As a kid, reading comics in the 90’s was mostly about appreciating pretty pictures drawn by the likes of guys like Jim Lee. As an adult, reading comics became about an engaging story written by the likes of guys like Brian Michael Bendis. Today’s audience, juvenile or adult, has the advantage of creators who are more than just an artist or a writer, they’re bonified storytellers. Someone who creates a complete experience with script and art. I was fortunate enough to talk with one such individual on the Comic-Con floor, the Emmy award nominated David Mack about the new Kabuki Library Edition published through Dark Horse Comics.
Set in an alternate near-future Japan, a young woman codenamed “Kabuki”, acts as an agent and television law-enforcement personality for a clandestine government body known as “The Noh”. Kabuki is more than just the story of an assassin in Japan, it’s a universal tale about finding out who you are in the world and as we found out has lessons still being uncovered today.
COMICS BEAT: Hi David Mack! First off let me say I can only refer to you as David Mack, even if you ask me to call you David. It’s what I imagine people in the DC office feel like when they meet Jim Lee and he says just call me Jim. No matter what in the back of your mind there’s a little part that says “dude I’m talking to Jim Lee”, that’s how I see you, David Mack.
David Mack: [laughs] Okay let’s go with that then.
CB: You’ve had an interesting year: traveling, superstar artist on the Fight Club 2 covers and Dark Horse is putting out the 3rd volume of Kabuki’s library edition. I got to see a little bit of this volume and it’s just incredible. What’s it like for you to see your story printed in this format after 20 years?
DM: This is something I started in 94′ so it was interesting for me to revisit it when I packaged it for this new format. Looking at it just feels like this is the way I would have liked to have seen it back then but you know technology and production means just weren’t available at the time. So this is by far my favorite format to see this story in. Just the scale of it, the size, the production value; it all adds up to this beautiful package. Also going back and collecting it in these formats, Dark horse gave me the liberty to add a lot of new material. So I put a lot into it, from the design pages in the opening to new paintings and drawings. I wanted to contextualize the right way to introduce new readers to this book.
CB: In a way, I feel lucky as a reader getting to experience this story like this for a first read through. I didn’t start reading Kabuki until Dark Horse started doing these Library Editions. It’s very mind-boggling to think something like this could have even been contained in an 8 1/2×11 comic. What was specific to these editions that you had to cut from the original comics?
DM: There are things like that, especially in this 3rd volume. I had drawn and written scenes for the single format that just didn’t work at the time, which I was able to put back in here and it works while keeping the story intact for people who’ve read the originals.
CB: Kabuki is such an intense, surreal, yet a personable story about an assassin who struggles with her identity in near-future Japan. So many writer’s best work has some sort of personal connection to them. What, if anything, was your personal connection to Kabuki? Were you an assassin in Japan returned from the future?
DM: [laughs] No. Well, the first volume collected from Dark Horse, that’s basically my college work. I turned it in as a senior thesis in literature. I wanted to do a comic story and I was a fan of autobiographical comics, but at the time I didn’t feel fully formed enough as a human to do that. When I thought about this story and thought about making the main character a male, if I had gone that route I might have accidentally made an idealized version of myself. It dawned on me if I make a lot of things different I can have this veil for myself that lets me tell very personal stories and I won’t be self-conscious about it. If I make this character a different gender, in a different part of the world, I can use archetypes from Japanese language and mythology to tell my personal stories. The idea was people would read it and see something universal in it and if they focused on that it would keep me from tightening up as I wrote this story.
Looking back on it now, as I was putting the material together for the collection, I can see that I was dealing with a lot of stuff when I was creating this story and I probably wasn’t fully aware of it at the time. These books were a laboratory for me to take the things I was passionate about along with the things I was working out and try to make sense of it all. Luckily the finished product was a character which a lot of readers found themselves identifying with.
CB: Was there an ugly truth about yourself you revealed when you worked on this story?
DM: Me? The majority of Kabuki I had done after my mother passed away. When I looked back at Kabuki’s childhood I could see parallels from my own family dynamic. It wasn’t a conscious parallel which is sort of the magic of writing a story. You can have those two sides dance with each other while you’re working and not even realize it.
CB: Before we let you go, I really wanted to ask about Fight Club 2. You were an integral part of Chuck Palahniuk bringing this story to comics. So first, thank you. Second, what’s the story between you Chuck Palahniuk, and Brian Michael Bendis?
DM: Well Chuck and I have been corresponding since 2006. I wrote him a letter and he wrote back saying hey anytime you’re in Portland stop by and we’ll have lunch or dinner. I have a place in Portland but often back then I would stay at Bendis’ place in Portland when I was there. I’d say “hey Brian I’m gonna go have lunch with Chuck Palahniuk, I’ll be back.” Then I would come back, Brian would be working on Daredevil, Avengers, or whatever he was working on at the time. He’d ask what I was writing and I would be writing, almost at a playwright level, the exact conversation I just had with Chuck because it was so inspiring and I had this fantasy of doing an illustrated version of all our conversations. Brian would joke that he was my Tyler Durden [laughs] cause he would never see Chuck but he’d see me go away then come back and write these stories about what Chuck had told me.
CB: Did Brian meet Chuck and how long after the fact did it take for it to happen?
DM: [laughs] Yeah but it was probably only 2 or 3 years ago that Chuck came to Brian’s house and I was meeting with Chuck since ’06.
CB: So there was quite some time wher Brian thought you might have been crazy. What about the experience of being part of Fight Club 2?
DM: It was great working with the entire team: Chuck, Cameron Stewart, Dave Stewart, Nate Piekos, and Scott Allie. Everyone at Dark Horse has been incredible with the Kabuki stuff and with the Fight Club stuff.
CB: What’s the future hold for David Mack?
DM: Mentioning Brian, we’re launching the new Jessica Jones series at Marvel. To top that off, if you’ve seen the Netflix series we just got an Emmy nod for the show’s opening credit sequence.
CB: I saw that, so well deserved!
DM: It was totally surreal, my name’s on the Emmy website right now along with the other five people who worked on it. Such an amazing thing to happen as we’re returning to the character in comics. I’m working on those covers right now.
CB: You just got back in the states right?
DM: Last couple of weeks I’ve been in the former Soviet areas working for the state department and US Embassy, teaching. We were actually in the country of Georgia. In Tbilisi, which is the country’s capital, we had an art opening there and I would teach at different schools and colleges there. We’d go to border areas where there’re refugee camps and we’d teach storytelling classes to the kids as a way to express themselves, specifically comics. They don’t have a big tradition of comics there, but there’re so many interesting people there with their own unique stories and I felt like comics would give them a voice to tell it. We taught children and young adults of every race, gender, and needs from the ones living in challenged areas to ones in college trying to make their first comics.
CB: We really need those voices in comics and I couldn’t think of a better teacher for them than David Mack. Lastly, with Kabuki, there will be another volume, but are you going to do new stories?
DM: There’re 1600 pages plus of this existing material to be in four library edition volumes, but eventually I would like to do more. Before that though I’m going to focus on some other creator-owned things. Brian Michael Bendis and I are working on a project, then Bendis, Bill Sienkiewicz, and I are doing a project together so there’s going to be some stuff I really want to get done before I go back to Kabuki.
CB: Thanks so much David Mack, and may you be the first comic book creator to win the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. While David Mack goes for the EGOT, you can check out his phenomenal cover work in the Fight Club 2 collected edition and if you’re looking for one of the most beautiful stories ever told pick up Kabuki in Library Editions published by Dark Horse Comics.