Having bought this novel from David Mack himself at the London Comic Con, I only recently began to read it. This would prove to have been a mistake, as I should have opened it the day I purchased it. Regular HOFS followers will know of my love for David Mack’s art, and how it began so long ago in the phenomenal Daredevil run. His work with the heroine Echo and her journey into herself was a unique but refreshing direction for the book. I have always found his work incredibly ethereal and dreamlike but Kabuki really cements his style in the gritty everyday reality of despair and resurgence. It tells the story of Kabuki and the importance of her relationship with Akemi, in resurrecting herself from death. The plot exposition is rooted in an alternate near future Japan, where Kabuki was once an assassin for a clandestine governmental body called the Noh. Though these details are relatively unnecessary, because the background and origin story is not the important part of the book. Kabuki relives and continuously reflects on past experiences, especially her mother, in order to make sense of the world around her and how to fit into it. The Alchemy refers to taking past experiences, the garbage, and turn into a positive change in attitude and personality. Turn the depressing lead into life affirming gold: Alchemy.
This book reads better as an art portfolio than a comic, as it is far from your typical weekly pull. The plot and story moves quite slowly because the true essence of the book lies in its themes of introspection and meditation. These themes can be laborious and confusing but David Mack keeps it incredibly fresh and visually aesthetic. For those that are familiar with his watercolours, then expect dazzling portraits and immense beauty. For those that are familiar with his montage double page spreads, then expect ingenuity and originality in multiple forms the artistic medium. And for those familiar with his children’s book, The Shy Creatures, expect wonderful excerpts from it. There are no panel edges in this book, in fact there are no borders, as the page is the table and the story is laid upon it as photos, artwork, pencils, letters and post it notes. Each issue has its own thematic, whether it be male/female symbols, technical blueprints, die templates, or even a television interview. The variety is immense but it culminates in a beautiful composition of Kabuki and her life. David Mack has so many utilities at his disposal; he is almost too talented at too many things. To successfully convey a character’s thought processes in a multitude of methodologies is a truly wonderful gift for us as the explorers. There will be at least a single resounding emotional conveyance, that will strike a chord for anyone that picks up this book. From start to finish it is an adventure into the mind of Kabuki and the art world itself.
Every person has experienced difficult times in their personal life, and if we are lucky, then we find ways to push through them. We hope to learn from our mistakes for the betterment of our future. Mack focuses upon the scars adorned on our person and the masks we wear everyday to hide them. Kabuki has them on her face and body, hiding herself until she is ready to express them to the world. The book is incredibly intimate as we witness her deep anxieties and nightmares, and above all else, develop empathy for her. There is an autobiographical element to this book, as David Mack speaks to us through his central character. His power and gift as an artist allow Kabuki to feel and express our pain better than we can ourselves. The barrier between fiction and reality is completely dissipated as we are Kabuki and she is us. This very fact is demonstrated as our main character physically leaves the page in part eight of the book. David prints over one hundred letters at the end of the story, from fans across all walks of life and locations. They all found solace in Kabuki and found her inspirational to their lives. Mack’s creative process is so far reaching that the letters, especially the envelopes and stamps, were used as part of the later issues of the actual book. This successfully blurs the distinction between artist and viewer, proving that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. As final plaudit to David Mack, despite all the attention and accolades received for this art, as he handed over The Alchemy to me, he asked me to let him know what I thought of it. This personal touch is the reason why David Mack is able to tap into the most fragile aspects of ourselves and speak to us through his art and through Kabuki. I implore you to read this book, savour it and become part of Mack’s collaboration with reality, as I have just done so surreptitiously.