In 1903 an annual event in Paris began, the basis of which was a reaction to the status quo of neo-classical European art. The Salon D’ Automne became a showcase of innovation and a fountain of inspiration, and then, in 1905, came the beasts.
Bubbling up as a whiplash against the Impressionists, the Fauvists left a wake of saturated color and untethered brush strokes. “Les Fauves” is French for “wild beasts,” and this loose group of painters, led by Henri Matisse, were indeed that exotic. Snowflakes to Africans, peacocks to Inuit, the incongruity of their style in context to Representationalism and traditional modes of perception was so vast and new that it is hard to imagine. The kinetic brushstrokes and dissonant colors put it outside of nature, opening the doors to further abstraction that would lead to Cubism and eventually Abstract Expressionism.
Much like any movement of art, the wonderful world of comics is based in tradition, and, stylistically, it moves in slow, seismic shifts. As illustrated above, there does come a time when everything must make a giant evolutionary leap; Jack Kirby needed to be the Neanderthal from 2001 that threw the bone that shattered what people thought comics could be. Neal Adams, George Perez, Jim Lee; All of these artists made a giant leap that created a foothold from which the next generation of artists could grow. However, these steps, as profound as they are, all fall in the same lineage of panel-to-panel line work. Expressionism had leaked slightly into the milieu; Bill Sienkiewicz and Kent Williams both played with idea of color, form, and process in mainstream superhero comics, and, later, Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith molded the malleable clay of comics to their vision… but there is only one wild beast.
David Mack is truly unique in the industry, changing very fundamentally the way stories are told and illustrated in the medium. Color, typography, composition, technique — for him, none of these are hallowed ground. And, by disregarding the conventions that have preceded him, Mack has been able to elevate the format, creating comic books that reflect him rather than the other way around.
The first chance we had to peek into Mack’s head was with the publication of his first book, Kabuki: Circle of Blood. The story of the Japanese assassin, Ukiko, takes place as much in the exterior world as it does in her interior world. Mack utilizes a seemingly disparate array of techniques to convey Ukiko’s piecing together of her fractured psyche. That inner sanctum, that safe place amid the wreckage of life and circumstance — that’s Mack’s playground. Colors and textures slowly explode, then coalesce into forms like clouds on a Spring day; Shapes come in and out focus, slowly guiding us through a not always tangible narrative. Another tool heavily used is collage, as a visual metaphor that reinforces the character’s battle of flesh and mind, experience, and imagination, that secret language that we use to rationalize, remind, and remember. Using everything at his disposal, he is able to piece the story together for us at the most gingerly of speeds, letting us savor the narrative as we would a fine meal. Reminiscent of legendary outside artist Henry Darger, Mack is able to create these vibrant worlds that are safe harbors for his feminine side. Much like Darger’s Vivian girls, Mack’s assassins’ struggle against oppression and external control. These yarns they spin and the tales they illustrate seem to be an external manifestation of an internal struggle between the male and the female, the assassin and the civilian, the ideal and the real… this tension leads to a brilliant juxtaposition of styles and colors that few can duplicate.
Some of Mack’s most recent bodies of work tackle two pop culture figures that allow him to continue investigating characters whose internal world must control their external world. Marvel Comic’s Daredevil has been a huge breeding ground for Mack’s innovation. The adventures of the blind Matt Murdock and his super senses have been groundbreaking under David Mack’s guidance; he, along with writer Brian Michael Bendis, has created some of the most bravura issues to date.
More recently, Mack has added to the mythology of Dexter Morgan, America’s serial killing sweetheart. Creating a series of motion comics with Bill Sienkiewicz that illustrate the “early cuts” of Dexter’s darker half, Mack is once again illustrating the inner turmoil of someone whose actions are not always indicative of his thoughts.
There is much Mack magick on the horizon: This summer will bring a new Daredevil story arc, more Dexter “Early Cuts’ available at Showtime On Demand, and the just completed illustrations for a Neil Gaiman poem. It is hoped that this wild beast will roam the pages of comic books for years to come and continue to dazzle us with his unprecedented brilliance.