6 Questions with Scott McCloud

Originally published January 2015

I called him the “Tom Petty of comic arts.”

Comic arts guru Scott McCloud is well-known not just for his 1999 opus, Understanding Comics, but also for his fierce protection of the work of artists, so much so, he authored of the Creators’ Bill of Rights in 1988. When I had the chance to interview him via telephone for his upcoming trip to Chicago and the Chicago Humanities Festival, I explained that his work to defend and protect the work of comic artists reminded me of Tom Petty and his fight for artistic control as outlined in the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream.

“I’ve never heard that one (comparison) before,” he chuckled.

McCloud’s newest work, The Sculptor, arrives February 3 and is the culmination of five years of 11+hour days spent drawing and writing.The story centers around a mid-20s artist named David Smith, who is struggling with his lack of success personally and professionally. A deal is made with Death and it’s not until then David realizes what is most important—the love of his life, a manic-depressive actress named Meg.

In his quest to make the most of his remaining days, he creates an artistic stir—to the amusement of some and chagrin of others. Does he win Meg’s heart? Cheat death? Leave a legacy? Read to find out. I can only say this—it’s a beautiful tale told deftly through both words and art.

We talked about his process, the book and the state of common sense discourse here in the United States:

What was the primary motivation behind “The Sculptor?”

SM: I was always felt like there was a hole in my resume … I’m known mostly in the comics world for writing nonfiction books about how comics work, but of course I fell in love with comics because of the stories and I wanted to tell a big story of my own and this is one. It kept tugging at me and it took me five years to put it all together.

I know there has been a lot of discussion about (the main character) David, but I’m curious—is there some kind of statement about freedom of choice when it comes to Meg and her decision to not take prescribed medication?

SM: One of the things that was important to me was to present both sides of that argument—people who don’t necessarily want to be medicated all the time and others who think its dangerous to go off their meds. I wanted to present both sides but not necessarily resolve that. I’ve seen that debate go on in my own life … I’ve seen the benefits of it but I’ve also am sensitive to what some people consider the drawbacks. This was an opportunity to do what literature does ,which is to sometimes show the landscape of choices and the different paths people take without necessarily endorsing one or the other.

In an interview last week, you talked about artistic responsibility, especially in light of Charlie Hebdo. What do you think is the state of the relationship between the arts, politics and rationality here in the States?

SM: These things are tidal, they come and go. I think sometimes it’s important to not mistake a metronome for a trend line. I do think one of the things America seems to have gotten right is the notion of civil liberties, the idea that even outrageous speech has to be protected. It could be met with more outrageous speech. It could be met with reasonable speech. But speech counteracts speech and sunlight is the best disinfectant. So far despite a lot of extreme rhetoric in this country, it’s mostly been rhetoric, thankfully.

I think common sense is being ratcheted back like a catapult. We are going to see a massive swing back in the direction of rational thinking. I think that a lot of the most extreme anti-science rhetoric is going to be exposed in the long run … because I think truth is its own advocate.

You have a fairly sophisticated process to creating your images that didn’t exist as readily in the 80s. Is technology creating more artists or is it making real artists better?

SM: When technology and art collide it’s usually about closing distance. In the case of what’s been going on in the last 10 years it’s also about closing the distance between you and your ideas.

For me, working entirely digitally, but everything being hand drawn right on the crazy tablet I have … it’s about being able to immediately realize with my hands what I see in my head and being able to change it endlessly without having to worry about that previously, it was just this fixed thing. As a writer, you knew how vital word processing was. As soon as we were able to move sentences around, that world of the typewriter and correction fluid seemed kind of barbaric. That’s how it is for me—now that I am able to modify my drawings on the screen until they look right, that’s great. I don’t have the best hand in the world but I have a good eye. I can see where my drawings need help and I can go in and help them.

When you are not drawing, you are …

SM: I’m either sleeping eating or enjoying a few brief moments with my family, usually watching a movie.

What’s you last best book?

SM: My most recent favorite is This One Summer and its by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. It’s a coming of age story that’s very poetic and beautiful and the artwork is just stunning.

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