The pursuit of happiness is a race we all race. And more times than not, just when we think we’ve done enough to catch up, fighting through armies of our own demons, through the fog of unknowing, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges and unexpected obstacles — finally coming close enough to extend our hands — our fingertips brushing this elusive phantom… But then it glances back, flashes a cocky smile and dashes ahead, out of reach once more. The face of this phantom varies from person to person, but for most, its name is love. Its name is success. Its name is the perfect life. We review The Sculptor.
The Sculptor follows David Smith, a 26-year-old New Yorker whose life is laying in ruins around him. He has no money. He has no family. He only really has one friend and, worst of all, his dream of being a famous sculptor have been crushed under the heel of his previous patron who dropped him as a client before his work could be properly showcased. David is at that crossroad many of us have reached (or will one day reach) where we have no idea what to do with our lives, where nothing seems to be going right — but that all changes after David bumps into his uncle Harry, who he hasn’t seen since he was a kid.
Catching up with Harry seems to cheer David up if even slightly, but you know, you have to be careful of who you meet at the crossroads, because here’s the thing about Harry… He’s been dead for a good while. Harry isn’t who he seems to be, but he comes with good intentions, offering David a deal: his greatest wish will be granted, but it will come at a great price… A deal which David accepts.
David finds that he can sculpt anything and, any material with his bare hands — his childhood wish — moulding and twisting it without the help of any tools, limited only by his imagination, but the caveat is… He now only has 200 days to live.
But, even with this incredible gift, David’s life doesn’t turn out any better, and just when it seemingly reaches a crescendo macabre, along comes Meg — an odd, quirky, angel of a girl, who changes everything and through a very odd, heartbreaking journey, David realises that his original all-consuming desire to have his art and talent recognised has been eclipsed by this miracle of a girl he has fallen hopelessly in love with and their short, tragic, heartbreaking — and yet poignantly beautiful journey together will forever impact both their worlds in unexpectedly profound ways.
With nearly 500 pages, there is far more to this entire story than above and Scott McCloud uses the numerous threads of David’s life to weave this intricate tale of the creative human condition, taking you on a rollercoaster of an experience and emotion ranging from joy to anger to sorrow and nearly everything in between. Arguably, the characters in The Sculptor fit many a stereotype and you can easily guess which archetype each will fill into shortly after being introduced to them, but still, The Sculptor is so well written and so engrossing that with each turn of the page, it seeps deeper within you, intertwining with your soul to the point that with each tragedy and each triumph David goes through, you feel it with him and you shouldn’t be shocked if you find the tears starting to swell as you start approaching the soul-shattering ending and the revelations start to kick in.
The story is simple enough to not warrant overly exuberant, complex art, and that’s just the case, with a simpler, deceitfully cheery style being used. However, panels are wonderfully, yet cleanly detailed and polished (without unnecessarily filler line work) and they go from simple pages with really just talking head panels to complex, intricate splash pages of cascading, overlapping and technically complex panels.
But the genius of the book lays in its colour pallet, which is a mix of mainly hues of blue, blacks, greys and whites. For the uninitiated, colour has a big impact on your mood and blue is usually associated with calmness and serenity, but it can also induce sadness and in The Sculptor, the colour pallet — whether intentional or not — toys with your conscious and subconscious, creating this mild internal debate you don’t even know you’re waging, as you read through the book, thinking things are probably going to work out, yet you can’t help have this feeling of sadness with each turn of the page. It’s akin to the sadness you experience if you’ve ever found yourself alone on a rainy Sunday afternoon, unexpectedly thinking about a lost love who got away, a long gone childhood pet, a former friend you don’t speak to anymore — that simple sadness that doesn’t shut you down, but makes you want to be alone, curled up by yourself with just your thoughts.
The Sculptor beautifully tackles that peculiar point of life many of us have gone through, where all we have is our uncertainty and entitlement, showcasing it in all its nuances as most know it — but more so, it tackles love, its journey and the unexpected beauty in the devastation of heartbreak. With a powerfully poignant story, deceitfully whimsical art — countered by a simple, yet ingeniously sorrow-inducing colour palette — The Sculptor is simply a triumph in storytelling which you need to experience for yourself.