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Bringing Kabuki to Hollywood


X-men. Fantastic Four. Superman. Batman.

The list of comic book titles that have been turned into major motion pictures continues to grow. Even Daredevil, the Marvel Comics title for which Bromley resident David Mack has contributed artwork and storylines, was made into a movie starring Ben Affleck.

Mack hopes that the list grows by at least one more title in the near future. He is in negotiations, with filmmakers whom he declined to name, to have his original comic book series, Kabuki, made into a motion picture.

"We're just talking right now," said Mack, a 1990 graduate of Ludlow High School and a Post Academic All-Star in fine arts that year.

"Nothing is set in stone. But comics are hot (as motion picture adaptations). I'm in a much better position now than I was before."

On four previous occasions, Mack said he sold options to develop the Kabuki comic book into a motion picture to 20th Century Fox. Each time, the option timeline expired before Fox developed a movie.

Of the comic-book-to-screen adaptations, Mack is most enamored of the 2005 movie, "Sin City," which he believes captures the essence of author-artist Frank Miller's work like few others in the genre. He hopes to have similar success when Kabuki gets to the screen.

"I don't want to make just any movie," Mack said. "I want to make the right movie."

Kabuki, first published in 1994, is available in seven languages, and more than a million copies of Kabuki comics, paperbacks and hardcover books are in print in the United States alone, according to Mack's Web site, davidmack.com.

The series focuses on a female assassin code named Kabuki - which in reality is the name of a genre of Japanese theatre - who belongs to a special, government-backed circle of masked and costumed female enforcers, called the Noh. The story takes place in near-future Japan and focuses on Kabuki's struggle for her identity.

"I was a fan of autobiographical comic books," Mack said, but at the same time he didn't want to tip off his readers that the main character's conflicts were at times his own.

"So, I made the main character everything that I wasn't - a different gender, from a different culture," he said. "But in (the story) was some of the stuff that I was going through," including the death of his mother.

The creation and publication of Kabuki was the crescendo of a creativity-filled childhood and early adulthood for Mack.

"My mother was a first-grade teacher at the Sixth District school in Covington," Mack said. "When I was young, there were always things around the house that she would use for her classes like art supplies and watercolors. She was always using them, and so did I. I grew up wanting to make things."

Mack's creative urge started to develop in the three-dimensional realm. As a young child, he focused on using tape, staplers and "gizmos" to create castles, boats and airplanes from boxes. He attributes much of his creative development to the fact that his family did not have a television in the house as he and his brother, Steven, were growing up.

"All of our entertainment was a very active experience," Mack said. "We were always making things."

Mack's unique artistic gifts were beginning to show in elementary school, when he said he used to make things and use them as barter in trades with other students.

"That's the way real artists do it," he laughed.

Mack credits his art teacher at Ludlow, Tammy Smith, with much of his development and with helping him earn a scholarship to Northern Kentucky University.

"I didn't have the money to go to college, so I went to the Army recruiting office in Covington to enlist," he recalled. "But I had braces on my teeth, and they told me I couldn't enlist as long as I had braces on my teeth."

Before the braces came off, he completed - with Smith's help - an application for an art scholarship to NKU. She helped him assemble examples of his work from several genres, including paint, drawings and photography. But Smith left the last item in the portfolio up to Mack to create from scratch.

"She said I could do what I wanted, and I thought about how much I enjoyed comic books," he said. "I had them, and I read them, so I made my own comic book."

That project was an extension of drawings he had done during high school. Mack said he would take them to the Comic Book World store on Turfway Road in Florence, where owner Paul Mullins introduced him to some of the professional artists who would come into the shop for appearances. Through those contacts, Mack began to learn how the comic business works, and he put that knowledge to use when it came time for his Kabuki comic book to be marketed through a distribution company.

"A lot of times, retailers order books they have never seen," Mack said. "They get a list of titles from the distributor."

As a new author on the comic-book block, Mack was aggressive in promoting his work. He sent and delivered samples of Kabuki to numerous retail store owners, so they would be familiar with what it was they were ordering from the distributor. The result, Mack said, was orders that exceeded expectations from the start.

Despite being one of the stars of his genre, Mack has not strayed far from his Northern Kentucky roots. And he remembers some of the teachers who helped along the way. At Ludlow High School, along with Smith, he credits Barbara Martin and Gary McCormick with "opening new worlds for me" in the English and literature classes they taught, along with history teacher Tom Giemeyer.

Mack earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from NKU, with a minor in English, but also had coursework in world history, anatomy and physiology and the Japanese language, which he said has influenced his work.

Mack's brother, Steven, lives nearby in Bromley, and his father, Wilson Mack, lives in Erlanger.

This article was published June 8, 2006, in The Kentucky Post.

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