“Two Books” is a new feature on the blog — I’ll write up short descriptions of two books or comics I’ve read recently that seem to be on a similar wavelength, and then explain why I loved them and why I think they fit together so nicely.
THE SCULPTOR, written and drawn by Scott McCloud | First Second
The Sculptor tells the story of David Smith, a struggling sculptor whose career has begun to lag in the aftermath of a less-than-impressive showing of his work. While drinking away his sorrows one afternoon, David strikes up a life-changing conversation with his Uncle Sidney…though Sidney has been dead for many years. David soon finds out that Sidney is simply the form that Death took in this lifetime, and he has a proposition: the ability to sculpt and mold anything — any materials, into any shape — for 200 perfect days. At the end of the 200 days, David will die.
Without much of a life to speak of, anyway, David agrees. But as he struggles to dig back into his work and craft the incredible works of which he only somewhat believes himself capable, he finds an adoptive family of new friends, including a girl — and a purpose — who makes him second-guess his deal with Death.
POLARITY, written by Max Bemis and drawn by Jorge Coelho | BOOM! Studios
If you’re on the outside looking in, Tim Woods probably has a pretty decent life. He’s an artist living in Brooklyn, occasionally showing his work, in a relationship with a cool chick who loves his artist vibe. But Tim hates what his neighborhood, his generation, and his world have become. His girlfriend urges him at almost every turn to go off his bipolar meds to create “edgier” art, and he’s tempted to do it just to feel something — anything.
When Tim does decide to stop taking his medication, he spirals into a manic phase that he believes is like any of the others — until he realizes it isn’t the usual paranoia putting the voices in his head. He really is hearing the thoughts of his neighbors, including someone who seems to be keeping close watch on him. Finally, Tim goes to see his psychiatrist, and learns that his manic state allows him to tap into some superhero-level powers, and it’s up to Tim what he can — and wants — to do with that power.
What’s the connection?
On the surface, both stories deal with artists who are struggling with their art. In both cases, they are young white men in New York who once had names that truly meant something to the art community, and each must learn to balance the search for love, the search for fulfillment, and the search to understand something greater than them.
Moving deeper, both David and Tim are gifted with amazing powers that come with an awful price. David can mold any material to his will and is charged to use the power to create a lasting artistic legacy, but has only 200 days in which to use those powers before he dies. Tim is struggling with bipolar disorder when he discovers that his manic episodes allow him to tap into untold powers within himself, giving him strength, stamina, and speed, among other gifts, but these manic periods are difficult to trigger and even harder to end (at least, before the introduction of a magic pill to level out his emotional state). Both men use their powers for good — David creates impossible feats of guerrilla artwork, while Tim dons a mask to fight criminals in Williamsburg.
Both young men come to understand that human connection is necessary, and that they can mold a meaningful life in the moments they are given, rather than focusing on the fame they have yet to achieve. Both books force readers to reevaluate their understandings of both art and life, and how one can feed the other, and what a person might be willing to attempt — or to sacrifice — in order to thrive in both arenas.
What are you reading? Let me know in the comments!