*Kabuki: Skin Deep — Recommended

The question of “what is comics” is often debated in certain circles (especially those academically inclined). There’s no one definition that satisfies everyone, although most have in common something about combining text and images to tell a story. When asked to think about comics, most visualize panels on a page, rows of boxes containing pictures and word balloons.

Kabuki: Skin Deep cover
Kabuki: Skin Deep
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Kabuki knocks that definition on its ear. In Skin Deep, artist David Mack demonstrates a different kind of comics, beautifully artistic blends of image and text aimed at exploring the inner life of his title character. When panels do appear — often the page itself is treated as a whole — they’re laid out as synergistic elements, sometimes overlapping or spinning across the page or with their boundaries ignored. Mack combines painting, drawing, calligraphy, layering, and mixed media techniques to create comics that look like nothing else out there. They’re lovely art books, often appealing to those who don’t otherwise read comics because of their unique look.

The book opens with more traditional “comic book” images. Japanese girls with outlandish costumes and guns blazing lead the reader into a black-and-white flashback of Kabuki’s past that also establishes the setting. The line art wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero-style story, and the mood is ever-building suspense, culminating in an explosion. The rest of the book is the opposite in so many ways.

Kabuki is the code name of a former government agent who went rogue. Now, she’s in a kind of institution, under observation and interrogation. She’s someone different now, denouncing her former costume and seeking a new identity. She’s not sure what’s true any more, and neither is the reader.

In a section reminiscent of V for Vendetta, she begins receiving encouraging notes from a friend who claims to be a fellow prisoner, but does this friend actually exist? Should she believe the woman who says she wants to help her regain her mental health? They claim they need to investigate and protect her, but Kabuki wants her mask back, since she’s only herself when playing a different role. Does it matter that they’re manipulating her if it’s claimed to be for her own good? What purpose does she have if she can be replaced?

As suits a psychologically driven tale, the images are multi-layered, with notes handwritten in around the edges. Closer exploration reveals more. Pastel colors are often used, pinks, sea blues, and lavender. The beauty of the pages contrasts with the horror of the story they tell, about a woman used as a tool and now lost to herself. It’s a story with more questions than answers, with pages that, like a Rorschach test, ask the observer to participate in determining what is real.

The same story is elaborated and expanded upon in Metamorphosis, a collection of the first nine series issues. Other books include Circle of Blood, Dreams, and Masks of the Noh.

David Mack’s website has a lot more art samples. The David Mack Guide provides more information on the artist’s work.

8 Responses to “*Kabuki: Skin Deep — Recommended”

  1. Jason Says:

    Kabuki is one of my favorite comics being published right now. Mack is, without a doubt, a rare talent.

  2. Terry Says:

    What’s even cooler is that each successive volume of the series has a different look to it.

    The Alchemy story from Marvel right now is amazing and about the nature of ideas and creativity itself.

    While the first volume Circle of Blood is a fantastic crime or espionage story with some of the best adventure and intrigue ever, and a killer ending, that rocks and surprises and anything goes.

    Each of the volumes is self contained, and still progresses the story in a very unique way.

  3. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 31, 2007: Shorter Journalista 11 Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson takes a look at David Mack’s Kabuki: Skin Deep. […]

  4. Thomas Says:

    All of David Mack’s work is incredible, From his Kabuki books, to his Alias covers, to his Daredevil runs. He is a true talent and I encourage everyone to check out as much of his work as possible!

  5. Astrid from Germany Says:

    Have you heard David Mack has a children’s book: THE SHY CREATURES!

    Full color kids book!
    It comes out this September!
    Based from the children’s book stories in KABUKI-The Alchemy.
    There are details on davidmackguide.com fansite.

  6. Astrid from Germany Says:

    Oh yeah, The Shy Creatures is about a girl being a veterinarian to mythological and cryptozoolical creatures :)

    And I love all of Mack’s work. I started reading the French tranlations when I was in uni at Paris. And then read all of the German translations.
    And now found all of the american version hardcover collections!

    Mack is my favorite author with Alan Moore and Neil Gaimen.

  7. The Alchemy of Art: David Mack DVD » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Mack (Kabuki) has become known for his unique multimedia art style of making comics. For those who’d like […]

  8. Kabuki: The Alchemy » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Mack brings his long-running series full-circle in Kabuki: The Alchemy with a mind-bending […]




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