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Artist’s unique style breaks industry fads

Brandon Barb

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“All you need to know is that there is a scar on my face, I’m starting a new life, and I have a friend who is helping me.” — Kabuki.

My first thought upon reading “Kabuki: The Alchemy” was Terry Gilliam. That might sound a bit strange, but when the graphic novel is looked at as a film, the similarities are there. Gilliam’s films and “The Alchemy” are both beautiful and submerged in fantasy, with realism sprinkled in.

“The Alchemy,” written and illustrated by Northern Kentucky University alumus David Mack is the seventh volume in the Kabuki series.

Though the last in the series, readers can start with this book without feeling distanced from the characters and the story because he includes background on Kabuki.

Still, “The Alchemy” is different. While the comic book and graphic novel business clings to a stable of the same characters, Mack has found a way to make the pages of his graphic novel more than clean-cut panels and speech bubbles.

Mack has created a unique experience of visuals and words, accomplished by combining various art forms into one. He uses sketches, paintings and photography, placing objects on each page, reminiscent of an “I Spy” book.

The most striking aspects of the graphic novel are the visuals and the way each page is presented. For most of the book, the speech and action revolve around symbols, the women’s bathroom logo and the six-sided cut-out cube being the most prominent.

For those who haven’t picked up a copy, here is a little back story: Kabuki is a young woman who used to be a Japanese assassin for an evil corporation known as “Noh.” In “The Alchemy,” Kabuki is trying to find a new home and find herself in the process. She does so by writing and reflecting on her previous life. The main theme of “The Alchemy” is starting a new beginning and a new life for oneself.

There is little action in “The Alchemy,” even though the previous volumes have the action an assassin could love. Instead, Mack focuses on the characters, emotions and art. The journey of Kabuki, and Mack’s unique art style, makes readers want to keep going without using blood and death.

No matter what the focus, something will be left out. There is too much in “The Alchemy” to cover in a single article. With beautiful art and an engaging narrative, “The Alchemy” is arguably the most unique graphic novel on the shelves. Every read-through can bring something new to the reader’s attention.

While there are so many things that are great with “The Alchemy,” the narrative can be hard to follow at times.


The section that best describes the visually stunning yet sometimes confusing style is “Self Portrait.” As the story within the story, “Self Portrait” is what Kabuki reads when she meets a writer on an airplane.


This portion is done in the style of a sketchbook, and it is drastically different from the rest of “The Alchemy.” The words get lost within Mack’s art. With no panels the words flow with the lines of his art and at times are scattered around the page.

Now comes the time for the verdict.


Coming from a fan of comics, mostly “Thor” and “Daredevil,” I think “The Alchemy” was a very different read. The whole book was the exact opposite of other comics.


Instead of focusing on dialogue, Mack’s art pulls you in to look at more than the words. In a business that counts on a core group of characters, and is seeing a massive reboot from DC Comics, Mack has opened up new doors to creating comics and graphic novels.


“The Alchemy” is different, but hardcore comic fans and newcomers alike can enjoy this graphic novel.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
Artist’s unique style breaks industry fads