is probably my equivalent, though. Graphic novels don’t get better, for me.


      1. I’ve read very conflicting reports on The Sculptor. I know that I really liked it because these sorts of reviews don’t bother me in the slightest. It definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s a very sentimental and emotional book, and I think a lot of (guy) reviewers won’t let it hit them where it should.

        One of his chief concerns was that the art he made in the book wasn’t nearly groundbreaking or incredible enough. That’s a pretty thin criticism. Who cares. That’s not the point of the story.

        But let him think what he thinks. He’s allowed to 🙂


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