Through Boundaries — An Interview with David Mack

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David Mack (third from the left) with fellow ICC guests at the opening ceremony.

November 14, 2015 was yet another hot day in Jakarta, but at nine in the morning, Hall B of Jakarta Convention Center was already packed with people there for the first day of Indonesia Comic Con. I was among the masses, there early for the opening ceremony of the event. It was the first time I met David Mack.

Now, if you’re not overly familiar with David Mack, feel free to check out issues #9-11 and #13-15 of Daredevil (1999-2000), or take a look at the covers of the upcoming Netflix show, Jessica Jones’ source material, Alias (2001-2004). Or go Google “Kabuki”—referring to Mack’s (super awesome) creator-owned title, which started with Fear the Reaper in 1994. Mack’s works in Kabuki have won widespread international acclaim since its inception.

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A sample of Mack’s work, from the cover of Alias #18 (2003).

Getting to meet the man in person was a total dream. I never would have thought I’d seen him before he was due to participate in the event’s string of activities, but before the opening, I got a chance to chat a little bit with him and tell him about the things I love most about and in his works. I suppose it’s a never-ending feeling of thrill, getting to meet your idols, and not even a carefully assembled layer of faux professionalism could mask that bubbling, churning excitement spiraling out of control in my chest, like a horde of butterflies threatening to tear through my ribcage and be let free.

Instead, those butterflies went to my stomach and stayed there throughout the two-day event. I had been waiting, severely anxious, for Indonesia Comic Con, and when it did come, I intended to seize the days as best as I can. And I did. Armed with the ecstatic state of mind supplied by my circle of fairly nuts, impossibly creative friends, I went to David Mack’s table numerous times to chat and buy some of his stuff, including a copy of his Dreams trade paperback and a print of Echo and Daredevil.

Let me tell you something about David Mack. Most others would have gone, “Oh, you again,” due to the sheer number of times I’d dropped by his table, but he remained engaged in the stuttery, fangirly conversations I pulled him into the whole time. The things he told me in those conversations really stood out as extremely insightful—as a writer and a fan, I really felt like I was having an epiphany by listening to his stories.

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Post-interview picture!

When the time came to conduct the group interview, I was comfortable enough to actually manage to form my questions and not blabber my way through like the complete mess of fangirl goo that was me on the inside. Without further ado, here is the full transcription of the interview.


You showed a lot of stuff in Kabuki; they’re not restricted to one specific art style. What are your influences in drawing and writing?

With Kabuki, I’m the writer of it, so I start with the story. In fact, originally, I’d just written the story and I had no intention of drawing it. I was trying to look for an artist that I felt was more talented and skilled than myself to draw it.

I started writing Kabuki in 1993, and originally Brian Michael Bendis was going to be the artist for Kabuki back in 1993. I had some early 1993 Brian Michael Bendis’ Kabuki drawings when he was going to do it. Eventually, we started working on some creator-owned projects together and I still thought of the main Kabuki series, that I had this real artist who was going to do it.

And then I was invited to participate in some anthology books. They said, “Can you do an eight-page story or something? Write it and draw it if you want.” So I thought, I’m going to do an eight-page Kabuki story. It’ll give me an opportunity to kind of flesh out the world and the characters, with the idea that the real artist would still do the real book.

When I just started drawing it myself and figuring out the look and feel, I just really started with the story and try to think what’s the right… There’s a small, tightly spaced eight-page scene and I tried to develop the right look for that, and then I did another eight-page story for another anthology, and another eight-page story, and all of a sudden I had four different eight-page stories. And then I thought—I put them in different anthologies—but I thought if I collect all these together… Eight-pages, that’s 32 pages, that’s a whole comic book.

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The cover of Kabuki: Fear the Reaper (1994).

So the very first Kabuki issue—I just thought, I do this one shot, I do the art of these four eight-pages together, each one is a little different, each one is its own scene, but I felt like if I put them in order, it’ll still feel like a comic book. And I did it, and it was successful enough for me to keep doing it. And I thought, maybe that’s the way to do it. I just felt like I had to learn, as an artist, the right fuel to that story.

But I always thought of myself as a writer primarily, and so I think that gave me a liberty to not feel like I had to use a certain art style or art look, and it gave me a liberty to try to express each individual story with a different look, based on what I thought that story called for.

So it really started that way. Even in the context of one story or one issue, I might change—page to page or scene to scene—the feel of the story because of the change of the character arc or the flow in the story.

And that’s just one of the magical, interesting things about comics. I think that if you’re drawing it, you have so many options. There’s no reason for you to draw the same way every time or use the same media each time if things are changing emotionally with the characters.

Do you have any role model that influenced your drawing and storytelling style?

Well, my mother was a first grade teacher. I grew up seeing her—as a child, I would see her create things to teach her students. She would make visual things for them to learn the numbers, or colors, or seasons, things like that. And so I think I was introduced very early on to the idea of art as a communication; art as a way of learning something, and all the visual things that you’re making are cues to make some kind of intellectual connection.

She also had all kinds of art supplies that she would use. So I would use this little water color, first grade water color—that’s what I still use now. And she would have other things that I would use—paint and scraps of paper and scissors. So she was really my primary artistic influence from a young age.

And then when I was very young—when I was about nine years old, I stumbled upon a Daredevil issue at a friend’s house, which was by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. And that was my first introduction to Daredevil and Marvel comics. And so Frank Miller and Klaus Janson became an artistic influence on me, because a few years later I found some more of their books. I could see, when I was reading that, there was an intelligence behind the storytelling. And that the shadows, the angles, the close-ups, the weather, all these things are being used to underscore the storytelling of the book, and I became very fascinated with it. I found an interview with Frank Miller and Klaus Janson discussing their approach to storytelling, and they also cited Will Eisner as an influence on them.

This is before there was Internet for people. So, I found the publisher for a Will Eisner book called Comics and Sequential Art and I bought it through the mail from the publisher of that book. I tried to learn from Will Eisner’s book as well. Any comic that I would find—Bill Sienkiewicz was an early influence with comics; Kent Williams, another artist—any comic that I would find, I would try to learn from it. But I would also try to learn from everything else; films and TV and everything else I could in terms of storytelling.

What was it like when you worked with Marvel?

Well, I’d done Kabuki for a while, and then I’d shown the first volume—I did the first volume of Kabuki for my senior thesis in literature in college, so I wrote the whole story and then I ended up drawing the whole story and turning it in for my senior thesis in literature. But I would also try to turn it in for any other class I could, like book-making, or graphic design, or something else too. That first volume was published when I was in college.

And then I would go to conventions and show that volume to readers who came to my table, but I would also show it to other artists that I met. And I met an artist named Joe Quesada and I gave him my Kabuki book. He called me the next week and said, “Oh, I really like this story, and I like you as a writer, and I’d like to work with you.” He had some ideas of me writing the story that he did artwork for, and he had a few other ideas that just didn’t pan out.

A couple years later, I got a call from Joe Quesada and he said that he was going to be taking over four different Marvel titles in what would later become Marvel Knights. He asked me if I wanted to write and draw a Marvel character for that. But I said, I’d just begun a brand new Kabuki series at Image Comics and it was all I could do to write and draw that, but he said I could just do the story and he would do the art for it. And that became Daredevil.

So I took over writing Daredevil after Kevin Smith, and it was a blast, you know, and I said, “Is there anything you want me to do?” and he said, “Write any story you want, but I only ask one thing, and that’s for you to create a brand new character for Daredevil,” which became the Echo character in the story.

What do you think, as a creator, of cosplay as a pop culture?

I’ve always really enjoyed it. A lot of times, people come to my table at conventions dressed as Kabuki characters and that’s always really fascinating for me to see that. Echo is another really popular cosplay character that I see people dress as.

Here at Indonesia Comic Con, some came to my table dressed as Jessica Jones, and as Matt Murdock, and Daredevil. It’s always really exciting to see that. And to see how they come to different solutions of how they make the costumes… I always encourage and I always enjoy it.

Do you have any tips for amateur creators who want to get into the US comics industry?

The only way that I know how to do it, is if you want to make a comic, you just make a comic. Just make whatever comic you want to do. If you want to write it and draw it, you write it and draw it. If you’re either a writer or an artist, you team up with other writer or artist, and you guys make a comic book together. You either publish it on the web, or you go to a copy center and make your own copies, and then you go to conventions and you sell it at your table and you give it to other companies.

Because in the US, like Marvel or DC, they’re only going to hire you based on your previous comic book work. They’re not going to take your submission for a story or artwork in the mail. They’re only going to hire you based on that they could see that you can complete a book, that you can finish something and that you can make a whole book.

Marvel hired me based on my finished Kabuki. They wouldn’t have hired me based on something I sent in the mail. So you really just have to make your own book and show them that you can make your own comic. Whether it’s teaming up with other writer or artist or doing it yourself, or making a web comic, that works, but I think it’s important to yourself to do it that way, too. Because when you make your own comics, when you’re not working for a company, you learn what it is that you want out of that process. And you learn, step-by-step, what’s important for you to make it.

I also believe that you probably have a thousand horrible pages that you’ve got to get out of your system before you can find your own voice. You have to really get busy making all the bad pages first and all those horrible comics to get those out of the way, so that you can then come to your own voice and have the book that you’re comfortable of showing and maybe getting to work from.

What do you do when you hit an art block?

I never had that problem. The only problem is to… I have so many projects, and which project to do first and how to do the time management, so I suggest having that problem. Always have a whole bunch of ideas that you’ve always outlined. And so the real problem is how to get as much of this stuff done before you die. Think of it like that. Think of it like you’re here for a limited time and you’ve got to get a certain amount of work done.

When I’m working on one project, I know how to do it, but often I have all kinds of ideas for the next project and it always seems like a more exciting project as the next one. Every time I have those ideas, I just write them down in little notes, and I put them in a little folder. Even if I go, “This folder for this project, I’m not going to get a chance to do it for five years from now,” still, I put every idea I have in that folder.

When it comes the time to do it, I pull it out, and I look at all these little pieces of paper on little scraps that I don’t even remember making. But I go, “Oh, yeah, this is—whoever wrote this—is a good idea,” you know? This is really good! It’s kind of like previous me has given a real gift to current me, and then I have all these cool ideas.

Even if you have all these great ideas for a future thing, always write them down. And then you have all these folders of ideas and there’s never any block because you always are excited to do this next project.

The main problem I have with a current project is that usually I think of like, what’s the right solution? I can usually think of a few different solutions for how to do this scene or this page, and what’s the right one. Sometimes I end up doing a few different versions of it before I find the right style or the right medium for it, or the right pace for it.

What was the creative process behind your children’s book and your art albums?

For my children’s book, The Shy Creatures, I originally did it inside a Kabuki issue. I wanted the character to recall reading as a child this retro, simple story that would underscore how to read the surface story. I like the idea of a double narrative within a story. So I did it that way in the comic itself.

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But then it was shown to a children’s book publisher, Macmillan, and they wanted to make an actual comic of it. It was kind of nice because it was an artifact of the Kabuki world that now exists as a real story.

What could we expect from you in the future? Is there going to be a new Kabuki story that’s going to hit the store?

What I’m working on right now is Dark Horse Comics’ Kabuki library editions. And they’re going to do a total of four of them that’ll collect the entirety of the current existing Kabuki material. The first time is out already, it’s 400 pages, and volume 2 I think comes out this week, it’s 416 pages. So it’ll be a total of four, all of them over four hundred pages that collect everything. I’m working on volume 3 right now, which collects the Alchemy story of Kabuki and a few other stories together. I’m really enjoying collecting it all in this wonderful context, adding lot of extra goodies to it. So I have that big Kabuki library at Dark Horse. They’re doing my art books as well, like Dream Logic and Reflections. Also Dark Horse, I’m working on Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club 2. I’m doing all the covers for that, and I’m doing the cover for the library edition of that right now.

Jessica Jones comes out next week. I worked on the opening credits sequence art for that TV show.

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One thought on “Through Boundaries — An Interview with David Mack

  1. Pingback: AKA Really Frickin’ Awesome — A Perspective on Marvel’s Jessica Jones | Subheroism.

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