The Hidden S in Phone Booth

The Hidden S visits Mazzucchelli at MOCCA... The first time I met David Mazzucchelli was at the NY Comic-Con in 2007. He was signing some of his work in a very informal way at one of the booths and I had him sign my TPB of Batman: Year One. I remember being impressed by how meticulous he was about signing his signature and making sure he did not smudge his very stylized autograph (he wrote it M A Z Z U C C H E L L I ). I was fortunate enough to have a moment or two to talk with him and I mentioned that Batman Year One was my favorite Batman story and possibly my favorite comic. I confessed that I liked it much better than the better known The Dark Knight Returns. He smiled and leaned in towards me in a conspiratorial way and whispered: "I hear that a lot." David Mazzucchelli had an important hand in two of the most influential comic works of the last 30 years: Batman Year One and the Daredevil Born Again arc (both with Frank Miller). In these works, Mazzucchelli's elegant and even moving artwork managed to convey realism without being overly concerned about the need to be realistic. This one-two puch in the mid 80s seemed to signal a major new talent for superhero comics. This was only half right because after Batman: Year One Mazzucchelli devoted himself almost exclusively to more personal, non-superhero works; mainly concentrating on work in his own anthology Rubber Blanket and an adaptation of Paul Auster's novel City of Glass. (Mazzucchelli has also worked as an instructor with the Rhode Island School of Design and the School of the Visual arts in NY since then). Most recently, Pantheon books has publishedAsterios Polyp, a graphic novel by Mazzucchelli which is an idiosyncratic tale about a middle aged architect and womanizer whose life is upended when his apartment burns down and he moves into the American heartland. The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) in Manhattan has just mounted a kind of mid-career retrospective of Mazzucchelli's work entitled: Sounds and Pauses: The Comics of David Mazzucchelli. This work is a collection of the highlights of Mazzucchelli's work so far and it includes his mainstream comic stuff as well as his later, more idiosyncratic work from his self-produced works like the aforementioned Rubber Blanket. Mazzucchelli recently was interviewed by this show's curator Dan Nadel and The Hidden S' alter Ego Mark Rhodes was lucky enough to attend this event on a hot New York night last week. The event was very well-attended and the staff at MoCCA was very great to this Omnicomic correspondent (especially Ellen Abramowitz who is the President of MoCCA and Karl Erickson who is the Director). Prof. Mazzucchelli was just as affable as I had remembered and equally meticulous with his penmanship during a book signing after his conversation with Mr. Nadel. Here are some excerpts from the interview... On his realistic portrayal of Batman in the Year One series "The editors at DC were like 'This is Batman's origin right?" so they photocopied the first couple of years of Detective Comics and Batman (the Comic) and the character looked like a man in a costume; athletic, but not a bodybuilder." On Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man “I grew up in a small city, not too different from what I saw in Charles Schultz’ world; houses with lawns with dogs laying on the tops of doghouses (laughs). It was through comics that I became aware of space like cityscapes and other man-made spaces. Most of this kind of awareness was through seeing work by artists like Jack Kirby and Chester Gould; artists who were stylized and relied less on realism in a certain way. But, from my 7 year old perspective there was something very real about it. In fact my first view of New York was Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby’s New York, which I much prefer.” “When I got into college I began to draw a lot of cityscapes from life and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how these shapes get put together. I experiemented with different perspectives and tried to draw areas that were unusual or not noticed. Tops of buildings became very important to me because this area seemed essential for certain types of activities.” On working in NY “When I got to New York and was drawing superhero comics I had the actual resource all around me for a change. It is very different when you are walking around in a space than when you have to imagine it from outside. One thing you realize when you are here (NY) is that there is no way Superheros could ever do what they do in comics when you see the actual space.” “The buildings are far too far apart to run from rooftop to rooftop. You could never swing between the skyscrapers (laughs).” On the Rhode Island School of Design “When I was at the School of Design there was a brief period when I was not 100% sure I was going into comics, but it all in all it was pretty obvious that that was what I was going to do. So, I was drawing the figure a lot and drawing a lot of interiors and exteriors which was kind of a useful training exercise for work in comic books. But, I wasn’t really making any kind of comics as part of my school work. Actually, it (comic book work) was kind of frowned upon back then (laughs).” On what he learned from doing comics… “I learned about deadlines (laughs) I learned that the work has to get done. I learned that even if you haven’t done your very best work it will still get printed. It did get printed, often (laughs).” “I learned that the last person who gets his or her hands on the comic book determines what the comic book looks like. So, generally that was the colorist or maybe one of the editors who handles it (the book) after that. So, no matter how much I may have planned ahead, most of the time my work was not very much under my control after it was out of my hands.” On whether teaching has changed the way he thinks of comics… “It has changed the way I think about comics a lot; it was the mid-90’s that I started teaching and for various reasons I wasn’t doing as much work as I had been doing so it was a good change.” “I had never taught anything about comics so I took a few months to think about how I would take people through everything I know about comics. So, I thought I needed to break it all down to explain how to tell a story, what kind of stories the medium was good at telling.” “So, it allowed me to step back and really remember how the medium worked and think about all aspects of comics and why I did or didn’t use them in my own work. So, it allowed me to re-examine how I worked and some of the choices I make or made.” “As far as working with students, it is always interesting to see what they bring back with regard to their various assignments because as you can imagine teaching over a number of years there is a lot of similarity in the way students approach something, but there are also some differences which can really surprise you. This kind of thing can be really inspiring because it helps me see things in a way that might help me approach something in a new way as an artist.” The Hidden S (S. Mark Rhodes)