David Mack on his indie origins & working on comics icons
by rick olivares
The late 1980s were an exciting time for comics books. Marvel Comics was in the midst of an incredible run where its creators were turning out character defining stories for the X-Men (Chris Claremont & John Byrne), Fantastic Four (John Byrne), Thor (Walt Simonson), and Daredevil (Frank Miller). DC Comics was in its post-Crisis On Infinite Earths phase and came out with two game changing books in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
The independent scene emerged from the underground movement of the 1970s and gained a lot of mileage with Mirage Studios’ “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Pacific Comics’ “The Rocketeer,” First and Capital Comics’ “Nexus,” Fantagraphics’ “Love and Rockets,” and Aardvark-Vanaheim’s “Cerebus.”
One company that put out a lot of groundbreaking work was Caliber Comics. The Michigan-based company made some noise with the publication of Michael Allred’s quirky and entertaining “Madman” and James O’Barr’s tragic magnum opus, “The Crow.” Not soon after, they put out David Mack's “Kabuki,” a story about a Japanese assassin and her struggle to find her identity and place in the world.
"I was a very young college student back then and for someone so young, it was a really exciting time,” shared Mack who is in Manila for the AsiaPop Comicon, the first major comics convention in the Philippines. "Before Kabuki, I did some smaller projects for Caliber. This was the pre-internet days. It was 1992 and there were no cellphones, no internet. I found the publisher’s address in phone books and sent things through the mail to them. I had this very naive look at things such that I called up Caliber and asked, ‘Hey, I sent some things through the mail. Did you get it? And they were like, ‘No, we never got it.’ So I described it to them and they said, ’That’s interesting.’ So I sent it again and it did very well for them."
"In January 1993, I had my first published work for them. Then I said I had this other project called “Kabuki” and they were interested in that. I made these little ashcan comics for Kabuki and they began publishing that as well. It was very exciting because it was creator-driven. James O’Barr was doing “The Crow” and it was a very small independent publisher but they gave you complete freedom to do whatever you wanted to do. I was barely 20 years old and looked like I was 14 so I was a young kid getting to do what I wanted.”
While “Kabuki” was a critical hit, it didn’t dent the mainstream. That is not until Mack himself took a stab at a childhood favorite.
"When I was doing Kabuki, I was doing fairly well with it, enough to make a living, but I felt like the rest of comics fans were aware of it but it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Suddenly, when I was writing ‘Daredevil’ it opened up a whole new demographic of people who discovered ‘Kabuki’ overnight. Maybe they only paid attention to mainstream titles so when they were reading ‘Daredevil,’ they went ‘oh, this is the guy who does ‘Kabuki.’ I’ll read it.” I have to admit that I appreciate it on that level."
“I read ‘Daredevil’ as a child and when I began writing the title, it was like continuing where the child-version of me left off and those were the Frank Miller stories. While writing 'End of Days,’ it was a thrill for me to work with Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz who are some my comics heroes as they were part of Frank Miller’s creative teams on those classic ‘Daredevil’ stories.”
“So, yes, you could say that I am grateful to work on a character like Kabuki that I created that has been around since the early 90s and to work on a character like DD and add to its rich legacy. And it is certainly great to travel to this part of the world (the Philippines) and to see people who know and love my work. I am blessed."