David Mack: From Dexter's Early Cuts to Kabuki's The AlchemyA comics interview article by: Samuel Salama Cohén
Recently, Samuel Cohén got the chance to catch up with talented writer/artist David Mack to talk about his latest Dexter: Early Cuts, his Kabuki series, and much more.
Samuel Cohén: Before we start off, I have to say that it’s a pleasure to have you here on Comics Bulletin for this interview!
You have achieved great success over the years with your painted technique, rarely seen on mainstream comics, and you are known as an innovative storyteller. Could you tell us a bit about the latest technique you’ve been working on that has yet to hit the stands?
David Mack: Well, I think of myself as a storyteller first and I try to develop a visual approach that will best fit that individual story. So, as a storyteller, that gives me a lot of liberty in terms of how to approach each project using the visuals as another tool of the writing. It gives a freedom to really be playful and experimental in how the art concept is considered in terms of making that integral and expressive to the theme of the story.
I’ve recently finished a series of animated Dexter episodes for Showtime. You can see them right now on Sho.com. It was a joy because I was able to collaborate with artist Bill Sienkiewicz, and Dexter writer Tim Schlattmann, and of course Michael C. Hall does the voice of Dexter in the episodes.
This was new ground for me because I was drawing individual frames of the story that would then be put to motion, with audio effects, music, and the actor’s voice. It was a great collaborative effort as well, because I needed to do something that would be true to the Dexter character in the television series, but also something that would take advantage of the playful possibilities of the hand drawn art, and the surrealism of the medium. Bill Sienkiewicz and I also worked carefully together to make sure our depiction of the characters and storytelling styles meshed.
Working from Tim’s script was fantastic because he concentrated so much information with economy of dialogue. The script was tight, but textured with meaning that suggested details and quirks of the character, congruent with the TV show without overstating them. It was a joy to be a part of it.
Another project that I’ve completed recently is a Tarot Card set. There was an exhibit of the original art of it this year in Paris and Brussels. And I’ve been showing imagery and the art process of the making of it in my series Dream Logic coming out from Marvel. It was a fun challenge to incorporate the meaning and history of the symbology of each card using a variety of media and approach.
Cohén: In light of the great success of your Kabuki series, you are working on the live action Kabuki movie with Fox, as Visual Designer, Creative Consultant and Co-Producer. How has that collaboration process gone thus far?
Mack: In the course of Twentieth Century Fox optioning Kabuki (a few times in a row), they also hired me for writing, consulting and visual design, and as a co-producer. So I was able to work with some talented people on the project -- including Academy Award winning writer/director John Sayles. And if a particularly high profile actress expressed interest, Fox would ask me to send an autographed Kabuki hardcover collection to them.
Ultimately, there was some change-over in the executives that I was working with (some people moved on from Fox and others came in, and I’m sure it’s changed again since then), and I didn’t really feel like we ended up on the same page as we were when we initially began. So when the last option expired at Fox, we didn’t renew it again.
Since then, I’ve received inquiries from other studios and producers, and I’m currently considering the right home for the Kabuki film so we make the right film and not the wrong one.
I think what is necessary is having a close relationship with the right director that has a passion and vision of the film that is true to the spirit of the book.
Cohén: It’s refreshing to hear your dedication to keeping the film true to the source material. Have you ever considered doing Kabuki as a serialized TV series?
Mack: Before Kabuki was at Fox, it was planned to be at HBO as a serialized TV series. When the HBO producer left HBO and went to Fox, she asked if I would sell it to Fox instead. So that is how it went, but I’m still open to doing Kabuki as a serialized television show as well. That would very much fit the format of the chapter form in which the Kabuki issues came out. We had it planned for each TV episode to be outlined in content to correlate to each issue of Kabuki which already has its beginning middle, end, and cliffhanger for the next chapter which as a serialized comic was designed to be episodic in nature.
I think there are films and TV shows adapted from comics that prove that being true to the spirit of the source material is a recipe for success, while still taking advantage of what the new medium has to offer.
Still, I think the key is for a visionary director to have a passion for the material.
Cohén: You and Brian Michael Bendis share a long friendship that dates back to your days at Caliber and since then the both of you have collaborated many times, most notably on Daredevil and New Avengers. I can’t believe there’s not a project in the works involving you two. Any news on that front?
Mack: Brian Michael Bendis is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We began working together on things in 1993. And not many people know this, but originally I had only planned to write Kabuki and not do the art for it, and Brian was going to draw it back then.
There is news on more collaborations from us. There is a Daredevil project that Brian and I are working on together. And there is another project that we are working on that I can’t mention quite yet.
Cohén: I’m looking forward to those!
Continuing on the Man Without Fear’s history, how do you feel about there being a Daredevil replacement after the events of the “Shadowland” mini?
Mack: I honestly haven’t read any of it yet. Been overwhelmed with creative deadlines lately.
Cohén: As you were developing your creative style, who where your greatest visual influences?
Mack: Well, Frank Miller was the guy that really made me want to make comics. His early Daredevil really got me to thinking about all that went into telling the story as a writer and an artist. From Miller, I learned about Will Eisner. Then I was introduced to Sienkiewicz. And Alan Moore. And the autobiographical author/artists like R. Crumb, Ivan Brunetti, Harvey Pekar. I also like the painters Kent Williams and J. Muth. And I appreciate the creators who bring things from outside of comics and add new sensibilities to the grammar of comics. Jim Steranko became a kind of mentor to me when I was starting out with Kabuki. He is a huge hero of mine. My mother was a first grade teacher, and I would see her drawing and making things in order to build lesson plans for her students. My mother was my earliest introduction to art and making art as a tool of communication.
Cohén: After having worked with big guns like BMB, Joe Quesada, and David Ross, is there a writer or artist in the medium that you would love to work with? Why is that so?
Mack: I am so grateful to have worked with some of the huge talents like Bendis, Quesada, Sienkiewicz, and be able to continue to work with them on things. When writing Electric Ant for Marvel, I worked with Paul Pope who did covers. These are all guys that I had great creative experiences with and would love to work with again.
I love writing for artists and collaborating with them in terms of storytelling.
As for writers, it would be fun to work with Neil Gaiman or my pal Chuck Palahniuk.
Cohén: What other projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
Mack: I have more Kabuki stories outlined, such as stories on the other Noh operatives, but after recently completing KABUKI: The Alchemy at Marvel, I want to do some other creator owned projects next. I’ll be doing one with Bendis, and I have written some new children’s books.
An oversize hardcover Artbook of my work has just been released from Marvel. “The Alchemy” is in hardcover and paperback, and KABUKI: Volume 1 has just been released in a hardcover collection from Marvel. As has my adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant. And I have a series at Marvel coming out now called Dream Logic.
Cohén: Before closing out, is there anything you would like to tell to our readers?
Mack: If you are not that familiar with my work, I’d recommend reading my most recent Kabuki collection called “The Alchemy”. I think it my most evolved work as a writer and an artist, and the most diverse art approaches throughout the story. You can also find my children’s book The Shy Creatures and my new series from Marvel called Dream Logic.
You can find detailed information about all of these on my Facebook or Twitter (davidmackkabuki) or the fan site of my work: Davidmackguide.com which is updated daily.