David Mack enjoys an enormous amount of popularity (with dare I say a cult following?) in the comics industry. He is best known for Kabuki, his long running series of stories about a female operative, Kabuki, who works for the Noh, an organization that polices business, politics and organized crime in Japan. There's a lot of intrigue, kicking butt and double dealing in her world and in the current series, Kabuki: The Alchemy, our heroine has left the Noh behind to try and find a new life, and the truth about her herself and her old life, while hiding out in America.
Along with the Kabuki books, David has also worked on Daredevil and did all the cover illustrations for the amazing series, Alias. (Do not confuse this with the tv show! It's about Jessica Jones, formerly a superhero who had a horrific run-in with one of the bad guys and left the cape world behind to become a private detective. It's not about super powers at all and it was so deeply and thoughtfully written by Brian Michael Bendis that I was blown away by each and every issue. So of course it got canceled. (Of course!) Seek out the trade collections on this one; you won't be disappointed.) For a full list of all the many many titles David has worked out, check out his amazing site, David Mack Guide.
In Issue #3 of Kabuki: The Alchemy, David included the entire text of a children's book, The Shy Creatures, that Kabuki recalls from her childhood. That book was released this Fall and is a charming story about a little girl who is dreadfully shy but hopes one day to help all the mythological and legendary creatures of the world when they get in trouble and need a friend. I reviewed it last month and just loved it. It's both sweet and funny and with all the creatures involved will appeal equally to boys and girls. I'm concerned though that even though David is well known in the comics world, that librarians and booksellers might not know him and thus might pass The Shy Creatures by. I very much wanted to include him in the WBBT so I could help spread the word about his latest endeavor and also find out just how he went about working his picture book into Kabuki. Here's what he had to say on all that, plus Alice in Wonderland, drawing in comics versus picture books and how he came to include the Pushmi-pullyu and Cyclops in the same story:
Thank you so much for participating in the Winter Blog Blast Tour. I have been a reader of the Kabuki series for years, and am also a fan of your work on Daredevil and the late lamented Alias (still one of my all time favorite characters and she doesn't get nearly enough coverage in New Avengers!). I'm very much looking forward to learning more about how you came to write your new picture book after so much work in the comics field.
I wondered if you could explain what came first, The Shy Creatures or the inclusion of a picture book in the Kabuki storyline.
The inclusion of picture books in the Kabuki storyline came first. The Kabuki volumes have always had children's literature as a theme that runs through them. The first volume is a retelling of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Each of the characters in the story matches to a character in Carroll's world and each corresponds to a piece on the chess board.
I had created another picture book that became a book within the story as well called My Invisible Friend. The Shy Creatures continued with these themes. The book within a book motif gives me a way to show a whimsical kid's perspective of how to read the surface
themes of the story.
Did you know that you were going to integrate a book into the much larger Kabuki story or did it evolve as you were already writing the picture book that you wanted to include it in Kabuki?
I planned for the current Kabuki story to include children's books inside it; inside the context of the story. I wrote The Shy Creatures as a part of the script. I wrote it when I wrote the current KABUKI: The Alchemy storyline. I just wrote it as a piece of the 3rd chapter of the larger story. But once I wrote it, I realized that it could stand on its own as well as a real life artifact of the story.
I thought it was interesting that you included all of The Shy Creatures in issue #3. Were you worried that your adult readership might not enjoy that - or did its relevance to Kabuki's new path dovetail perfectly with the story you wanted to write?
I never worried that the adult readership would not enjoy it. Adults read kids' books too and appreciate them if they are done well. The trick was to tell it well. And to make it work on its own, and in the context of the larger story.
It is about imagination, and it is about helping outsiders in a way that is complimentary to their uniqueness. And most of all, it is about connecting all of those unique characters together, so they have their own sense of belonging and culture. All three of those things were what the surface story of that issue of Kabuki was really about, and I thought The Shy Creatures could clue readers into that in a charming and whimsical way; to continue the childlike sense of wonder in what is happening in the adult world of the story; the discovery, and imagination, and excitement about this network of interesting characters that is not easily catagorizable and exists outside the cookie cutter template.
As I read The Shy Creatures I couldn't help but notice a whimsical style that seems to echo the work of Dr. Seuss. Was he an influence?
I wanted to use a very simple and spontaneous style for The Shy Creatures. I needed the book within a book to contrast in tone to the story outside of the book which was often painted with watercolors and used collage. So I drew The Shy Creatures in a very whimsical quick style using a brush and ink. And I wanted it to kind of continue where my memory of kids books left off, which was in the Seussian age.
How hard was it to change your style so very much from that you are known for? I'll be honest - I never expected to see The Shy Creatures as it turned out. I was expecting more of a collage-type work. Did you purposely try to distance yourself from what you have done in the past?
I tend to do each book that I write and draw in a different visual style and story tone. I enjoy cultivating a new art style for each project. So I tend to invent a new look for each volume of Kabuki and I tend to use different mediums and a different rhythm for each.
I start with the story first. And then I ask myself what will be the best visual look to most powerfully communicate that particular story. So it is all story oriented. The art becomes another tool of the writing, in that I have a varied arsenal to choose from. And I enjoy inventing a new look for each comic book project that I work on.
I was also surprised by some of the mythical creatures you chose. Bigfoot, the Unicorn, the Loch Ness Monster - all of them are mythical creatures that most children would expect to have some knowledge of. But Cyclops and the Chupacabra? And including both aliens and the Pushmi-pullyu? This is not a group that the average writer would bring together.
How did you decide what creatures to include and where did you learn about them? How did you decide to present them (the Dragon seems to harken back to Asian studies of the animal depicting great power and strength while the Loch Ness monster is extremely harmless by appearing in a bathtub) the way that you did?
I'm glad to hear that it surprised you! And that it seemed beyond average! That is great to hear. Hopefully that means it worked. I enjoyed pulling from a very international selection. The creatures all come from a variety of cultures and a variety of myths, some ancient, and others more modern, and others from literature old and new.
I was very interested in all of these creatures as a child. I used to read books from the library about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, aliens, and later the Chupacabra. I enjoyed bringing these more modern legends to the book to mix with the Greek and Chinese myths.
Finally, what are you thoughts on writing a picture book for children versus a comic book for adults? Is one easier or more relaxing to do than the other? Was there anything you learned about writing and illustrating a picture book that surprised you after so many years in comics?
Writing and drawing a children's picture book is actually very relaxing and enjoyable. Doing a comic book is far more labor intensive. Comic books take much more time to do. I love the more concentrated and spontaneous approach of the kids book. There are far less words and images in the kids picture book, so you have to make your words very concentrated and distilled. It is much more about what you leave out.
In comic books, the reader is filling in what is happening between each panel. And you have lots of panels. So in a kid's picture book, there are no panels, so you have to find a way to still leave much to the reader's imagination in other ways. Much of that is by the distillation of words, and simplicity of drawings.
I love both mediums and I will continue to do both!
[Post pics are covers from David's work or interior images from Issue #3 of Kabuki: The Alchemy - you can see how he integrated the picture book into the comic. Pretty cool, don't you think?!]