David Mack

ComicsVerse got the opportunity to talk to writer and artist David Mack at NYCC 2017 about his original series KABUKI, his vast catalog of artwork, and more!

ComicsVerse: Hello. Hello. Hello. You’re watching ComicsVerse covering NYCC 2017. My name is Kay and I’m standing beside a very talented artist. If you don’t know him by name, you know him by style for sure. You’ve seen David Mack’s covers on JESSICA JONES, AMERICAN GODS, just to name a couple, FIGHT CLUB. He also has created his own work, KABUKI, which is a series that you can catch at any time and it’s fantastic. We are talking to the very talented David Mack. Because you’ve done commissioned work and worked for other big names, as well as your own work like KABUKI,  would you consider yourself a writer or an illustrator first or maybe just a storyteller or maybe you haven’t even considered that distinction? Kind of how would you see yourself?

David Mack: No, I like all of that. Yeah. I like doing comics, so I think of myself as a storyteller primarily. When I’m doing a book, I think of myself as I guess a writer first, When I started doing KABUKI, I kind of tricked myself into the doing the art for it eventually after having planned for other people to do the art for it. I like to do a lot of a variety of stuff. In comics, for me the storytelling is the primary part. Right now I’m trying my hand at doing covers to a lot of different things. I’m also writing a sequel to the DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS story called PUNISHER: END OF DAYS right now, but I like doing a variety of other things too. Working on some music videos right now. Did a music video for Amanda Palmer last year.

Wrapping up another one for her right now. Another music video on the schedule right after that. I like doing main titles for him and TV. Worked on the JESSICA JONES Netflix main titles. The main titles for the CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER film with Sarofsky Design. I worked with Imaginary Forces for JESSICA JONES. Got nominated for an Emmy, so we went to the Emmy’s last year for that.

ComicsVerse: What can’t you do?

David Mack: I love writing, painting, drawing. I like telling things in sequence stories and working with musicians. A few other musicians I’m working with that I probably have to let them announce it or the project. A wide variety of stuff. Been traveling so much with the state department lately as well.

ComicsVerse: Oh wow. Kind of going off of that, it seems like your finger on a lot of different pies, which is amazing because you would want to be creatively stimulated in all those ways. Do you feel like you approach those different avenues or expressions of creativity differently or do you think that you approach each of those medium pretty much the same or again maybe you didn’t make the distinction?

David Mack: Yeah. I just start with the project. I just try to think of like what’s the best way to communicate that particular project. If I’m writing the project, I try to ask myself even if I know what the story is, how is it most powerfully told? Is it best told in first person or third person? What chronology is it best told in? If I’m doing art for that, I’ll ask myself the same kinds of questions that I ask myself when I was writing the story, what’s the best visual way to communicate this part of the story? What’s the right medium, the right style to cultivate for it, the right colors, the right visual flow? That might change from scene to scene or page to page or chapter to chapter.

Thinking of myself as a writer primarily, it gives me a lot of liberty to cultivate a different art approach every time I’m doing a story. I just look at it that way. The very first KABUKI volume is kind of a crime story set in Japan. It kind of starts a black and white crime noir art approach. Then at a certain point it contrast into some mix media. For me it’s all about contrast. You do one thing one way to tell things and then at the right ebb and flow of the story, you want to underscore change, and a change in the character arc or the story and it gives you a great opportunity to contrast that by using a different style.

ComicsVerse: I think it’s interesting because I think you are able to … You’re cognizant of how you approach storytelling, but while doing that you’re still very experimental with your artwork and that’s probably why it reaches so many different people. Kind of leading into the next question, I saw on your Twitter that you were in Singapore recently and saw lots of really passionate young people who really wanted to get into art. I think that something you mentioned in the video was saying how you can’t be precious. You kind of have to learn how to kill your own babies. That’s something that many artists say. You were saying that sometimes it’s going to be work going into it. Do you think that you early on when you were an illustrator you ever had that problem?

If you don’t have that problem now, how do you now kind of work through that initial work part?

David Mack: I was in Singapore for most of September. I did a signing at their main convention there, but then I was … I travel for the state department, so then I was working with the state department going to a lot of different schools. We were at La Salle College, NAFA, ITE, the school for very special arts. So many of these different schools that we went to and each one it’s like this very young student starting. I felt like the most important thing to communicate to them was you just have to dive in and do it. You can’t wait for the perfect time to communicate to them you just have to dive in and do it. You can’t wait for the perfect time.

A lot of people think that inspiration happens first or you know what you’re going to do first and then you do the work after. When in fact I think it’s the opposite that you have to dive into the work and then it reveals itself to you what it needs to be and the process of it. For me like if you’re going to start doing a comic book, just do it. Just jump in. Start by doing like four pages. Some people have this idea that, “Oh, I’m going to do this amazing book. It’s this world building 12 volume epic,” and they’re never going to do that book because it’s so vast. It’s going to be so daunting for them and they’re so precious about it. I tell people, “Do a four page story of that character to start with.

You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Four pages teaches you how to be economic with your information that you parse out per page. You have to make some hard choices of what information to leave out, which is what you have to deal with panel to panel, page to page anytime you’re writing or drawing. There’s a lot of information. You have to carve out and sculp out what the primary information is that can exist comfortably on that page. There’s only so much information and ratio of text to image that can exist on each page. You learn that by doing like four page stories, six page stories, eight page stories. It’s a great way to learn. It’s kind of how I tricked myself into doing my own art.

I only thought of myself as a writer for comics. For years, I was looking for another artist to draw KABUKI. Early on, Bendis and I, we met in 1993 and we’re together as a team. He was going to be the original artist on KABUKI. He was making a living as an artist at the time. Then I kind of tricked myself in doing like an eight page story, then another eight page story just for research and development to feel out like what the world would be. Just handling like a few pages at a time kind of teaches you. You learn what you want out of it for yourself, which is kind of something I told the students. You kind of have to just work on your own and get like … Just say you have a thousand horrible pages in you.

You have to get busy getting those pages out of your system before your true voice really shows up. Just don’t think everything is going to be perfect. Just jump in and do it.

ComicsVerse: I think so. My final questions are obviously going to be concerned with what we were just talking about. How do I phrase this? Because you’re so experimental and because you’ve developed your art style, and you kind of said just now that you won’t find it until you kind of get through the first thousand pages of garbage that you might produce, how do you stay within a certain style or like your own niche of self-expression while also developing as an artist? Maybe you can make a leap in terms of what you’re aesthetically producing, but do you know how to be able to develop as an artist without kind of losing your artist identity or what people see you as producing? Does that make sense?

David Mack: I wouldn’t be that concerned with how the other people see you. I tend to work on it like project by project. I try to think like what’s the right way for this particular project. If this story is different from the last story, that’s even better. That’s an advantage. I like developing a lot of different tools in my arsenal and having a variety of ways to approach things. I’m fine with doing a story in stick figures, doing a story in very graphic images, doing stuff in black and white, doing stuff in paint and collage. I like trying a lot of different things if it serves that particular story. I mean you can’t always be concerned with how everybody … Everybody who comes to a comic book brings their own baggage and their own lens to it.

Don’t let that frighten you from experimentation. You just have to look at everything as like a bold experiment. It’s all research and development. Honestly if you’re not failing, if you’re not having a disaster every now and then, you’re probably not trying enough stuff. If you’re always doing everything perfect, then you’re probably maybe doing the same thing over and over. You’ll learn from the things that you’re successful at, but you’ll learn from the things that didn’t come out the way that you had planned or weren’t interpreted the way that you had hope they were as well. The fun is learning from that and applying it to the next thing.

ComicsVerse: I think there’s not really much of coherent answer that I can … You said everything very coherently. My last question would be since you were, like I said earlier in the interview, you kind of are trying to teach people not to be precious with their artwork. Do you think that out of all the things that so many things that you produce maybe not just in comics, like in all, in totality, do you think that you have a personal magnum opus or do you think that that concept even is damaging?

David Mack: Well, I’m always thinking like the next project I’m working out, and the next several projects I’m working out. I’m constantly thinking of the next things that are in plan, but if I was to look like in retrospect in terms of what I’ve already made, the very first KABUKI volume I did when I was in college for my senior thesis in literature, that’s what got me the offer to start writing DAREDEVIL for Marvel Comics. Right now Dark Horse has collected of the entirely of my KABUKI books into four giant library volumes. Each one’s 416 pages. With those four giant volumes, it’s over 1,600 pages of story and art that I’ve done. As far as the largest work that I’ve done, that 1,600 plus pages is definitely that majority of my work in comics.

If people probably haven’t read that or aren’t familiar with that, they probably don’t have a really good idea of what my comic book work is, but that’s my biggest work in comics. I guess I’ve done about five different Daredevil stories as well. I’m working on a sequel to DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS right now. We’re writing PUNISHER: END OF DAYS. It is nice to have like a certain amount of Marvel work and Daredevil books as well. It’s a character I’ve been able to return to quite a bit, and it’s been great to return to Jessica Jones as well. It’s kind of nice having this little bodies of work. My own create your own stuff. A children’s book, THE SHY CREATURES, I’m working on some sequels to that.

It’s great to work on Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS right now and be able to do all the covers to those. There’s like 28 covers at least I’ll be doing of that. It’s nice to have like a body of work of one subject that you can kind of like change and show contrast with and show the evolution of characters over time.

ComicsVerse: Okay. Well, I’m very excited for all the new things that you have in store. I think that’s all for today. Thank you for watching ComicsVerse. It’s David Mack. END OF DAYS, check it out. You can see David Mack’s writing and you can see that he has writing chops, as well as artistic chops. Very talented artist. Very talented writer. My name is Kay. You’ve been watching ComicsVerse. We’re at NYCC 2017. Don’t go changing.

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