Martha Thomases: Understanding Scott McCloud
If you haven’t read The Sculptor, stop reading this and go get yourself a copy immediately,
Need more persuasion? Okay, but you’re missing out on valuable time that could be spent reading this awesome book. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s since Zot because it was funny and human and had a villain named Art Deco. More people became fans when he published the brilliant Understanding Comics. There is no one who uses the graphic story medium to better effect than Scott McCloud.
The Sculptor showcases McCloud’s mastery of technique. His use of color is impeccable. The book is black and white with blue tones, giving the different scenes a variety of moods and weights. The way he uses overlapping word balloons reminds me of an Altman movie. The panel arrangements speed up time and slow it down, depending on the needs of the character.
All of this is in service to the story: David Smith is a frustrated artist trying to make it in New York. He makes a deal with Death (not the cute girl but an old Jewish man who reminds me of my mom’s Uncle Harry) to have 200 days when he create whatever art he wants, in exchange for dying at the end of the deal.
Then he falls in love.
Meg isn’t anyone’s dream girl. A struggling actress, she has serious emotional problems including, I think, a variation of bi-polar disorder (Note: I am not a doctor). Still, her energy and her compassion strike a chord with David. It’s not an easy relationship for either of them. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to believe it.
I’ve seen people compare the story to Faust, and I guess I get that analogy, but it doesn’t really hold up. David doesn’t ask for fame or power – he just wants to make his art the way he wants to make his art. He doesn’t even negotiate for a gallery show where people can see his work.
It’s all about the art.
A major character in this book is New York City. Not the New York of Friends or Sex and the City or even Peter Parker, this is the New York of cheap rent, scummy landlords, tight money and brilliant, artistic friends. It’s the New York I wanted to live in when I came here nearly 40 years ago. So much so that I almost thought the story took place at that time, until I noticed everyone had cell phones.
I thought that New York was gone. Maybe I’m just too old for it. I’m grateful to The Sculptor for letting me live there again, for at least as long as it took to read.
And another thing! It’s bugged me lately that critics seem to think that superhero movies are the root of all evil. It’s a genre that gets sneers from everyone, even though it’s relatively new (I would say it started with Superman in 1978).
And it gives a lot of people a chance to make a living in a field they love. Or, as Marvel writer Gerry Duggan said on Twitter Sunday night after J. K. Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, “J Jonah Jameson beat two Hulks to win an Oscar, then Ra’s al Ghul said there are too many comic adaptations. #Oscars2015”