Wednesday, July 22, 2015

'They were never little to me ... and they're not temporary anymore': The pursuit of meaning in Scott McCloud's 'The Sculptor'

The Sculptor, by Scott McCloud, is hands down the most extraordinarily powerful and resonant graphic novel I’ve ever read – in fact, it’s probably one of the most powerful pieces of art/literature I’ve ever seen/read. It’s a look at aesthetics and the arts through an existential lens - the indifference of the universe to one man’s dreams and the senselessness of some of the things that life throws at us.
They were never little to me...
I came to this book because of Steve Seigh on Talking Comics (Issue #172 of the Podcast) – he just talked about it in the most evocative way and I knew that it was something I had to read for myself.

The book's tagline has a few issues, I feel it almost misrepresents it as a boy meets girl cliché. It’s not like that at all. It’s about discovering what actually matters in life and the very real consequences of our decisions and the sacrifices we make. It goes to very dark places. It’s not sugar-coated in any way and Scott McCloud follows through in a tragic, harrowing but also beautiful and uplifting way. 

The relationship between the protagonist, David, and the girl who tells him 'everything will be okay', Meg, is dark as both parties are flawed – David is very self-absorbed as he’s been so completely alone for so long, while Meg struggles with a deep and dark depression. David has to empathise and be there for someone else for the first time in a long time –and she fights him furiously. Though she first appears to him as an angel acting in an art installation, singling him out, he must come to see her as the flawed, beautifully broken and complex human being beneath that angel 'do-gooder' exterior. 
Steve talks about how he read this book till 3 o’clock in the morning, from cover to cover, because he ‘could not put it down’ – I don’t think this is a book you will ever truly put down. I still pick it up and look through the pages and the final panels still make me very emotional.

As a budding sculptor who had been hyped growing up, everyone expected big things of David, he never quite achieved them. When the bills start stacking up and his landlord’s had enough – David finds himself in the depths of despair and hopelessness. He faces the very real questions:

What would you give to be remembered? For your art to ‘mean something’? To make a mark?
David has no one in the world… he’d give his life.

From that moment, he is granted the power to sculpt anything with his bare hands – and 200 days to do it in - 200 days to live.

During those 200 days David has to confront the vagaries of everything he thought he wanted – what does it even mean to ‘mean something’ or to ‘make a mark’? Who exactly is it he wants to remember him? Does that collective entity/audience even exist? What is it that he has to sculpt?

It is harder than he imaged to find that one thing to share with the world to make it all worth it. When he meets Meg he is inspired by her, by the woman who shows him attention and makes him feel worth something, he wants to share what means the most to him. It’s a very complicated and meaningful relationship that builds between them and McCloud does it very well and creates very deep and complex characters. The things that matter are the small, fleeting moments that don't seem big at the time but they're the ones to hang on to - the moments of clarity and contentment - the ones that people may overlook or take for granted, the underrated kindnesses and individual points of meaning that make no impact on anyone else.
Anyone’s who has studied art or been involved in the art community will really identify with this book – it takes a long hard look at the art community and the whims and prejudices artists must contend with – the sense of utter powerlessness that so many feel and the difficulty in standing out. 

N.B. My favourite film from the last year - Whiplash - kind of explores similar issues in the music world; issues like that danger of having a single vision and the things you can lose along the way = perhaps you lose more than you gain in the pursuit of brilliance. However much you come to respect them - neither of the main characters in Whiplash are very balanced or likeable, but you kind of recognise their ambition and understand what they're after - it's one of the great issues and battles of human existence - to chase greatness and to perhaps find you're chasing a red herring.  

The artwork/illustration is spectacular with its melancholy palette of blues, blacks and whites. The expressions of the characters and composition of each scene are so involving and powerful. It’s cinematic and free form and you feel the clock ticking and the growing sense of mania and urgency – the ending is bleak, perhaps cynical in some ways, but it all follows through so perfectly and the whole story is brilliantly executed. I don’t want to give too much away but I want everyone to read this book and feel what I felt. You are very much missing out if you don't, this is one I'll treasure for the rest of my life. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

'That's right... just a girl': Adventures in the comic book universe

I've been exploring the comic world with the help of the amazing Talking Comics crew and their podcast ( The comic book/graphic novel world would be an infinitely more overwhelming place without  them. 

There's so much I want to read and I started with some of the female-led superhero comics because it tied in to a lot of research I did around my university dissertation and has been a way into a universe I now want to explore more widely. I am very excited for the All New, All Different Avengers and for Miles Morales taking over as the main Spiderman. I think the Batman universe is always dark and compelling and I am looking forward to reading some Indie graphic novels like Sculptor by Scott McCloud and Russian Olive to Red King by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen (both recommendations by Talking Comics). In the meantime, here are my initial favourites: 

1) The new Thor series by Jason Aaron has definitely been my favourite series to follow and got me interested in a character and world that I could never relate to before. Don't underestimate what Aaron has done - and it's paying off. This series has sold huge numbers and the 'twist' in who is beneath the helmet was magnificently pulled off and fit so well in the universe and the history. It didn't feel gimmicky or contrived. The colours and art have been sensational, making this book a visual treat and it would be well-worth your time and money picking up the trade. I can't wait to read more of this character's story, I hope she sticks around. There was a lot of 'female-solidarity' in Aaron's writing, which was very pointed and loaded. I think it had it's place because of the huge controversy over this character existing at all, but now hopefully this Thor can have her own story and firmly individual character - the reveal provides a great foundation for this and thoroughly integrates it. 

Stunning and colourful spreads
'You have never met another Thor like me...
this is not the end of my story'

2) The first couple of volumes of the Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang run on Wonder Woman were superb. They made some bold moves and have created the definitive Wonder Woman for me (it looks particularly great compared to what the Finch's are doing now). I just hope they can find the right creative team again for her in the future. She is an exceptionally powerful woman but with strong compassion and integrity. She is physically strong, good at focusing her emotions and fiercely protective and caring over those close to her. She looks athletic and formidable and is rooted in her culture and mythology in a way that makes a lot of sense in these issues. I would recommend reading at least the first two trades of Azzarello and Chiang's run for a rich and layered look at the character and her context. I loved seeing her in London too!

'I won't be bound that way to any man'

3) Spider-Gwen didn't hit the heights I'd hoped in it's first 5 issues but the previews for the Autumn look promising. One thing I think the Amazing Spiderman movies did well, was re-establish the character of Gwen Stacy and build on her. She was proactive and resourceful and hugely impressive intellectually - she was Peter's superior in so many ways. Emma Stone brought a warmth to the character which really reminded me how cool and unique she is. So I really want Spider-Gwen to expand on that and fulfil her potential. I love the costume design - the colours are vibrant and highly stylised. I just want them to do more in establishing her as Gwen first. Initially she just had the same snark as Peter and could almost have been any girl. I really want her to be a force of personality with that scientific/intellectual fervour too. I want to recognise her as Gwen more - but also for her to build on the Gwen that has existed before and continue making her unique and awesome. I don't imagine Gwen just being spider-snarky, but having, perhaps, a more composed sense of humour in some ways. It's obviously just the beginning though, and she's in good hands. Again, this has to be more than a gimmick - I want it to take itself seriously and really grab this character by the horns.

'I'm 'just' a girl'

Silk is another interesting and diverse spider-verse character to look out for in her solo series. Like Spider-Gwen, this is just getting started - and it has perhaps started more effectively by focusing on the character and building from there. She is an Asian-American spider-woman who has spent years locked in a bunker, convinced she was a threat and emerges to find no trace of her family or the life she knew before. 


I loved 'Year One' of Injustice: Gods Among Us - I think it could have stood alone as just that year as I haven't felt so invested in the following Years. It was a powerful alternative take on the DC heroes and their relations and had a really compelling dystopian AU narrative which was genuinely shocking and incisive in its explorations of power and consequence. 

My boyfriend got me Volume 5 of the Gail Simone Batgirl run, which I also really enjoyed. I need to explore that story more because it was incredibly striking and dark. This is obviously just a start and my opinions are still forming as I explore this world and it's history. I am looking forward to reading more Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel as well as branching out into some Indie books. I'm also collecting Secret Wars! I will let you know what I think. For now - Thor is an absolute must. 

Let me know what you think and any recommendations you may have! Happy to hear about any and everything! And follow me on Bloglovin by clicking the links to the left!