The Sculptor by Scott McCloud


I’ve been fortunate to read some really good books during 2015 and certainly it’s been a good year for the boysbookclub.  Whilst I always focus my reading on whatever the book club selection is that month I do try to squeeze in other books and forms as well.  Graphic novels provide a perfect way to do this as they don’t necessarily take a long time and it’s a format that I’m really growing to appreciate.  Jared and Oliver at OK Comics have been guiding me into a world that I know very little about recommending titles and opening my eyes to the creativity and intelligence of the graphic novel.

The latest book they suggested to me was The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, which is undoubtedly one of the best things I’ve read this year.  It’s a 500 page turner of a graphic novel with real depth and emotion throughout that lived long in my memory and raises many fundamental questions on my (our) approach to life, the lives we lead and what we leave behind.  These hugely powerful themes are intertwined around a powerful love story, a Faustian pact, a portrait of young urban life, an artistic journey, mortality, aspiration, the commercial art world and mental health.

The Sculptor is brilliantly enjoyable as you are reading it but like the very best novels it seeps into the consciousness after you have finished, leaving little hooks in your mind that you find yourself musing and thinking about in moments of quite reflection long after you have turned the final page.


The novel essentially centres on the life of David Smith, a young sculptor who found fame and patronage early in life but is now down on his luck, working in a fast food restaurant, creatively unproductive, frustrated that his life and art appears to be going nowhere.  Whilst drinking in a bar death (in the shape of his deceased uncle) sits with him and offers him a Faustian pact.  He will give David the ability to create and sculpt anything that he can imagine out of his bare hands but if he accepts the deal he will only have 200 days before death will take him.  Death also shows David an image of his life should he not choose to accept it, what he shows is a good life, working in a community college, teaching art, a wife and family, the type of life that most of us either want or settle for.

Here lies one of the first of the underlying themes of the book, almost all of us have dreams and aspirations, to create something, to leave our mark, to be remembered.  For most of us this does not happen and for David he is faced with a choice of essentially a good life or a short life that realises his creative ambitions.  David accepts the deal with Death but it still leaves him struggling with how to unleash his creativity and sculpt something that will realise his ambitions and leave a permanent legacy after he has gone.

What David has not considered is the strange twists that life can deliver and like all of us David never knows when love might strike.  A surreal chance encounter sees David falling madly in love with Meg, a jobbing actor and performance artist.  David is forbidden by death to tell anyone including Meg of the deal that he has made so he divides his time spending as much time as he can with Meg and then during the night working on his art trying harness his power to create his legacy.


Meg and David’s fast developing relationship is beautifully captured and I really felt for the characters and had a powerful pang in my chest knowing what was going to happen to David.  Meg has a spontaneity to her which is instantly likeable compared to David’s intense over-worthiness but each character realises that together they are better people than they are apart.

The days pass and the David’s destiny is approaching, his art is still not the hit he wants and in his interaction with agents, galleries and patrons the book shines a light on the contemporary art world and makes you question who decides what is good art.  In the end David physically sculpts the world around him, eschewing the art world and leaving his work to be discovered in the mornings after night time creative sessions.  In doing so he brings the attention of the law enforcement agencies down on him as they try to uncover who is doing this.  Echoes here of graffiti artists and the question of whether it’s vandalism or art.

As I was reading the book I really wanted to know what was going to happen and was genuinely gripped.  Would David create his legacy, was Death going to insist on the pact, what was going to happen to David and Meg’s relationship, would David tell Meg about the pact.  I’m not going to reveal here what happens but the story is brought to it’s conclusion with a really powerful emotional twist.


As I don’t really know much about the graphic medium I’m not familiar with the names of authors so Scott McCloud doesn’t mean anything to me but apparently he’s a bit of a big deal in the comic world, regarded as one of the smartest minds operating in the field and renowned as a theorist on all things comic.  Perhaps though as McCloud himself hits middle age he has been musing on his own legacy and in doing so it has driven him to create this masterpiece.  Does the protagonist of the novel reflect McCloud’s own artist journey in completing his first large fictional narrative ?

The Sculptor was five years in the making and it’s painstaking thoughtful creation left a profound mark on me.  It is often said that the best art is a mirror to your own life and experience and this brilliant page turner left me lingering on my own life, mortality and life’s purpose.  Powerful stuff, and I’d urge you to read it.




#boysbookclub book of the year 2015


5. Falling out of time

So the crew met on Friday night to sup on some fine wine and food while arguing over our best book for this year and indeed whether or not it’s been a good, vintage or poor year for the books that we have read.  As always we had different opinions on this but for me it’s been a cracking year, there were a couple of books that I genuinely didn’t like but these were balanced by two or three that were simply astonishing and there was also Against Nature which although none of us really liked will live long in the memory.

We’ve covered different genres, countries, styles of writing and ages this year although we have only read one female author so we’ll need to redress that balance a bit perhaps in 2016.

Andrew our resident statto did some number crunching and we had five books that had an average combined score over over 7 out of 10 which is pretty high marks for us.  Our top three books when we went back over them were :

  1. Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
  2. A Dry White Season by Andre Brink
  3. Kafka on the Shore by Murakami

Falling Out Of Time was the overwhelming winner and it was one of the most incredible books I’ve read, part fable, part poem and a taut, heart rending piece of writing on grief from the Middle East reflecting on the regions families who have suffered too much for too long.  I’d urge you to read it if you have not come across it.

Although it didn’t make the top three I personally also loved Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, a beguiling swirling masterpiece and an honourable mention also for The Humans by Matt Haigh a far subtler book that it’s simplicity suggests and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

We are kicking off 2016 by doing something new for us reading two books in one, both of the Harper Lee books in a bit of a compare and contrast exercise.  I’d love to know what you think of our list this year, together with what your favourite books were and what would you recommend for us to read in 2016.


Art bringing people together

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I’ve been to a couple of galleries recently, the British Art Show is in Leeds and my good mate Phil Dean continues to interpret the world around him through his delightful sketches.  It’s got me thinking a little bit about art and whether it brings people together.

My dad used to love to sketch and as his mobility declined liked nothing better than getting himself sat comfortably with a nice view where he’d either sketch or get the watercolours out.  When people saw him they would often drift over and have a look and my dad would invariably draw them into conversation.  I was really reminded of this when we were in Malaga recently watching the way Phil would quickly capture a scene wherever we happened to be.  He also does it in a way that does not distract from whatever else we are doing, happily chatting away enjoying some food and drink whilst at the same time sketching.  He will then often continue to work on and embellish the picture throughout the day, adding little flourishes and touches.

I’m no artist so resort like many of us to snapping a few photos on my phone but I think I have always struggled to adapt to the taking a photo of everyday things, is it intrusive ?  I feel uncomfortable with it lots of the time, there is sometimes an element of slyness,  furtiveness or voyeurism using a camera to capture an image that standing openly and drawing is the antithesis of, it’s transparent, people can come and look at what you are doing and in doing so give their approval (or otherwise of course).  What I noticed when Phil was doing this was how much people enjoyed it, someone taking the time to sketch their town, it didn’t matter what part of the town the sketch was in people wanted to have a look.

In looking it brought a smile to people and this was universal in whatever bar we happened to be in and on one occasion a waiter thrust a takeaway bag under Phil’s nose for him do draw something on.  We got chatting to numerous people, our lack of Spanish and their lack of English becoming irrelevant as the sketches of their town elicited a warmth that made us feel very welcome wherever we went, the art becoming a bridge between us.

This simple bringing of people together over someone’s drawings contrasts to the most part of my experience of galleries – they bring people in but do they bring people together ? Most galleries seem to actively discourage conversation you seem to have to look, contemplate internally and nod sagely.  I can’t imagine that this is what artists would have wanted when they were creating their art, surely they would have wanted interaction, comment, reaction and discussion not silence and sterility.  Maybe we are just scared of saying the wrong thing, of showing our ignorance in not ‘getting’ the work that we are looking at.

However even in galleries connections are sometimes made, while we were in the Centre of Contemporary art in Malaga looking at Ai WeiWei’s Zodiac Heads, Andrew got chatting to this elderly gentlemen who was staring in total wonder.  He was so awed by it he simply said I don’t want to leave this place.  A beautiful and powerful example of the transformative power of art.

Stephen Fry in a talk about art said the following:

Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.

I love that sentiment and wholeheartedly believe it to be true, but in watching Phil sketch across the weekend it took on a different meaning, art is the extra, the addition to life and in creating it you can enhance people’s lives and bring people together, however fleetingly and put a smile on their face.

All the artwork on this page is from Phil Dean drawn on our recent Malaga trip.  Go check out his sketching site shoreditchsketcher

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Malaga (again) with the Boys Book Club

Each year our boysbookclub heads to foreign climbs for a weekend in October, we try to head to southern Europe so that we can have that last weekend of the year where hopefully the weather is warm, we can sit outside and relax before returning to Britain and hunkering down for the winter.

Four years ago we went to Malaga which proved something of a revelation as a city.  I went with very low expectations but was amazingly surprised by a compact city with a great atmosphere, good culture and history.  It was something of a revelation and I’ve been back since so I was very happy to return again with the boys again this year.  Our membership has shifted a bit over the last few years so it was never going to be exactly the same.

Of course like our book club (and ourselves) the city does not stand still and Malaga has undergone something of a regeneration over the last four years with a completely redeveloped harbour area adding to the cultural attractions.

We did what we also do, wander, generally with no particular fixed objective.  We might for example say lets have lunch somewhere near the beach or lets go to an art gallery in the afternoon but they are loose goals.  In arriving at them we drift around streets, duck into markets, stop in squares etc all the time of course sampling the great bars and eateries across the city.

When we go away we always try to come up with something creative or our own.  We set a theme of Independence this year and you can interpret it as you want.  I’ve published some of the writing that we did on this blog if you want to check it out and one member did a fantastic mini graphic booklet of us all.  The Saturday night was reserved for the monthly book review which for October was ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’ by Richard Flanagan.  The book completely split the book club but for me it was one of the most difficult books to categorise I’ve read in a long time but I found it a brilliantly original a mind warping book.

The highlight as always of our weekends away was simply the spending of time together in complete relaxation.  When do you every really get the chance to do that with friends?  Our personalities are such that there is very little friction or tension and we just bumble along together, chatting over long lunches.  It’s hard to return to ‘normal’ life after the weekend away but I for one feel completely refreshed by it and am already plotting next years trip.  Any tips on where you think would be great for us do let me know.

Independence (by Nathan)

The clock ticked relentlessly and time passed. Some days it passed more quickly than others, but Betty’s routine stayed the same. It was twenty years since George had passed, they’d had a happy life, with kids and grandkids, and a caravan in Bridlington that, despite its size, held a lifetime of memories.

The kids had moved away, first to university, and then to jobs that took them overseas. She envied the other women of her age that she saw dragging toddlers around Tesco and treating them to a bun to keep them quiet. She longed for the chance to pick up her grandchildren, Harry and Molly must be at school now. She’d missed so many birthdays.

She filled her days with a routine. Breakfast at 9am was a slice of toast and jam with a cup of tea. She always made a pot and left it to mash. It tasted stewed when you make it in a mug. Later she would venture out to the shops. Sometimes to the corner shop or, if the weather was nice, she’d catch the number 14 into town. Although, it was getting harder these days, the bus was always late and sometimes she and to stand for the 15 minutes it took to reach the high street.

She would chat to the checkout girl, people didn’t think she noticed the tuts and long stares, but she did, she didn’t care, people should take more time to talk to each other rather than stare into those phones all day.

She’d sit in coffee shop and watch the world pass her by, and then get the bus home before the school emptied out and the kids made it too busy.

Sometimes she would chat to two or three people on her trips into town. The girl in the library always greeted her by name and asked how her grandkids were, she always lied and told them how well they are doing.

It was silly really, just a little slip from the step when she’d reached up to dust the cupboard, she’d fallen awkwardly and twisted her knee. A couple of weeks in hospital and she’d come home to an empty house. The kids had called but she’d told them not to worry.

Her leg was so stiff these days that she struggled to walk to the corner shop and couldn’t face the trip into town. Some days were worse that others, and she was extra careful around the house these days.

Anyway, enough of this rambling, she had to get settled for Countdown. She missed Richard Whiteley but still did the letter games, it kept her mind active.

And as long as she had her mind, she had her independence.

Independence? (by Andrew)

No more to hear your voice

No more to touch your hand

No more to wave goodbye

And yet you live

That handwritten note, meticulous, updated and again, found unexpectedly in a crumpling, manila file. You caught me.

That walk at Scarborough, late afternoon, autumn. But memories of early morning, summer, forty five years ago. My hand in yours, skipping on the beach, virgin sand. The day, my life, ahead. Yours, already, almost half behind.

That drawing. Framed rhododendron heads, three stages of decay. Pen. Ink. You. I’d forgotten it, by the chest in the spare room and caught it with my foot – as you caught me.

You. Again. Here.

Don’t cheek your mother. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Mind you take your shoes off. The story of the orange peel, thrown into Queen’s Dock as they filled it up, mid thirties. You a boy of eight, alone in the city, mother working, father dying. You surviving.

But now YOU’RE gone.  I’m here.

It’s said we don’t grow up until we lose our parents. Independence – but at what price? Who, Mr Quantity Surveyor, counts the cost now that you’re goine? You didn’t reckon that up on foolscap sheet.

Your chair, your brush, your watch, your glasses, wallet, frown. I wasn’t ready.


Each year we go away somewhere warm for our BoysBookClub and as we go away for the weekend (Malaga this year) we decided a couple of years ago to do something creative ourselves as well as reviewing our monthly book.  We tend to decide on a theme and then you can choose what you do, people do short stories, essays, poems and this year Phil did our first graphic booklet.  The theme this year was independence, chosen after our trip to Barcelona last year and despite having ages to come up with something I was frantically typing the week before, a deadline sharpens the mind I guess.  My effort is below, I was happy with the idea but it could do with quite a bit more work to get it where I’d like but I thought I’d put it up as it was. Happy to hear what you think.


All things end, life, my life, relationships, the bed I’m lying on will someday be no more, the planet we live on and the sun that warms it, all things end. I think that it took me many years to slowly realise this but this inevitability has a calmness to it, you can’t change it it just is. My life is drawing to it’s end now and the physical decline being hurried along by a debilitating illness means that although I cannot predict the actual time, my time is drawing to a it’s end.

I tend to wake early now, never quite sure of the time as the stiffness means I’m unable to turn my head to see the bedside clock. I try and judge the hour by the light that seeps in through the edge of the plain cream curtains that just reach down to below the window sill. Pam would have hated these curtains, she always wanted heavy patterned luxurious curtains that reached down to the skirting board. She was fastidious about how they were folded back and tied each morning, I can see her doing it now, fussing and brushing and making sure the folds were exactly the same on each side. It’s funny the things you remember about those you love, it’s always these weird little actions and manners that only we know. These dull excuses for curtains will not be tied back and they will not be opened carefully, the staff will breeze it at some point bellowing “Morning Mr Davis” and briskly sweep the curtains aside. I’m not sure why they shout so loudly, ill and fading away I might be but deaf I’m not. I’ve also told them repeatedly that my name is Bryn not Mr Davis, my dad was Mr Davis not me, it’s even written in my care plan apparently but with the dizzying changes of names on their shiny lapel badges I guess they don’t have time for the nuances of care any more. It’s all function, get in, get him up, bag emptied, washed, dressed, medicated, and sat in ‘the chair’ and then move on down the corridor to the next lucky soul.  Continue reading

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