Graphic Series Review | Kabuki (Vol. 1-7) by David W. Mack

Kabuki Series Review Paige's pagesSERIES: Kabuki
PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics
RELEASE DATE: 2001 – 2008

The Kabuki series opened my eyes to the boundless potential of the graphic novel genre.  Not only is the plot the definition of epic, but its gorgeous art style destroys expectations.  The core of Kabuki is personal transformation – rewriting one’s identity, history, and culture to live a new narrative.  It explores the binary of inner/outer self, with the motif of masks to protect/represent true self.  I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve raved about this series to friends.  It is an unforgettable contribution to the “war of art”.  


Characters & Key Motifs

If you don’t like the story your culture is writing… It’s not enough to say you don’t subscribe to it… You have the obligation of writing your own story… To be a contributing author of your own culture – Kabuki Vol 7. The Alchemy

The character of Kabuki is unravelled layer by layer throughout the series.  In Vol. 1 Circle of Blood, she is a government assassin, hiding in plain sight as Noh TV’s Big Brother-esque weather reporter (“media as a manufacturer of public consent”).  As a child, her identity was defined by her shameful facial scar, referencing her murdered mother the Kabuki dancer.  Now, her Kabuki mask is her trademark and a motif vital to her story of transformation.  Her narrative of fighting death to rewrite her future is powerfully uplifting to anyone who has lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.

I didn’t have to be labeled by my scars, my job, my lineage, or my history.  Once I learned to free myself on the inside, I became free on the outside as well – Kabuki Vol. 7 The Alchemy

Kabuki features a cast of deadly female characters, of whom we only get to the see the tip of the iceberg.  In Vol 3. Masks of the Noh and Vol. 7 Scarab, Lost in Translation, each of the Noh operatives are portrayed by a different artist, with the aim to express their individuality through unique art styles.  This technique made me mindful of each character having their own private world beyond the main Kabuki plot line.

The revolution is the action not the subject.  Once the revolution becomes the institution, you have to revolt and revolve, all over again.  Stagnation is death.  Status quo is death.  Celebrity is death.  Once a government or agency is set up to worship itself and make itself richer, and forget the ideas it is founded on, it is no longer for the people, or by the people – Kabuki Vol. 7 The Alchemy


The War of Art

When I first started reading graphic novels, I held expectations based on genre stereotypes – think panels, speech bubbles, and black and white art.  However, the art of Kabuki surpasses my wildest expectations.  In fact, Mack makes art like he’s never faced a boundary in his life.  While the volumes are congruent as a series, each plays with whatever mediums best communicate the heart of that particular chapter.  For example, Vol. 1 is an electrifying theatre of dark and light, while Vol. 2 Dreams… drifts between life and death.  Kabuki’s subconscious thought is represented by surreal mixed modal paintings, blending water colour, paper cut outs, photography, and lace.  My personal favourite is the very “meta” Vol. 7 The Alchemy, which celebrates as many textures and dimensions as you can imagine.

Just as the art goes over the lines, so does the story.  When Akemi introduces Kabuki to the “war of art” in Vol. 7, it becomes clear that the series aims to be a subversive, stimulating contribution to culture – blurring reality and transcending the boundaries of traditional storytelling.

Each letter is alive and fertile with intent of the idea… That is unlocked and activated when someone reads it … You must accept your role in the energy exchange by passing on your truth or story to those willing to unlock and open… and unfold that in themselves… Part of the global War of Art – Kabuki Vol. 7 The Alchemy

As a reader and as a content creator, Kabuki motivates me to look deeply at the world, and see past perceived boundaries to my creativity and identity.  Keep Kabuki on your to-read or re-read list for any day you need to stoke your life’s fire.


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