We’re hosting an art exhibit tonight at Floating World with David Mack, to celebrate the release of his latest book, Kabuki : The Alchemy. In the following interview we discuss themes from his Kabuki series and his plans to adapt Philip K Dick to comics.
WHO: David Mack
WHAT: Art exhibit, slide show discussion, Q&A with the artist
WHEN: Thursday, April 2nd, 6-10pm
WHERE: Floating World Comics, 20 NW 5th Ave #101
JASON LEIVIAN: Kabuki: The Alchemy talks about a new beginning. Everything that came before (Volumes 1-6) was childhood. Maybe one way of putting it, when I was younger there was a developmental stage where I immersed myself in books and ideas that I was interested in. But then at some point there was a breakthrough and things got crazy. It’s like it all became real and my life became some science fiction novel. When I was younger I read things in books, but now my life is these things. What was metaphor, now seems like platonic truth, even realer than this reality, which seems like maya by comparison. Let’s talk about the spiritual journey of David Mack as it’s expressed through your art. In Kabuki you see the work as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Can you discuss that a bit?
DAVID MACK: I think I understand what you are describing. What you focus on has a tendency to change you, affect you. When you are passionate about something and active in working on it, it can seem like you hit a point when your real life seems to operate on dream-logic: You think it and then it materializes.
Creating on a regular basis is a great practice for that. It clues you in, trains you, to realize how malleable the material world is – that you can have an immediate effect on it based on your thoughts and actions. When you write or draw everyday, you start with a blank, and then you make something- an idea suddenly exists in the three dimensional material world. Just by writing it down, drawing it, you take this thing that only existed in your head, and then suddenly it exists in three dimensional physical reality. Practicing that everyday, starts to reveal to you that things work that way. You experience that transition everyday and it becomes larger than the page or the work you are doing. It has a ripple effect in people that experience your work and their response to it.
Suddenly you realize you have not just created one story, or one work, or a body of work, but you’ve created your own career, and your own life, as your self-portrait, and your contexts for your life, and your work has become your passport to a variety of worlds. And there is a point when the dream you were dreaming, and then dared to enact in reality, has become completely real and you live it everyday. And other people can even share it with you.
That is a great lesson to learn. Because once you learn it, you can go about living it very consciously. As consciously as you would craft your work on the page, you realize you are crafting it off the page as well.
JL: Love is all there is… Beatles reference or scientific fact?
DM: I listened to the Beatles a lot while writing and drawing The Alchemy. The last chapter of it (Self-Fulfilling Prophesy), I was listening to Sgt. Pepper over and over while I made the story. It was kind of the sound track in my head for that ninth chapter in the book.
Ultimately love is a big factor in this story. To follow the channel of love, presented in your life. One of the ideas presented by a character in the story is that when you love something, it is perhaps because you are wired to follow that path.
Think back to the thing you had a passion for as a child, at the age of 9 or ten. At this age you are sophisticated enough to know what you enjoy doing and have a passion for, but it is before the age of 12 or 13 when you start to feel the expectations of the adult world which can distort your internally motivated passions. Look back to that time, what you loved at that age. You may have a proclivity for enjoying that because you are hardwired to perform that role in your life. You find what you love, lead with your heart, and then figure out with your head, how to make that happen, and how to make it useful.
Heart and mind in unison. But you have that love feeling as a guide. Your mind will answer any question that you ask it. It is like a super computor that will process any solution for your problem solving. But your heart gives you the clue of what direction to go in.
JL: I also would like to discuss world news and politics, if you don’t mind. What was it like making art during 8 years of Bush? As an artist did you feel a need to express your political beliefs? What do you feel like expressing now and tomorrow?
DM: I imagine that I can’t help but work out things that I see in the world and try to make sense of them in my stories. That is my playground for exploring everything I experience on a personal level and social level, and trying to make a sense of it. Internally and globally.
But I don’t so much have an interest in preaching a certain point of view- so much as taking characters that have very specific views and ideas, and having them confront each other with them. This lets me work out some of those ideas, and I feel it asks questions of the reader for them to consider things from new points of view and angles and they can ask and answer those questions in their own minds and hearts.
Many of the characters and organizations in my story have very specific and strong points of view. And each of them has a direction and agenda based on that POV as their life philosophy.
There is a character in my stories (and The Alchemy specifically) who is a theoretical physicist, going by the name M.C. Square. That character lets me discuss ideas from a scientific point of view.
There is a character that represents a religious and spiritual point of view. Another character, Akemi, often presents her agenda as that of the artist and writer as activist in the story. Art and literature as transformation. Art and literature as action and revolution… both on the personal and internal level and on a global scale.
And in the course of the stories, you may identify with one organization as the protagonist in a way, at one point in the story, and then question that role later. In the earlier Kabuki stories, Kabuki worked for a government and commercial news/media organization called the Noh. At that point, you may consider her role in the story, and perhaps even the role of the organization as that of the protagonist. And then at a later point she questions her role in that system and leaves.
And then, the real point of the story… if you come to a point that you decide that you don’t like what your culture is selling you, or what is being sold as your culture, as the status quo… it is not enough to just say you are against it… Akemi’s point is that it is up to you, your responsibility, to offer something better, and be proactive in creating it.
JL: This leads into another aspect of the story I’d like to discuss, the Noh representing various aspects of modern culture and power. At the end of Chapter 6 you say “the Noh is on the wrong side of history.” What aspects of our society or thinking are represented by ‘the Noh’ and why must they be left behind? What do they provide, the illusion of security? And what is our alternative?
DM: Well you are asking a lot of questions here that The Alchemy asks, and that specific characters in the story have their own answers for and point of views on. I’m reluctant to identify myself and my own views completely with any one specific point of view of the various characters that present their own arguments in the story, because, I want the reader to consider these points of view and ideas and chew on them and digest them for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
Akemi is the character that you are quoting about the Noh being on the wrong side of history. Her point is that a government or institution often begins as a revolution unified against a common challenge. But once that revolution becomes the institution, set up for its own system rather than for the people it was founded for, or who founded it, then the revolution needs to continue or the institution needs to evolve.
The revolution needs to be the action not the subject. Once a revolution becomes a system that just worships itself, it is there only to keep the status quo of its own system in power. Then history shows that a society on that path will crumble in on itself, unless corrections are made from the inside out. Akemi, based on her actions, publications, communications and transformations, makes a call for action in the story that begins on a very personal level, and radiates to a global scale.
JL: Philip K. Dick’s stories also dealt with revolutions on a personal scale. Let’s talk about your PKD adaptations. I would love to hear more about that.
DM: The producer of the Scanner Darkly film, Tommy Pallotta put it in motion. Tommy also produced the film Waking Life (also directed by Richard Linklater) and he had contacted me about five years ago to work on a project with Hampton Fancher, the screenwriter for Blade Runner, and Jonathan Lethem the novelist who happens to be a Philip K. Dick scholar.
It began because Tommy picked up the Kabuki: Metamorphosis graphic novel in a bookstore in New York and then tracked me down for that project in 2003. Then a couple of years ago, when Tommy had finished the Scanner Darkly film, the latest Kabuki film option had expired at Fox and Tommy was interested in making a Kabuki film as his next film, so we began discussing that. Mostly on long bike rides on the beach at Santa Monica and Malibu.
At that time I had just finished reading a biography of Philip K. Dick while working on The Alchemy (this may even fit into that self-fulfilling prophesy idea you mentioned earlier), and Tommy and I began to discuss PKD quite a bit. Tommy showed my work to Philip K. Dick’s daughters who run Electric Shepherd productions and he suggested the idea of adapting PKD stories into graphic novels for the first time. They liked the idea, and Tommy and I, along with advice from Jonathan Lethem went about combing the prolific works of PKD in search for the right story to start with.
We decided on Electric Ant for specific reasons and I worked out my approach to the story. Tommy and I met with Philip K. Dick’s daughters Laura and Isa in Santa Monica for a long lunch during which I explained ideas for the approach of the adaptation. They liked the approach and we were all on the same page creatively. Laura and Isa revealed that some publishers had heard that we were developing this and they already had offers from publishers.
I suggested to Isa and Laura that Marvel would be a very interesting publisher for this project. Marvel had great success with adapting author Stephen King to comics, and I offered that it could be an epic event if Marvel were to do the first comic book adaptation of the master of Science Fiction as well. The idea being that we could start with Electric Ant, and if well received, continue adapting more PKD stories. Perhaps choosing a different artist for each different story. I asked Isa and Laura if they would mind if I met with Marvel to offer the project to Marvel. Isa and Laura were intrigued by the idea and gave me their blessing. So after the New York Comic Con in February 2007, I met with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley at the Marvel offices to discuss this endeavor. He liked the idea, Marvel, and the Philip K. Dick Estate were introduced to each other, and thus began many, many months of working out the business relationship between the two houses of ideas.
I’ve been pals with Paul Pope since way back, so I knew he was a PKD fan, and I thought he would be perfect to do the covers. So I asked him if he was interested and he was into it. And Brian Michael Bendis and I are big admirers of Blade Runner, so I asked him if he was interested in being a part of the project and he was into it.
The story has quintessential themes of humanity, and we chose this story to begin with because it has what we considered the classic quintessential Dickian themes. The story asks the enduring existential questions: Who am I? Who created me? What was I created for? What is the meaning of my life? Do I have free will? Am I limited by my programming? Can I evolve into something beyond my original programming? What is reality? Is the way I perceive reality different than a fixed reality? Can I alter my perceptions to transcend my ego and programming limitations and see a pure reality? Does my internal reality affect the external reality? Which is more real?
Electric Ant, was a short story that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the novel that Blade Runner was inspired from) kind of built on later. Philip K. Dick had a habit of working out some ideas in short story form, and then later further exploring those ideas in a longer form novel.
The adaptation is very true to the original story, but there was more room to develop things that are only hinted at in the short story. In this case, that was one of the advantages of adapting a short story instead of a novel. In adapting a novel to film or graphic novel, you may have to edit it down. It can be a reductive process. With this story, I was able to let it develop organically into the new format in ways that expand on ideas and scenes that are only hinted at in the short story.
We decided early on that it was going to be very true to the source material. We did not want to change it into a different story with only minor similarities. Everything that is in the short story is adapted into this version, but things that are suggested in the original story are given more room to flesh out. Some ideas and details that are mentioned only once at the beginning of the short story, now have room to return with a twist. And there is a sort of love story that developed. It is not an action story, though there is action in it. It became a kind of mystery, and a love story, with the mystery being these existential questions that I mentioned. And the protagonist begins searching for answers.
A man wakes up in the hospital from a traffic accident only to have the doctor tell him they cannot treat him because he is a robot. He then has a lot of questions. Who made him? Who owns him? What is his program? Can he alter it? Has he been walking around seeing things differently than they really are? I wrote the script into the story that I would write if I were turning the short story into a film.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant is a five issue miniseries scheduled for Fall 2009.