"All art is about sacrifice on some level"

Posted on 28th February 2015 by Rob Chilver
Best known for his non-fiction work Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics, ‘comics theorist’ Scott McCloud’s discusses his new graphic novel The Sculptor.

Described by Neil Gaiman as “the best graphic novel I’ve read in years”, in The Sculptor, David Smith makes a deal with Death to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. The only catch is it leaves him with just 200 days to live. Deciding what he should create is harder than he thought and then there is meeting the love of his life at the eleventh hour....

For those of you unfamiliar with your work, what can new readers expect from The Sculptor?

A good old-fashioned page-turner, for starters. For all its grand intentions, I tried, first and foremost, to make The Sculptor a very readable and absorbing book. It's about an artist who makes a deal with death, has 200 days to live, then inconveniently meets the love of his life. If I've done my job correctly, its nearly 500 pages should fly by.

The book could be described as a race against time with David given  these extraordinary powers at the cost of his time alive. He will also be punished if he breaks part of the rules of his deal. These will be familiar to anyone who reads superhero comics. Was this your intention from the beginning? 

I ran away from my superhero origins when I started the project, but I came to accept that they're part of the DNA of the American comics tradition that I grew up in. The role of power fantasies in my story points slightly to the superhero tradition, but unfold in a very different way, and wind up conveying a very different set of themes.

David is willing to give up his life to produce his art. Is all art about sacrifice? Do you think that is one thing that all artists yearn for - to be remembered?

Only an artist that's received enough reward and recognition in their own life to satisfy them could possibly be unconcerned with being remembered. I suppose such artists exist, but I've never met one. All art is about sacrifice on some level, even if the only sacrifices being made are the minutes, hours, and days we offer up in service of our art and our legacies.

Identity plays an important part as David shares a name with a number of characters in the book. He also identifies Meg as an angel and a family  member as Death. How important was that to you in writing the book? Can you identify with David?

I used a lot of my own experiences when writing David. I was similarly obsessive, lonely, and isolated when I was David's age; shortly before my wife swooped in and rescued me. But the connection I was most concerned with in this story regarding David was his connection to all artists who labor in relative obscurity for most or all of their life, and are forgotten too soon. David sees himself in contrast with his more famous namesake (the great 20th century American sculptor David Smith) but we also see him linked to that vast phone book of "other" David Smiths, the anonymous many. This is their story more than it is the story of the famous few

David lives by a strict moral code - he won’t borrow a dollar, won’t eat in certain restaurants - even though he ends up sleeping on the street. We  don’t really find out who these promises were made to but shows us the type of person he is. I found him stubborn but loyal and grew to like him over time. How hard was it to balance this?

It was a difficult balancing act that demanded a lot of attention during the several rewrites of of my massive rough drafts. David was more of dickhead in the early drafts, and my editor and some very honest friends helped me to give readers a sympathetic passageway into his head, while still maintaining some of those hard edges. "Stubborn but loyal" is a nice summation!

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

My next project will be another nonfiction comic, this time about the common underlying principles of visual communication and education across disciplines. Everything from information graphics to data visualization to nonfiction comics to facial expressions and body language will be examined. I'm very excited about this next book—though the last book may not quite release its grip for a few months more.

Scott McCloud will be signing at Waterstones Piccadilly on Saturday 7th March 2015 from 2pm-4pm.


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