There are few modern comics creators who have had as big an impact on the artistic construction of comics as Scott McCloud. Although his last comics-related work was in 2008, crafting stories in conjunction with the launch of Google Chrome, McCloud’s non-fiction work with “Understanding Comics,” “Reinventing Comics” and “Making Comics” has stood the test of time, and are not only enjoyed by comics fans worldwide, but referenced as material for classrooms and college courses.
In February 2015, McCloud returns to fiction with “The Sculptor,” a new original graphic novel from First Second that follows the story of David Smith, an artist who makes a deal with the death and gains the ability to sculpt anything with his bare hands — and only 200 days to make his mark on the world.
McCloud stopped by the CBR Speakeasy in Los Angeles to speak with executive producer Jonah Weiland about his return to comics, his impact on the industry as a whole, his eerily accurate prediction 15 years ago about the future of comics and the digital format, and much more.
On the future of comics he predicted 15 years ago and how it compares to reality: I’m relaxed about this stuff that maybe went a little off course, because I know when you got hundreds of thousands of people working on that space and trying to find creative solutions, things get worked out. They really do. The micro payments thing, it’s funny you should mention that, the big difference is we don’t have this single currency. The idea of a single internet currency, people are looking at things like bitcoin and things like that, but if you have a way of dropping nickels and dimes in each other’s pockets, you have lots of little vendors. You have lots of shops on the street and everyone will take the same kind of money. If you don’t have the same kind of currency, what you get are really big vendors. That’s what we’ve got — we’ve got iTunes, we’ve got Amazon, we’ve got Netflix, but we don’t have a lot of little vendors offering content because no one gets to sign up over and over and over. That was the big difference.
But I don’t worry about it anymore. I wasn’t able to bring about this exact thing, but a lot of it worked itself out, and now the idea of paid content — it still exists, but there’s still a really great free content economy where people are finding other ways to get along. That’s changing all the time.
On his upcoming graphic novel “The Sculptor”: There’s a lot of [my wife] Ivy in the character of Meg, and there’s definitely some of me in the character of David, the Sculptor. … This is a pretty fundamental one. It’s not just about being ignored or forgotten — the idea that no matter what you do, sooner or later, history just marches on. If you do something really cool, maybe it will be remembered for a generation or two, but essentially, everyone gets forgotten. This is something that gnaws at this character, because this particular character David — I can’t tell you too much, but basically, he’s lost some people in his life and he’s seeing how they were also creative people and they were also basically forgotten. They were already forgotten very early on after their deaths. It terrifies him that there’s no anchor, there’s nothing to hold onto. You just slide off into oblivion. It’s the second death that gets to him — not the idea that you die, the idea that you die and then little by little every part of you dies as people forget you. That’s the thing that he’s struggling with when he gets this supernatural visitor.
On his comfort level with fiction versus non-fiction: It was awesome coming back to fiction. I love coming back to fiction. I enjoyed working on “Zot!” the first series I did for a few years — that’s what I was known for at the very beginning — but I always felt like writing was an unfinished business for me. In fact, the only time that I really felt like I was a really successful writer was on things like “Understanding Comics.” All of a sudden for me, that was just pure writing, because it’s all about art. But I had unfinished business. I felt like the big hole in my resume, the big smoking crater was I never really sat down and created a work of fiction that just completely held together. I like some of the stuff in “Zot!”, don’t get me wrong, but to me they were always hit-or-miss. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, and the stuff that didn’t always got to me. I wanted to get it right and I have this 500-page story where we took the time to get it right. The layouts — before I do any finished art — took two years and four revisions. Almost five, really. That was the process of writing that was the most exciting for me, was trying to discover what writing really is. I liked it. I really liked it.
On returning to comics after a six year hiatus: I found out something: just by ceasing to exist, becoming a hermit, it actually — I was like wine on a shelf. I pulled this little magic trick where I realized that something was different when I came in out of the hole blinking in the sunlight. All of a sudden, I was like Professor McCloud or something. All of the old internet debates, these guys have moved on, and people are like, “Scott McCloud — is he still alive?” I was an old man. I passed into this old man territory where all the old feuds are forgotten and you’re just one of these grey haired guys that did this book that never went away. It was weird. It was like I had this special reputation upgrade just by stopping doing anything! Now, suddenly, I’m a text that’s just a part of the curriculum.