By Cameron Hatheway
February 3rd marks the release of Scott McCloud's long-awaited graphic novel The Sculptor from First Second Books. Best known for his epic creator-owned series Zot! and his contributions to understanding, appreciating, and reinventing the comics medium, McCloud is without a doubt a giant in the industry and has been due for another graphic novel for quite some time. I was fortunate enough to interview Mr. McCloud over the telephone, and took the opportunity to ask him all about his upcoming book. My review of The Sculptor will be available closer to February.
Cameron Hatheway: Where did you to come up with the idea of a man who could sculpt anything imaginable with his bare hands? Why not a painter who could bring things to life with his paintbrush, or a wood whittler who could whittle a whole new forest out of a single branch? Why settle on a 25-year-old struggling sculptor?
Scott McCloud: The idea goes back to when I was really, really young. Maybe in college or so when this idea first came to me. It just seemed so visual, and seemed so in the world of the story. I like to create worlds that have a real physical presence, and there's nothing more physical as creating something in three dimensions, so I just loved it for that. But that was a long, long time ago and the story kicked around in my head for decades until I realized as it grew and I got a better idea of what kind of story it could be, I got really excited about it as a story, and it changed and deepened and became I think a little bit more mature than that original idea.
CH: What kind of research went into sculpting? You've helped us understand, reinvent, and make comics throughout the years, were you looking through the sculpting equivalent of those kinds of books, or just visiting a lot of museums and sculpting classes?
SM: Everywhere I go, and I travel a lot, I always go to museums and I do love sculpture. But in the end it was more about the creative process, and what drives somebody to want to make these things. In this case it's about an artist who is terrified about being forgotten, and that drives a lot of the story. So it's a lot about no matter what you are, whether you're a writer, or an artist, or a musician, we all have that desire to be remembered and that's something I thought was pretty universal. So in a lot of ways it's about that universal desire.
CH: David Smith has 200 days to live and dazzle the art scene and be remembered with his sculptures until his deal runs out and he dies. Just out of curiosity, and I'm not implying anything, but did it take you longer than 200 days to complete the graphic novel, or will it be published posthumously next month?
SM: [Laughter] That's a great question! Yes, it took me a lot more than 200 days. It took about five years to actually write and draw the thing, and it had been kicking around in my head for a couple of decades before that. If I only had 200 days I would definitely freak out.
SM: I really love the fact that my editor, Mark Siegel, is also a cartoonist. I talked to some great editors, I mean real world-class New York editors when we were first shopping the book around, and we did have offers from I think about four different publishers. But First Second really came to the table, and to be frank they gave me enough money that I could actually sit on my ass and draw all those years. But also they offered a real comic-savvy environment, where they wanted to create work and have been creating work that goes toe-to-toe with literary greats, but also that understand that comics is a different medium. That it's not just illustrated text, it's words and pictures working together, it's visual storytelling, and I could tell this was a publisher that understood that, in particular an editor that really understood that.
CH: The love story between David and Meg is one that's so perfect, yet so complicated thanks to David's deal with Death. As if David wasn't a tortured introvert enough already, why did you want to torture him further with such a complicated love story? Does pain make for greater art?
SM: Love is a sweet kind of torture, isn't it? When I go and have a meal, I like to have a lot of different tastes all rolling around in my mouth, and I wanted their experience to have a lot of different kinds of emotions mixed all in together. In fact, part of the story is just talking about what it's like to be alive, and if I wanted to get that across, that meant I had to show the range of experiences we have in life. Everything; the highs, the lows, the bitter and the sweet, and I think their relationship reflects that too.
CH: The Sculptor is about 500 pages, and is large enough to beat a small animal to death with. How would you transition it from the comic book medium to another if you had the opportunity to do so? Perhaps a gigantic sculpture with every panel from the comic wrapped around until it reached the very top? Or would sculpting a sculpture comprised of The Sculptor be too literal of an interpretation?
SM: [Laughter] I may give this a try! There was actually a store owner who wanted to order enough copies to make a sculpture out of The Sculptor, so you're not even the first person to propose it!
SM: I think that in a way any book worth its salt is going to give you a love of life. A love of being alive, even if it's very bitter about some of life's dark sides. But most of all, I just want people to come away feeling like they've lived those 500 pages instead of read them. My first job, for all the lofty themes and that sort of thing, my first job in this book was to create a page-turner. I really wanted something where if you sat down and just started reading, it would be really hard to stop. I just spoke to someone very recently who read it all in one sitting, which is amazing to me. That sort of thing that feels as if there's an invisible hand pushing your hand to turn the page as soon as you're done, to keep going, to propel you forward, to lock you into the world; that was job number one.
CH: What's next for you after the 13-city national author tour? Or will you be too tired to start another project after all that traveling?
SM: Well I actually do know what my next book is going to be about, the only problem is that the first book won't let me go! [Laughter] The Sculptor I think is going to keep me busy for a while now, but I know my next book is going to be about visual communication and visual education, which is a subject real close to my heart. Harkens back to the stuff I was writing about in books like Understanding Comics, but it goes even broader than that. It's going to apply to a lot of different things, and to an education I think we're about to have in the way we treat pictures as a form of communication.
The Sculptor will be available to purchase February 3rd. Special thanks to McCloud for taking time out of his busy schedule and Gina Gagliano for helping put this together.