The Sculptor is the latest work from Scott McCloud (Destroy, New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln). And I’m not gonna lie. As square as this makes me sound, I thought the book was a fuckin’ ride. I loved it; I can’t remember the last time I read a 500 page graphic novel that was actually fun and enjoyable. I feel most graphic novels that size can be a bit of a slog due to the burden of proving the literary potential of the medium. Sometimes I just want a engine that’ll pull me through 500 pages, maybe slip in a big idea or two and get out.

The big idea in the case of The Sculptor is something I think a lot of cartoonists can relate to. It’s a question I ponder every year, walking around APE and thinking about all these people following their stupid dreams. Namely, why are we doing this!!!??? Why are we all throwing away our lives, our youth and vitality all for some pile of shitty comics!!??? This is crazy!!!

The story begins when a sculptor decides to make a bargain with death. He will die in 200 days in exchange for the ability to sculpt anything. Did I mention this book has a really simple premise? Anyway, he goes around trying to get noticed in the art world. When that doesn’t work out, he takes it to the street, and eventually works his way to transforming a skyscraper into giant statue of his dead girlfriend. I was moved but I dunno. I woulda taken a day or two to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. I guess I’m a sucker for well executed action in comics, but for me, the scenes of the character molding giant blocks of granite like it was silly putty was a highlight of the book. It reminded me of 90’s comics when cartoonists were just figuring out that the medium could be about anything but still hadn’t quite figured out how to shed their work of all the superhero influences yet. I’ve heard criticism that the sculptures were banal. But seriously, dude? If you walked out your front door and saw a giant 50 story tall sculpture of a woman holding a baby, you wouldn’t be impressed!? Well I hope you’re happy, ’cause they’re probably gonna get the city to label it seismically unsafe, knock it down and build some condos for some billionaires.

As much as I enjoyed all the sculpting, the best parts of the book in my opinion were the ones where the main character dealt with his girlfriend’s depression. I guess I’ve heard readers complaining that she should have taken her meds. But as she explains, her medication dulls her experience of the world. Maybe it causes constipation or something too. I’ve known mentally ill people in my life and it’s so frustrating; I feel like I’m being sucked into a vortex. All I want to do is end the relationship and move on with my life and breathe fresh air again. The book really captured that relationship in a way I’ve never seen before. It rang so true and honest, it was almost embarrassing to read. I also found it really moving how the main character sticks it out with her. I can say I really wanted this couple to make it. This, despite the main character being something of an douchebag.

I said it. I won’t beat around the bush any longer. The main character is petulant, bratty and follows all these stupid rules he’s set out for himself. I guess I can see why he’d be a turn off to some folks, but being an artist myself and knowing other artists, I can also see how completely unflinchingly realistic this guy is. I knew an artist once who had a rule that he would be a virgin forever. It was funny when he was a teenager. But when he was in his 20’s and he’d be bragging about this fact to women on first dates, it just got weird. I too once filled my life with stupid rules. I used to have a rule that I would never eat fast food. Then I got stranded in Wyoming with no money and a stranger bought me a apple pie from McDonald’s and I told him I couldn’t accept it and he basically had to toss it into my lap and then I started crying while eating it.

So I’ll defend this character to the bitter end. And the fact that despite his flaws, I was still rooting for him was a pretty neat trick. If I did have one criticism of the book, it’s that I don’t understand why anyone would make that deal with death in the first place. Even at my youngest and stupidest, I probably would have given 30 years of my life for some awesome power to create art. But what kind of maniac would agree to die in 200 days!? I’m not a sculptor but if I apply it to comics, that power would basically translate to the power to create comics at infinite speed or maybe having a studio of assistants who could all draw like me. I calculated recently that over the rest of my life I’ll spend about 7 years sitting at my drawing desk so I guess 7 years seems like a good lower bound to trade for being Jim Davis. But yeah, all but 200 days is way too much.