Sequential storytelling has been around for millennia — on cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics — but for many readers and creators, the reasons why comic books work the way they work was a mystery. Until Scott McCloud — who had been writing and drawing comics like Zot — published 1993’s Understanding Comics, which used the form of comics to, well, help us understand them.
But even more than an educator, McCloud is a storyteller and he’s returning to fiction with First Second’s The Sculptor, a metaphysical romance about a frustrated artist, a devil’s bargain, and the woman who inspires him.
Because romance is such a big part of The Sculptor, we asked McCloud’s wife, Ivy, to interview him. Who better to get at the truth? (Warning: What you’re about to read is so wonderfully sweet, you’ll get cavities.)
IVY RATAFIA: My name is Ivy Ratafia, I’ve been asked to interview my husband, Scott McCloud, whose graphic novel The Sculptor was released on February 3rd. The book is about a sculptor named David Smith who makes a deal with Death, gets the ability to sculpt whatever he wants with his hands, but in exchange, has only 200 days to live. Things get complicated when he meets the love of his life, Meg, who was inspired by me (which is why I was asked to do this). The book is about art, life, death, legacy, family, and love.
I’ve been trying to think of questions that I don’t already know the answers to; this is very hard. Scott and I have been married 27 years and we’ve been talking about this book for almost as long, so I know an awful lot.
So, Scott, why don’t we start by you explaining where the idea for Meg came from and how she fits in with the story? And me? There. Big question.
SCOTT McCLOUD: Well, when I first came up with the idea for the story it was just a pseudo-superhero story. It only came together when the romance entered the picture, which was during the seven years I was secretly in love with you. You inspired the character of Meg and the thing just clicked. Even before you knew how I felt, I was already making you my muse.
IVY: Okay, this is really important: We knew each other our freshman and sophomore years of college, then didn’t see each other for seven years. That’s when you came up with this idea, correct?
SCOTT: More or less.
IVY: So I’m dying to know: If we hadn’t gotten together after those seven years, would you have still made The Sculptor?
SCOTT: No. I needed a lot of confidence to make The Sculptor. I needed 30 years’ worth of comics under my belt, and without you there, giving me perspective, I couldn’t have done those comics in the first place. Living with you, raising kids, learning to accept the world as it is; I needed those things. I couldn’t have gotten there through any other path.
IVY: Okay. That throws out my next question.
IVY: I’m going to ask you something obnoxious then. Okay?
IVY: I would like you to describe Meg.
SCOTT: Meg is a little taller than you; we’re tiny people. And she’s got dark hair and bangs, freckles — very light freckles, you only see them in certain light. She’s a little curvy, but she’s kind of athletic. She’s a bicycle messenger. She wears skirts and boots. And she smiles a lot but it’s a kind of mischievous smile. She’s a good, loyal friend, but she’s also got a wicked sense of humor and she’s very spirited and energetic except when she isn’t; except when she crashes, which she sometimes does.
IVY: And now the reciprocal. You have to describe me.
SCOTT: You’re shorter than she is, probably by a good four inches—
IVY: Haha! Okay, I’m going to interrupt you here, because the question I wanted to ask was, why is Meg taller than me?
SCOTT: Because when I have the two of them in frame I can’t do the same kind of physical theater without pulling back the camera. I can’t do close-ups of the two of them talking. If I was a better cartoonist; if I was smart enough and practiced enough to get interesting compositions out of the height difference; maybe it could’ve worked. But, I’m just not good enough. So I made her only a half-head shorter.
IVY: This really bothers me.
SCOTT: I know!
IVY: Short people unite! We have problems!
SCOTT: I know, I know. We should be celebrating shortness. But no, I didn’t have the chops for it because I was still teaching myself how to be a better figure artist. So the real answer is because I suck. Is that okay?
IVY: Argh! Fine. But, we’re an underrepresented community and we need more representation.
SCOTT: It’s true. Well we’re both kind of short. We’re not exactly towering. I just tower over you.
IVY: I am more like Meg than you are like David, am I correct?
SCOTT: Yeah. Well, I’ve been telling people that Meg is 70 percent you and David is 40 percent me.
IVY: Okay. So you spent five years working on this book, which is very funny because during those 5 years we barely saw each other because you were working.
SCOTT: Well, we still had three hours a night. I wasn’t a total stranger.
IVY: 11 hours a day, seven days a week you were working on this book. So how did working on this book and spending time with imaginary Meg affect your relationship with the real me?
SCOTT: All I can point to is the results; the last five years have been kind of wonderful. I mean, sure, we were only together three hours each day, but I really did fall in love with you all over again. You’ve probably noticed I’ve been super-sentimental these last five years. I don’t know, if I go on to do a detective story or a horror story, who knows, you might get a really cold or crazy or creepy version of me. But this me loves you more than ever before. I’m really looking forward to going on the road with you.
IVY: Okay, so I’ve gotta ask you a question and this is really important. Our kids are off to school, they’re gone. So it’s just you and I. You have just spent the last five years seeing me only three hours a day. And falling in love with this version of me that you’ve created. Do you anticipate any problems when it’s just the real me? Because I am only 70 percent Meg.
SCOTT: Actually, I don’t know that I could keep up with the fictional you. You’re the right 30 percent different. You and I could just go out to dinner and see a movie and enjoy ourselves. Meg would be too restless and have to go out dancing or bungee jumping or something.
But I already know what it’s gonna be like hanging out with you full-time. Because we kind of already did it during the latter half of last year when we did all that traveling together. You and I had a lot of really long car rides and time in Tennessee while I was teaching, and I really liked the longer hours. I’m gonna get restless, I’m gonna have to go back to work, but not yet. I plan to enjoy the coming year where it’s you and me again.
IVY: In preparation for doing this I asked our oldest daughter for questions. She pointed out that she and her sister are very close to the age that I was when you first fell in love with Meg — or, actually, with the me that eventually became Meg. So how did that influence the writing of Meg? Did you ever think about our daughters in relation to her? Is there any of them in her? Is that too many questions at one time?
SCOTT: No. But maybe I can answer all of them at once. I had Winter, our younger daughter, model for Meg in a couple of places where I had a really complicated pose and didn’t have the right reference. And our older daughter, Sky, influenced different aspects of Meg too. When we see Meg’s room for the first time, she has lots of posters and CD covers and things like that. And when I was choosing the music, TV shows, movies, or plays that would show up on that wall, I mixed both of you together. So Meg had Crystal Castles or Santigold pictures up (bands Sky was into) plus images from your life, like a poster of Antigone, or stuff from the BBC show Sherlock.
IVY: I don’t have a good ending. I only came up with so many questions because this is supposed to be short! I know: If you could change one thing about me to make me more like Meg, what would that be? That’s a good way to end this.
SCOTT: I’d like to give you her confidence. When she’s on her highs, Meg likes herself, and I wish you felt that way more often. It’s always been a dream of mine that you could see yourself the way I see you, and learn to love yourself as much as I love you. I’ve got enough to spare. I want to share that with you.
IVY: Aw, I love you.
SCOTT: I love you too.
IVY: Before we finish I just want to say that when I was young I had people tell me that I was their muse and they were going to write books and songs and poems about me all the time. And I want to thank you because you are the only one who actually went through with it. I appreciate it.
SCOTT: Thanks! Yeah, you are an official muse now, you’re the real thing.
IVY: I feel like now I can be remembered like your sculptor David is struggling to be, because of you. Thank you.
SCOTT: My pleasure.
The Sculptor is published by First Second Books and is in bookstores and online retailers now.