David Smith is a sculptor who almost made it: he moved to New York, found a wealthy patron, began flying high — then crashed and burned after his patron destroyed his reputation and career in retaliation for a blunt, even cruel interview with an arts newspaper. Now Smith is barely hanging on by his fingertips, about to lose his apartment, out of money, and about to break the promises he made to himself — and his dead father — no make a name for himself, without taking any handouts, in New York City, or die trying.
That's when David runs into his beloved uncle, who joins him at a table at the diner where he's drowning his sorrows and gives him the sketchbook he'd kept as a small boy, a sketchbook David could swear he burned years ago — and as he pages through it in delight, he realizes that the last time he saw his uncle was…at his uncle's funeral.
In fact, David's not eating with his uncle. He's eating with a walking avatar of death, and death has a bargain for him. David will be able to sculpt the pieces he has lurking in his soul, to become known and make his mark, but in 200 days, death will come for him.
This is the setup for The Sculptor, and the 200 days provide a tense countdown to a ticking bomb, driving the story at a pace that never slows down to anything less than a dead run.
But the speed is just the engine driving The Sculptor and what's really interesting is the freight that it pulls.
Because this is a book that is a look at the paradoxical drives that make us want to create and how it relates to love. David's desire to make art is uncompromising, selfish, wonderful, and totally destructive. The art he makes is both a gift to those he loves and a thing he takes from them, because even when he meets his heart's true love, his need for artistic posterity rivals his ardor for the love of his life.
This is a book full of warm, complicated, difficult relationships, full of drive and vision, full of brutal honesty and difficult choices.
And what's more, it's beautiful. Scott McCloud taught me how to understand the way that the composition of pages in comics can affect pace, mood, and characterization, and it turns out that being great at explaining that stuff is part and parcel of being great at deploying it. Especially in the last third of the book, as it nears its climax, the melding of the illustration, layout and words whips the pace up to a pitch that rivals anything I've ever read.
This is a wonderful book, an instant classic, full of complicated and hard ideas made deceptively simple and dangerously elegant by dint of a full mastery of the comics medium. It was years in the making, and well worth the wait.