Saturday, September 20, 2014

Happy Birthday David Mazzucchelli!

David Mazzucchelli (born September 21, 1960) has been one of the most exciting artists of the last 30 years. Though he hasn't been one of the most prolific artists, he has created some of the most amazing work the comic book medium has ever seen.

David Mazzucchelli started out his illustrious career at Marvel. The editor of Daredevil was looking for someone to become the permanent artist as no one had taken on the book since Frank Miller had ended his legendary run on it.
David Mazzucchelli said in an interview in Comics Journal #194, "When I was originally offered Daredevil I was very reluctant to take that book on. I had done maybe two or three jobs professionally before that but they were looking for a new artist for Daredevil. They liked what they saw of my initial work, and they said, “We want to give you an issue to try out, and if you do a good job, we’ll keep you on – you’ll be the new artist.” This was a few years after Frank Miller had left the book and I knew that Frank’s influence was so strong that no matter who you put on Daredevil that person was going to be compared to Frank Miller. And as a young comic book artist coming into Marvel, I didn’t know if I wanted that comparison. Ultimately, I took it."

He got to work with the legendary Denny O'Neil, famous for his work with Neal Adams in the 70's on titles like Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman. Mazzucchelli very quickly showed his skills penciling and inking such classic tales as Daredevil #215's "Prophecy", DD #220's "Fog", DD #221 "Behold My Vengeance!" and DD #225's "...and then you die" featuring the Vulture.
He then got the chance to actually work with Frank Miller as he was taking over writing duties from Denny O'Neil with Daredevil #226. What they produced turned out to be one of the most highly acclaimed storylines in comics history, Daredevil: Born Again which ran through Daredevil #227 to #233.
In Daredevil; Born Again Winston fisk, the Kingpin of Crime,  discovers Daredevil's secret identity an uses it to destroy Matt Murdock starting with his finances and ending with his very life. Here he savors hearing about Daredevil loosing his cool along with his mind.
David Mazzucchelli said about his work with Frank Miller, "Frank had the idea for the stories, and he would call me up and we’d talk about it. And we’d hash it out and I’d have ideas of my own: “Well, what if this happens? And how about if we show it this way?” or whatever. And then he’d write a full script and then we’d have another long discussion about the script and then I’d draw from that. In fact everything that happens in the first three issues or so Frank initially wanted to put in the first issue. But because of discussions we had, we ended up expanding that, so that it was much slower, more densely packed."
They then moved on to conquer Batman with a four part mini series that totally redefines the whole Batman mythos in Batman; Year One. It was so successful that it was a major influence on the phenomenally successful 2005 movie Batman Begins.

Not only does it redefine the whole Batman mythos it redefines superhero comics for a new generation.
Mazzucchelli says about Batman; Year One, "Frank wrote the Dark Knight in a fortissimo, operatic mode. But he recognized that my strengths as an artist were more attuned to the mundane. So with Year One we sought to craft a credible Batman grounded in a world we recognize."

These two Miller/Mazzucchelli colaberations are still so popular that in a 2013 reader poll, Comic Book Resource rated Daredevil; Born Again #3 in top comic book storylines and Batman; Year One #6 on the list.

As successful as these works were Mazzucchelli was unhappy working in mainstream comics and moved on.

 “My education in comics almost goes sort of backwards and laterally. I grew up with a certain thing, and that’s what I came to comics with, which would have been the comics of the 60’s, and then sort of crept back into, Well, what were people doing right before then? Who was the influence on this person, who was the influence on that person? and back that way. So by the time I was doing Batman I was very interested in Chester Gould and HergĂ©, and Alex Toth. And the Angel story [in Marvel Fanfare #40] definitely had more of a Kurtzman… I mean, it looks nothing like Kurtzman, but I was thinking about a certain simplicity of shape, a certain kind of expressiveness.”
You can see in this page from Marvel Fanfare #40, Oct 1988, how Mazzucchelli is pushing his style away from the heavily detailed superhero style of comics and more in the direction of such masters as Alex Toth an Harvey Kurtzman's simple yet expressive styles. 

We will see Mazzucchelli expand on this style in his next project, Rubber Blanket, a yearly self published magazine for his work and that of his friends that came out for 3 years.

He has said, "When I stopped drawing mainstream comics, I really had the feeling that I’ve got to unlearn everything that I had learned Because I felt that I had developed not so great habits approaching drawing or layout or something, it was all based on a certain commercial product or a certain way of meeting a deadline.
As the years have gone by I’ve looked back and realized I don’t have to unlearn all of that there were actually some very good things that I got from working in that way. Part of it was learning how to tell a story very clearly, to make sure that the point of the story got across in the words and pictures at least at it’s most basic level. That’s something that I think I’ve carried with me in all of my other work."

Rubber Blanket #1 (1991), Rubber Blanket #2 (1992), and Rubber Blanket #3 (1993) plus a picture of  "Big Man" from Rubber Blanket #3.
In Dead Dog from Rubber Blanket #1 you can see Mazzucchelli throws out all the polish he put into his superhero work and opts for a stripped down, almost primitive style in order to reinvent himself.
In addition to reinventing his art Mazzucchelli even drops the linear plot usual to mainstream comics and takes on a surrealist approach to Dead Dog where a widow waxes on the nature of time and death. Notice the crude lettering that has a childlike freedom and innocence to it.
In Big Man from Rubber Blanket #3, his longest piece from Rubber Blanket, Mazzucchelli said, "Big Man was a conscious attempt at making a page turner using everything I know about a certain kind of linear, melodramatic storytelling style to get the reader to want to know what’s going to happen next.  It is about the most cinematic thing I’ve done, and if anything, I would say that in terms of visual storytelling, that’s the most conservative of all the stories."

In around 1993 Art Spiegelman approached Mazzucchelli about doing an adaption of the surreal City of Glass by Paul Auster.

Paul Auster's City of Glass, 1994, comic adaption by David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik

Mazzucchelli said in the comics Journal interview, "City of Glass was a very interesting project for a lot of reasons. I distinctly recall about halfway through working on it, maybe even earlier, just looking at what was in front of me and thinking about how we were trying to make sense of this stuff and wondering, why the hell did Bob (Callahan)and Art (Spiegelman) think that this would make a good comic book? Because there was nothing visual about the book itself. And after a little more thought, realizing, well, that’s why they thought it would make a good comic book. This is a test. This is a challenge. To take something complex and rich and “adult” and show that you can handle material like that in this form. That was one of the reasons I wanted to work on it as well."

Mazzucchelli said,"Auster’s book is so much about language, and the structure of language, and identity, the shifting nature and layering of identity, that the visual metaphors that Paul was coming up with were necessary and apropos. That was really the challenge, to find a visual way of expressing these things without having to keep all the text. You can’t just add drawings to the novel and say, “Look, it’s an adaptation.” Adaptation to me connotes some kind of shortening or condensing."
After City of Glass came out, Mazzucchelli would sometimes contribute to various anthologies like Zero Zero and Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies but for the most part he disappeared from the comics scene until 2009 when Asterios Polyp came out.

Asterios Polyp
Asterios Polyp grew out of a story idea that would have filled the entire fourth issue of Rubber Blanket. It's hard to explain Asterios Polyp to someone who hasn't read it. It's not a strait forward narrative like most stories that you can sum up in a few sentences because what makes it good is as much the way it is made as what it's about. In it Mazzucchelli uses all the tricks of the comic book medium that he picked up over the years and throws it all together in Polyp. Mazzucchelli uses more than just the words to communicate to the reader, and way more than just pictures, he uses every aspect of the comic, from symbolism to the style of art to the coloring of things to communicate information about the characters and who they are externally and internally. 

By utilizing all these tools available to him Mazzucchelli spins this intriguing tale of a professor of architecture hitting his mid life crisis and leaving everything behind in order to reevaluate his whole life and reinvent himself. It's a fascinating story of youthful arrogance, radical philosophies, and looking for redemption through the kindness of others.

Dualism plays a huge roll in the subtext of the book. It is this radical philosophy that Asterios must confront in his journey.
Asterios Polyp was a huge critical success that was highly praised and won such awards as the first Los Angeles Times Book Prize Graphic Novel award and received four 2010 Eisner Award nominations and won for best new graphic album, best writer/artist and best lettering. It also won three 2010 Harvey Awards.

In short, Asterios Polyp is essential reading for any lover of comics. It's a new and innovative way to combine pictures and words to tell stories. It's a masterpiece of substance and form. Daredevil; Born Again and Batman; Year One are equally important reads for those who love the superhero genre. In short, even with his relatively small body of work David Mazzucchelli's is one of the most important comic creators that has ever lived and is up their with the true masters of the form like Will Eisner, and Art Spiegelman.

Mazzucchelli interview on Youtube

The Comics Journal #194, March 1997


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