At What Price?
At this moment, I will lay out some groundwork. It is unnecessary but it is relevant (or maybe it has a purpose). There is an old German story about an intellectual who sells his soul for deeper knowledge of the world. In this tale, he is already accomplished but he wants more, needs more. The price of his soul seems a fitting fee to pay for what he wants.
I refer to the story of Faust and the devil of the story is Mephistopholes. In this trade he is given all he asks for a set time frame and at the end he is killed. This is a very old story that has seen a number of reinterpretations over the many years of its life. It has been done as plays, puppet shows, even movies. Mind you I regret that I don’t have one of the more recent interpretations to talk about (it’s in German with English subtitles… more work than I am willing to give a movie right now. I admit it, I don’t watch many subtitled films…)
Instead, there is a graphic novel interpretation of the story to enjoy, the Sculptor by Scott McCloud. In this interpretation, David Smith is a great artist but he hasn’t been able to gain traction in the art world. He has high ideals, and wants to make it on his own but for what ever reason he has failed to make his mark. In walks his dead Uncle Harry.
In a secular change to the story, this interpretation makes no references to heaven or hell. Instead the part of the devil is referenced as Death and he takes the form of loved ones to put people’s mind at ease. Harry makes David the offer and the rest of the story works through the changes in his life to make the most of it. There are failures, and successes but for the most part it is a life without focus.
Maybe this is a lesson for the rest of us, to have everything we want out of life is meaningless if we don’t have the focus base it on. Which brings us to the next turning point of the story, Meg, the love interest. This character is a key in many of the interpretations of the original story. In some she is the advocate that helps to save David (Faust) from himself and the pact he has made. In others she is a part of the life of excess and destruction. In this story, she is the focus that David lacks, the driving force that allows him to become more than he thought possible.
This is an important idea within the story and the world we live in. Through the lesson of this story we could see that the amount of talent we have isn’t necessarily the important part of what happens in the world around us. David discovers this on numerous occasions. It isn’t until he is focused and driven to create something greater than he has ever created before, something without a thought to what others will judge it, this is the moment when he steps outside of himself. The final sculpture is the greatest thing he has ever made.
But in the end for David, it came at a high price. Not only the cost of his soul, but the life of Meg as well. His final piece was a tribute to the woman he loved. But this is a lesson that the interpretations of the story have all tried to bring forward. Success at any cost is a tragic form of success. When you sacrifice your beliefs, and those you love in order to attain something so fleeting, in the end you are left with nothing.
The choice of a medium in telling a story can have a huge impact on how that story is told and received. The panels for this graphic novel are penned in blues, black, and white. Just three colors to convey meaning and thought to the reader. This limited color scheme allows the reader to slip into the narrative. Considering this story uses the art more than words to share the message it takes on a bigger weight. Throughout the story there is little written work outside of conversations between characters. The reader must pick up the clues to the interactions from the pictures themselves.
A perfect example of this is a scene in Meg’s apartment when David and Meg are discussing his sculpting. He is showing her how he would examine her as a study piece. Over a course of 9 pages with few words, images are repeated with slight changes and different viewing angles to show the process. We are given these clues and their conversation during the process to feel as uncomfortable and exposed as Meg. And within the exchange, David exposes himself as well. He bares his soul to her. And the one change throughout this series of images is a memory of his father. In this moment of time, we can feel the switch. Meg has gone from his friend with her own baggage and troubles, apart from him. Now she sees something more, someone who feels the pains she feels.
This is a story worth exploring. I dare say it is one I would happily spend time discussing the nuances with others. But you never want to be that fan… You know who I’m talking about right. The one that trips over themselves as they replay the entire series of events for the hapless soul that wandered into their space. This would be complete with sound effects and hand signals because anything less wouldn’t do it justice.
Read the book, explore other interpretations of the Faust mythos. You’ll be glad you did.