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David Mazzucchelli (1960- ) had a brief but noisy career in superhero comics, which began while he was still studying painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. That career culminated in his collaborations with Frank Miller on the critically acclaimed Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, both of which showcased David Mazzucchelli’s naturalistic, yet expressive, approach to his art.

“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 Hergé, 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.”

Turning his back on a potentially lucrative career in superhero comics, David Mazzucchelli made an astonishing about-turn and found his way into the exciting but much quieter world of alternative comics, most notably through three issues of his ground breaking, self-published, RAW-sized anthology, Rubber Blanket in the early 1990s. “I wanted to make a comic book that wouldn’t scare adults.” Rubber Blanket featured several quietly moving short stories such as Discovering America, The Big Man and Dead Dogs. “What I wanted to do was just go back to the roots of what I liked about art in the first place. Without having the pressure of a deadline or a specific audience to think of. So I started trying to make drawings that were just for me, going back to drawing from life, watercolours, whatever…”

David Mazzucchelli lives in Manhattan, New York and teaches Comic Book Narrative, Storytelling and Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

Essential Reading:

Asterios Polyp
Pantheon, 2009

An engrossing story of one man’s search for love, meaning, sanity, and perfect architectural proportions. Meet Asterios Polyp: middle-aged, meagerly successful architect and teacher, aesthete and womanizer, whose life is wholly upended when his New York City apartment goes up in flames. In a tenacious daze, he leaves the city and relocates to a small town in the American heartland. But what is this ‘escape’ really about? As the story unfolds, moving between the present and the past, we begin to understand this confounding yet fascinating character, and how he’s gotten to where he is. And isn’t. And we meet Hana: a sweet, smart, first-generation Japanese American artist with whom he had made a blissful life. But now she’s gone. Did Asterios do something to drive her away? What has happened to her? Is she even alive? All the questions will be answered, eventually.

Paul Gravett says:
Great graphic novels don’t happen overnight, and Mazzucchelli took some nine years to craft his 344-page Asterios Polyp. Our eponymous leading man is a prickly, stiff, self-important ‘paper architect’, lauded for his designs, none of which have ever been constructed. Framed by acts of God, from its opening lightning bolt which destroys Asterios’s apartment block, to its potentially equally dramatic finale, his story unravels between flashbacks, to his family roots, his dying father and his romance with Hana, and the present-day chapters as he rebuilds his shattered ego by working as a small-town auto mechanic, a world away from his former high-brow milieu. From here, he re-evaluates his unfulfilled career and his broken relationship with the woman he loved. These scenes are intercut with philosophical ruminations, even a variation on Orpheus and Eurydice, and symbolistic vignettes where he communes with Ignazio Polyp, his twin brother, whose death (or was it pre-natal murder in the womb?) still haunts Asterios constantly.

Paul Auster’s City Of Glass
with Paul Karasik
St. Martin’s Press, 1994

Quinn writes mysteries. An unknown voice on the telephone is begging for his help, drawing him into a world and a mystery far stranger than any he ever created in print.

Paul Gravett says:
From Karasik’s very different layouts began a creative to-and-fro between the two collaborators which unlocked the project’s rich formal and aesthetic aspects. In 1994, this resulted in one of the rare examples of a comics adaptation that really adds depth and understanding to its prose source.

Art Spiegelman says:
By poking at the heart of comics structure, Karasik and Mazzucchelli created a strange doppelganger of the original book. It’s as if Quinn, confronted with two nearly identical Peter Stillmans at Grand Central Station, chose to follow one drawn with brush and ink rather than one set in type. The volume that resulted, first published in 1994, overcame all my purist notions about collaboration. It offers one of the richest demonstrations to date of the modern Ikonologosplatt at its most subtle and supple.

David Mazzucchelli says:
Auster’s book is so much about language, and the structure of language, and identity, and, in fact, the structure of identity, the shifting nature and layering of identity, that the visual metaphors that Paul [Karasik] 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.

Batman: Year One
with Frank Miller
DC, 1986

Paul Gravett says:
To many, this four-issue expanded origin tale is one of the all-time classiest Bat-books. Here the artist further revised his drawing by looking back to earlier masters like Alex Toth, and before him Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff, as well as Chester (Dick Tracy) Gould and even Hergé of Tintin fame, and brewed up a blend of their bold chiaroscuro contrasts, deep shadows and minimalist refinements. His leaner approach grounded the fledgling solo Caped Crusader and the young Catwoman-to-be in a gritty, convincing urban crime drama.

Frank Miller says:
If your only memory of Batman is that of Adam West and Burt Ward exchanging camped out quips while clobbering slumming guest stars Vincent Price and Cesar Romero, I hope this book will come as a surprise.

Daredevil: Born Again
with Frank Miller
Marvel, 1986

Paul Gravett says:
Mazzucchelli first really shone with his relatively naturalistic take on Daredevil, especially on those written by Frank Miller. Their Born Again story disclosed for the first time Matt Murdock’s long-absent mother who had become a nun and proved to be one of the blind superhero’s most moving story arcs.

David Mazzucchelli says:
I think there is some very good stuff, aspects of it, and I think there are some much weaker aspects of it, in terms of art and story and the whole thing. But the good points, the good parts, I think really stand up. And in terms of story, one of the things that was very important to me, I remember in discussions with Frank, was how we were going to end it. And it was clear that what we were trying to say was that here’s a character who has big problems, and so we’re basically going to kill him, and then bring him back to life better. And that became the issue to me: what does ‘better’ mean?



Graphic Novels:
Asterios Polyp (2009)
Paul Auster’s City Of Glass (1994) with Paul Karasik
Batman: Year One (1986) with Frank Miller
Daredevil: Born Again (1986) with Frank Miller
Daredevil: Love’s Labours Lost (1985) with Denny O’Neil

Rubber Blanket #1-3 (1991-1993)
Batman: Year One #1-4 (1986-1987)
Daredevil #206, 208-217, 220-223, 225-233 (1984-1986)

Short Stories:
The Boy Who Loved Comics in The Comics Journal Special #1 (2001)
The Fisherman & The Sea Princess (2000) in Little Lit #1
Darkseid (2000) in World’s Funnest
The Boy Who Loved Comics (2001) in TCJ Special #1
Still Life (2000) in Zero Zero #27
Stubs (1996) in Zero Zero #11
Stop The Hair Nude (1995) in Zero Zero #2
Rates Of Exchange (1994) in Drawn & Quarterly Vol 2 #2
New String (1994) in The Village Voice
Monday In The Park… (1994) in The New Yorker, 19 Sept 1994
The Fine Art… (1993) in The New Yorker, 4 Oct 1993
Phobia (1993) in Snake Eyes #3
A Brief History… (1992) in Drawn & Quarterly Vol 1 #9
Hear The Atoms Splitting (1992) in Drawn & Quarterly Vol 1 #9
Chiaroscuro (1988) in Marvel Fanfare #40
Sorry in Nozone #5
Midori in Manga Surprise #1

The Comics Journal #152, 194, 300


Online Resources:
Paul Gravett’s Articles

St Martin’s Press


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