Keeping up with David Mack

(My favorite bits of the David Mack AsiaPOP Comicon and Batman Day interviews I did for GIST.PH. I'm combining them here as one story.)

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The best way I could describe my first impression of David Mack’s Kabuki was: Dreamy in a way that poetry is mixed with art mixed with cinema, it wasn’t my idea of how comic books should look and read like. Yet unlike dreams, there was an actual story to bite into. I was blown away, to say the least. That was over a decade ago, when, in an attempt to explore the world of graphic novels, I asked the most trusted bookworm in our class to lend me a copy of Neil Gaiman’s works. The next day he handed me a paper bag which contains all volumes of Kabuki: “Read this. It’s better than Sandman,” he said.

“This was pre-Internet, maybe 1992. I was very young, a college student, and so I just found addresses of publishers in comic stores and sent things in the mail to them. And then I called up the publisher in Caliber and said, ‘Hey I sent a package in a mail’ — a very naive approach to things — ‘did you get it?’” narrates Mack. Caliber hadn’t received it, but they gave him a chance and eventually published David’s first book.

Later on in 1993, Caliber Press invited him to join a convention in New York to sign and sell his books. “There were all these other creators, who were people I heard about or read, and it was amazing being able to be right next to them at the table and meeting them,” he continues. “I was selling books, doing drawings for people and then making enough money in New York to buy enough food. It was a really exciting time.” In the same year he was at a convention in Chicago, signing beside Brian Bendis. To cut the long story short, they hit it off — Bendis drew for Kabuki and, more recently, the two co-wrote Marvel’s Daredevil.

Over the weekend, Manila had the same fresh experience as David’s as the city saw its first AsiaPOP Comic Convention. Going around the World Trade Center when visitors just started to trickle in, I came across names of people I heard of and read, and, needless to say, seeing David Mack’s name at a signing table made me jump in surprise. He gamely signed copies of his books, artworks, and talked to fans and the press alike. Quite a storyteller, he was generous in answering all of our questions.

Mack has been at it for 20 years, yet he speaks of the craft as if he’s a child in the wake of discovery. It doesn’t matter if it took us this long to finally meet him (it’s amusing when he talks about getting snail mail from readers back in the ‘90s). Him in the flesh telling his own stories was worth the wait.

Now that I'm done with all my Comicon assignments, I can finally act like a proper fangirl. So a highlight of my weekend (and probably my entire life) was meeting David Mack. He dropped by our booth! Okay it was more of we invited him and he obliged because he's cool like that. The convention brought me back to my more idealistic days, being surrounded by people who live in rich worlds other than this one we're all in. I remember I didn't like being called a nerd or a geek in school (I was presumed to be one just because I was wearing glasses, kept to myself, and did well in class), not because I thought they were uncool but because I wasn't worthy of the tag. I mean, I wish I truly were an expert at something but am not. Anyway. So yeah. Good great ok fine times. I think the occasion merits it: I love job. Thanks to my editor for allowing me to do this with so much freedom. I would also like to thank my bangs for behaving for this photo. NEXT. YEAR. ULIT.
A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on


You suggested before that you wrote Kabuki to cope with the death of your mother. Is it still how you approach writing—as a form of therapy?

David Mack: When I first started doing Kabuki, I was about 20. I was a big fan of autobiographical comics at the time but I didn’t feel like I was evolved enough or self-conscious enough to do a straight autobiographical comic. So I felt like if I could put a veil between me and the character — set it in a different part of the world and make the character a different gender — then I could tell personal truths through these metaphors. I wasn’t even thinking through it in that detail, that I was really working out something.

But in retrospect I could see that it was kind of my laboratory for figuring out a lot of things that were going on in my life during those times. And I would imagine to some degree it’s still that way. That my work in general, my writing or my art, is kind of a laboratory for processing everything that you experience consciously, but also unconsciously. So there’s probably stuff that I’m doing in work now that maybe five or ten years after I’ll look back and see what I was really doing.

What is it about Kabuki that keeps people interested after all these years? People still crave for it, are still discovering it, even you still find it fun to write.

David: I feel like the characters’ been very multi-faceted, so it offers a lot of points of entry for other readers to connect with and then find the other facets of it as they go, even if they start at the most recent book. I try to keep it reader-friendly. Just the fact that the characters have been able to evolve with me makes it interesting for readers who’ve been there from the beginning to stick with it many years later, and also for brand new readers to jump on it any time.

What makes a good hero and a good villain?

David: Most villains don’t think they are villains. They’re doing things for certain reasons that motivate them — or most characters think they’re motivated by one thing but are unconsciously motivated by something else. What often happens is they have a traumatic experience in their formative years as a child and the rest of their adult life they’ll try to reenact it but this time in a way that they’re in control. And it’s the same way in real life, too.

I don’t begin by thinking of one person as good or bad. I usually think, ‘This happened to them and so how would they react to (a certain situation)?’ It’s interesting but often it’s because of the characters’ parents, what standards they set. (It affects) how they react as a villain or a hero. But all of them are just trying to make sense of the world the best they can.

If there’s only one lesson you could teach to aspiring writers, what would it be?

David: Number one, start it. Number two, finish it. And number three, show it to people over and over.

Some people talk about this book they’re going to do all the time. Talking about it can really be helpful if you’re actually writing it at the same time. But if you’re only talking about it and never start it, it’s just still this thing you think you could’ve done. Then some people start a project and they don’t want to finish it, they just keep doing it. And there are people who actually finish a project but then they don’t show it to anybody and nothing happens; so you have to show it to as many different levels and places and opportunities as you can. Then move on to the next thing. You have to keep that momentum going.

What’s the best thing about writing?

David: The best thing about it is I feel like with everything I experience in life, this is kind of my laboratory or playground to make sense of it… And when you confront a blank page every day, it makes you comfortable with this idea that no one tells you how to do something, or you have to figure stuff out every day, and every day is a new challenge. Every time I do a book or a story, you would think that because you’ve done it before, you would know how to do the next one, but it’s never like that. It’s like starting over every time and you kind of realize that’s what it is. I think that’s a good exercise for how you have to deal with the rest of life and humanity.

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