while many comic book titles break boundaries and formats with their
storytelling and characters, very few explore beyond the boxed panel
view that we as readers have grown accustomed to over the years. Six
or eight pictures a page to tell your tale and move on, some askewing
the view for a bit, but nothing radical. At least, that's what most
do. But today we look at one man's body of work that not only set him
apart from many of his peers, it put him and his styles into an
entirely different category of admiration.
This weekend as part of the Downtown Main Library's “Literary Luminaries” event, comic book creator and sought out artist David Mack will be on hand at the event. In partnership with Night Flight Comics, many of his original works will be on display in the 4th Floor Gallery, as well as an open art demonstration and discussion with the man himself this Saturday. But before he comes to town, I got the opportunity to chat with him about his career and artwork, creating Kabuki, his time on Daredevil, thoughts on the industry and much more.
Gavin: Hey David, first off, tell us a bit about yourself.
David: I’m the author of the Kabuki graphic novels, and The Shy Creatures children’s book, and I’ve worked as the writer of Daredevil as well as artist on it. I have interests in Science, nature, philosophy, and love.
Gavin: What were some of your favorite comics growing up, and are there any specific comic artists who influenced your work?
David: I had fairly little access to comics until closer to my teenage years. And I grew up without television. But I did manage to read a friend’s Daredevil issue when I was about nine years old. It was an issue by Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen and it really challenged me as a nine year old. A few years later I was lucky to find more of those stories by Miller and Jansen and it really fascinated me in terms of all that was being applied as an art of storytelling. The writing was being told with the layout and the lighting and the rhythm of the page. That made me interested in comics as a method of storytelling. I’ve been really lucky to be able to work with creators that were influential to me in those early formative years. I’m working with Klaus Jansen and Bill Sienkiewicz on a Daredevil story right now that I’m co-writing with Brian Michael Bendis. I’m working on a project right now with Barron Storey whose work I saw as a teenager in the Society of Illustrator’s Annuals. Alan Moore was very inspiring to me as a writer in my early years.
Gavin: You received your BFA in graphic design and minor in Literature from Northern Kentucky University. What made you choose NKU, and what was the program like for you there?
David: I was seventeen when I graduated high school and began college. I knew I would not have anyone financing my education and that I needed to figure that out myself. So I was working toward that in high school in terms of trying to get scholarships. I was awarded some partial scholarships to larger schools. But that was still too expensive for me to be able to cover on my own. I actually went to join the military at age seventeen to get my education paid for by the military. But NKU offered me a full four-year scholarship so I went there. Then I got a fifth year scholarship on a Dean’s scholarship for academics. Instead of a specialized art school, it was a University. So that really opened my world up to a lot of subjects and ideas that made my world immensely larger and more diverse. I made my first children’s book in a Children’s Literature class. I took the Japanese Language, World Religions, History, History, Anatomy & Physiology, etc. These all made my work richer. I tried to funnel what I was learning into my writing and art. Graphic Design was taught as a synthesis of type and image, so I chose that to major in because I saw that Sequential storytelling shared these attributes. I was already planning to do comics but there was no class for that. So I took from each class things that I could apply to my storytelling work. I began working on comics professionally in my freshman year. By my senior year, I had completed the first volume of Kabuki. It was used for my senior thesis in Literature.
Gavin: How did you eventually get on board with Caliber Press?
David: This is pre-internet. For me, anyway. Around 1991 or 1992, I sent artwork in the mail to them with story ideas and art samples. I called them to see if they got it. They said no, they did not, but that it sounded interesting, and to send it again. So I sent more stuff, and they published some projects that I was involved with. I ended up doing a few different books with them. Then in 93, I mentioned to them this project I was working on called Kabuki. They said they wanted to publish it. After learning on a few other books for a few years, I felt like I was finally ready to do this Kabuki story.
Gavin: Where did the idea for Kabuki come from, and how was it for you planning the series out before it hit paper?
David: I’ve been a big fan of autobiographical comics. But I started doing Kabuki when I was twenty years old and in college. I didn’t feel un-self-conscious enough to do a fully autobiographical comic. Also, I was so young that I really didn’t feel fully formed as a human to the extent that I could articulate in that way. But I didn’t want to make the main character an idealized version of myself. So I found a way to write personal stories, but through a veil. I made the main character a different gender. I set the book in another part of the world. I was learning Japanese, and Japanese History and Mythology because my best friend at the time was Japanese and I chose that foreign language because he would help me with my homework and I had a community to practice with. This gave me some archetypes and mythology to integrate into the structure of my personal story. I liked the idea that the story was in metaphors that allowed readers to read it and see themselves, rather than just seeing me. Kabuki was finally published in 1994. It was well-received critically, nominated for several awards, and I was able to make a humble living from the royalties. I kept on going with it and cultivated a readership over the years.
Gavin: The artistic styling and even writing are very different to that of traditional comics. What made you want to design it out this way?
David: I start with the story first. I’m a writer first. Then I find a way to use the art as a tool of the story. I try to choose the visual approach that best fits with each individual story. I like to design a new look and storytelling style for each project. I like that comic books and graphic novels are a limber and fertile enough of a medium to do this each time. When it is done best, the art and story are indistinguishable from one another.
Gavin: How did you take the popularity the comic started receiving when it hit stores?
David: I was grateful. My mother was dying at that time. I was in college and the first few issues of Kabuki were published before she died. I was grateful that she was able to see that. I felt that gave her a sense of closure in that she felt a little more at peace. She could see that I’d be able to take care of myself. She had been very encouraging to me in terms of my pursuing my creative interests. She was essentially my biggest artistic influence. What I learned from her as a child are principles that I still use each day in my work. I think she got to have a bit of a sense that I’d be able to do alright fulfilling my dream career before she passed on. So I was very grateful for that. I was drawing a lot of those first couple issues of Kabuki at her bedside when she was dying.
Gavin: What was it like for you to move the title to Image, and eventually ending the initial run of the series from there?
David: Erik Larson at Image gave me the invite to bring Kabuki to Image at a very helpful time when I was trying to get the volumes of Kabuki collected in paperback, and when I was starting a brand new painted Kabuki series (Kabuki: Metamorphosis). And then Jim Valentino became the publisher of Image for most of the time that I was there. This was 1997 to 2004. It was a great working relationship and there was a real family atmosphere with the people I was working with. Valentino had brought my old Caliber pals Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming over to Image as well, where they began Powers. It was a great time and I was very grateful to be a part of it with creators that I cared for and respected.
Gavin: What was it like for you eventually working for Marvel and putting your touch on their titles?
David: That was wonderful. It was like a dream. Joe Quesada asked me to be the writer for Daredevil while he was drawing it. I had a wonderful time working with him and working on a character and a title that meant so much to me when I was a kid. Then I was able to work on Daredevil with Brian Michael Bendis on his first Marvel story. It was great to finally be able to collaborate with Brian on a project that was worthy of our friendship.
Gavin: Speaking of, the work you get most recognized for is on Daredevil. How did the opportunity come about to first work on it, and what was the reaction from the company to the design changes you put on that title?
David: Joe Quesada called me and asked me to do a title for Marvel. Joe had been a very generous supporter of me and of Kabuki very early on. He told me that he liked my writing from Kabuki and that he’d like to work with me writing a story for him sometime. So that turned out to be Daredevil. I took over writing the book after Kevin Smith. I asked Joe what he wanted from the story, and he asked me to create a brand new villain. That became Echo. And Joe drew her great. I felt an incredible amount of creative freedom working on Daredevil. Joe and Nanci Quesada as editors only had a couple of notes for me on the Daredevil stories and they were all great notes. I was always happy to have their advice. Then I began doing covers for Alias with Brian Bendis as we were doing Daredevil. Then when we were having a difficult situation, they invited us to bring our creator owned titles, Kabuki and Powers, to Marvel and we formed the Icon Imprint at Marvel for them both. That was another dream-like event.
Gavin: Something that sets you a part from most current artists is that you don't really do computer graphic design, you do actual artistic pieces. What made you go in that direction when most everything is being done digitally to some degree these days?
David: Its just my natural approach. I don’t have anything against a computer design approach. I respect what people are doing with it. And I may try it some time for a specific project. But so far I haven’t felt the urge to do so, and I like working with my hands, and that approach seemed right for the stories I was doing. But I bet there will be a story some day that may make me want to experiment with it. Alex Maleev is doing a great job with it on his Daredevil work and his new Spider-Woman series with Brian Bendis. That said, I never get tired of making art with my hands and the handmade approach of dealing with 3D materials.
Gavin: We've been reading talk on the Kabuki movie. I know you can't give away a lot, but can you share with us what's been going on with the script and production so far?
David: Kabuki was at Fox for a while. They bought the option four times. I worked on it quite a bit. I worked with screen-writer John Sayles on it. There were several versions of a script at Fox but none of them were the right one. There was a challenge of getting story just right as far as what events to include, what to leave out, and what order to tell them. Currently I have the rights back and I’m fielding offers looking for the right home for Kabuki and the director with the right vision.
Gavin: Besides the film, what other projects are you currently working on?
David: I’m following The Shy Creatures with some more children’s books. I have five of them in the works right now. The brand new Kabuki story from Marvel entitled "The Alchemy" was recently completed and is now in Hardcover collection with the art in The Alchemy traveling art show. And the paperback for this was just released from Marvel last month. Next year from Marvel brings my adaptation of Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick (Bladerunner). The story is called Electric Ant. I was recruited by the Dick Estate and I’ve been working directly with PKD’s daughters on the project. I believe the original painting for the cover of the first issue is in this gallery show. 2010 also brings from Marvel my latest Daredevil story called Daredevil: End Of Days. I’m writing with Brian Bendis and the art is by Klaus Jansen and Bill Sienkiewicz.
Gavin: A little industry-wise, what are your thoughts on the state of comics today?
David: I love that so many types of stories and creative approaches are vital today. So many different kinds of creators and readerships for that. I’m thankful for that. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli was my favorite book of the year.
Gavin: Is there anything you feel could be done to make them bigger or better?
David: As far as bigger goes, comics are pretty mainstream right now. The biggest films are comic book related. And I like that films are being adapted from the very personal indi-comics as well, not just super heroes. As far as better, the more personal and heart that is put into a book, the better it is. That means, don’t make a comic just because you are making it as a film pitch. Make something that you have to make because you have to tell this story and it has never been done before. That is where this medium excels. You can do anything you want in this medium. Experiment. Tell that personal story in the way that only you can do it.
Gavin: Who are some writers and artists you recommend people check out in comics today?
David: I recommend Paul Pope, Brian Bendis’ work (make sure you try his indy stuff too- Brian’s crime stories and personal works), Oeming’s work on Powers, Eric Cannette, Ming Doyle, Dash Shaw, Ivan Brunetti, Joe Matt, Craig Thompson, Jim Mahfood, Kent Williams, Barron Storey, Josh Hagler…
Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?
David: For 2009, this SLC Library event and signing at Night Flight books is my last signing event of the year. The new Kabuki: The Alchemy just came out in paperback. In early 2010 there is a big hardcover artbook collection of my paintings and Reflections art books.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
David: Check out this extensive site about my work: DavidMackGuide.com. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. I sent updates there that let you know what I have cooking.