Continuing the streak of profiles of self-published cartoonists, I interviewed David Mazzucchelli for “Palmer’s Picks.”
Mazzucchelli’s series Rubber Blanket really stood apart from the typical self-published comics of the time period. First off, it wasn’t a regular black-and-white comic. Instead, it was an oversized, two-color anthology that was published once a year. And the moody, evocative short stories in the comic were a distinct departure from the mainstream stuff that Mazzucchelli was known for. All of these qualities made his work a perfect fit for “Palmer’s Picks.”
It’s hard to think that after three years of writing my column for Wizard, I was still learning how to get things done. This piece about Mazzucchelli was actually the third interview I had written, so I was still getting the hang of turning a phone conversation into a coherent article. Some of the transitions in this column are a little clunky, and the whole thing just sort of ends without a satisfying conclusion. Tacking on my usual “don’t forget to send me letters” plea to the end of the article doesn’t help either.
But when my amateurish writing doesn’t get in the way, there are a lot of interesting morsels in this one. I love Mazzucchelli’s evaluation of his career so far: his work on mainstream hits like Daredevil and Batman were merely the training and education he needed to set him on the path he’s currently on. For an artist like Mazzucchelli who had such a dramatic change in the direction of his career and his art style, it’s refreshing to see that he didn’t completely turn his back on the work that came before.
Also of note is that there were plans for a fourth volume of Rubber Blanket. The third issue was published in 1993, and there hasn’t been another one since then. Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass (with Paul Karasik) was originally published in 1994, and the majority of his work from the time period when I wrote this column were short strips published in anthologies like Drawn & Quarterly and Snake Eyes. His graphic novel Asterios Polyp came out in 2009 and he’s currently teaching at New York’s School of Visual Arts.
All in all, I think this is one of the more successful “Palmer’s Picks.” A big reason for this is that I got David Mazzucchelli on the phone for Wizard magazine and didn’t ask him if he was going to draw fucking Batman again! I mean, a good thirty percent of this column is spent going over the artistic merits of two-color artwork and the intricacies of offset lithography. I should be thankful my editors didn’t show me the door after this one!
Mazzucchelli’s Born Again
By Tom Palmer Jr.
After an absence of almost a year from comics, David Mazzucchelli, the creator and publisher of Rubber Blanket, has returned. Mazzucchelli is probably most familiar to Wizard readers who remember his stunning artwork on the “Born Again” storyline from Daredevil #227-#233 and “Batman: Year One,” which ran in Batman #404-407, both in collaboration with writer Frank Miller. Following these popular mainstream projects, Mazzucchelli, along with co-editor Richmond Lewis, started Rubber Blanket, an anthology featuring stories by Mazzucchelli and “a few people.”
The post-modern subjects and expressionistic artwork of Rubber Blanket are a definite departure from Mazzucchelli’s mainstream work. As a result, most people thought he disappeared off the face of the Earth after his collaborations with Miller. Mazzucchelli has a different view of the situation. “Even though I actually did go to art school and college, I wasn’t studying comics then,” he explains. “If you look at my ‘comics’ education, I feel that Daredevil was my undergraduate studies, Batman was my graduate studies, and everything after that is what I was studying for.”
Mazzucchelli started Rubber Blanket to get some hands-on experience with the printing process. “Part of the reason behind self-publishing [Rubber Blanket] is that I wanted to be on-press to make decisions about paper, choice of ink, and design of the artwork for the printing press.”
In fact, Rubber Blanket was named for a specific part used in the printing process. Mazzucchelli explains, “In offset lithography, which is the way the book is printed, around one of the cylinders [in the printing press,] is a rubber blanket. That’s the whole crux of why offset lithography is the way it is. The impression of the ink goes onto the rubber blanket, and then onto the paper. It’s a two-step process.”
Most of Mazzucchelli’s stories in Rubber Blanket blend the humanities and the sciences. For example, in “Discovering America” from Rubber Blanket #2, a young cartographer ponders the real truth behind the maps we make and use. As Mazzucchelli sees it, “My stories are generally stuff that’s been kicking around in my head for a long time.” His fascination with philosophical questioning comes from a genuine interest on his part. “I guess I’ve always had an interest in hard fact on the one hand, and speculation and the intuitive on the other; how they blend and how they contradict each other.”
But before you notice Mazzucchelli’s eloquent, quiet stories, the most striking element of Rubber Blanket is the two-color artwork. This unique package poses some interesting artistic challenges. “It forces you to think in very graphic terms.” According to Mazzucchelli, when restricted to two colors, the artist needs to concentrate on “designing images in a simple, readable, clearly defined way. In my case, I’m always trying to see how much I can get out of the limitations. It’s kind of interesting to set up parameters and work inside them. It’s a challenge choosing two colors that are going to work off each other.”
The two-color process of Rubber Blanket provides Mazzucchelli with two different options. He can either pick a single color to compliment the black line, or he can choose two colors that can blend into a third color. This first choice is aesthetically pleasing to Mazzucchelli. “I also like that what I’m getting is the simplicity of the black line, but using that second color is simultaneously a half-tone and a color. Sometimes it could work just as gray, and sometimes it can actually work as light in a color sense.”
Mazzucchelli’s other color option also has its merits. “The blending of the two into a third color presents more of a challenge, but that makes it all the more interesting.” In the end, the choice between the two options boils down to “choosing what’s the appropriate color for the story, and how it’s going to work in different scenes.”
Despite this penchant for two-color art, Mazzucchelli’s most recent work has been in simple black-and-white line. He worked closely with Paul Karasik to adapt Paul Auster’s post-modern detective novel, City of Glass. For Mazzucchelli, working on City of Glass “involved making a decision that [concerned] a project I wanted to work on, that is going to be marketed and packaged through bookstores as a serious piece of fiction. We can show people that comics of this length and scope are worth their time, that there’s nothing wrong with the form intrinsically.”
Mazzucchelli also applies this pursuit of acceptability and respect over to Rubber Blanket (he is currently working on the next issue, which, at the earliest, will be out next summer). “I’m trying to create a package that creates a new kind of context for comics, or at least a different context for comics. I’m very interested in trying to get new readers; people who don’t normally read comics, or who read them years ago and gave them up. My standard joke line is that I’m trying to create a package that won’t scare adults.”
If you have any questions or comments, please write to me at Palmer’s Picks, c/o Wizard Press,
151 Wells Avenue, Congers, NY 10920.
Pick Of The Month
Welcome to the Zone-How could you pass up a new graphic novel by David Chelsea, the creator of David Chelsea in Love? This time, Chelsea lends his stippled artwork to a tale of mutants and folk singers running rampant in New York City, with surreal, bizarre, hilarious, and sometimes disturbing results. Pick up a copy at your local store or get in touch with Kitchen Sink Press at
320 Riverside Drive, Northampton, MA 01060.
Tom Palmer Jr. is a freelance writer born and raised in the wilds of New Jersey.
David Mazzucchelli’s Recommended Reading: Here’s a rundown of some of David Mazzucchelli’s favorite artists: Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, appearing in various places, including The Village Voice), Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese and Hectic Planet), Los Bros Hernandez (Love & Rockets), Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library), Dylan Horrocks (Pickle), Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), Chester Brown (Underwater), and Jason Stephens (Atomic City Tales). “I also try to read a lot of the classic strips to catch up on things that I’ve missed, like E.C. Segar’s Popeye, and Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, which is just wonderful, and of course, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat.”
Tom’s Recommended Reading
Rubber Blanket: Three issues of this over-sized, semi-annual, quasi-anthology have been published so far. All three feature at least one long story by Mazzucchelli, and work by other cartoonists, including co-editor Richmond Lewis, Ted Stearn, and David Hornung. If your local comic shop does not carry Rubber Blanket, you can order it directly from Rubber Blanket Press at
PO Box 3067, Uptown Station, Hoboken, NJ 07030. The first issue is 48 pages and goes for $5.75, the second is 56 pages at $7.75, and the third weighs in at 72 pages for $8. To cover postage, please include $1.50 for your first book, and $.50 for each additional issue.
City of Glass: David Mazzucchelli collaborated with Paul Karasik on this 138-page adaptation of Paul Auster’s novel. The book is the first part of Bob Callahan’s Neon Lit: Noir Illustrated series from Avon Books. There are also adaptations of Barry Gifford’s Perdita Durango, and William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley in the works. You can look for City of Glass in your local bookstore, or you can order a copy from the Fantagraphics Books catalog. Write to them at 7563 lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115 and ask for their catalog.
Miscellaneous: Mazzucchelli’s work has also appeared in several anthologies. He has a story, as well as covers and endpapers, in Drawn & Quarterly (vol. 2) #2, which is on sale now. The Best of Drawn & Quarterly reprints a Mazzucchelli strip from the first volume of Drawn & Quarterly, as well as work by Maurice Vellekoop, Seth, Debbie Drechsler, and Michael Dougan. For information on ordering these titles, write to Drawn & Quarterly Publications,
5550 Jeanne Mance St. #16, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2V 4K6. There are also Mazzucchelli strips in Snake Eyes and Snake Eyes III from Fantagraphics, and various issues of Nozone (write to PO Box 1124, Knickerbocker Station, New York, NY 10002 for information on Nozone). You can also find Mazzucchelli’s work regularly in The New Yorker.