Left: David Mazzucchelli, Discovering America (detail), 1992, ink on paper. Right: David Mazzucchelli, Near Miss (detail), 1989, ink on paper.

Dan Nadel, owner of the Brooklyn-based publishing house PictureBox Inc., organized “Sounds and Pauses: The Comics of David Mazzucchelli,” the first US retrospective of Mazzucchelli’s twenty-five year career. The exhibition is on view at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York through August 23. Pantheon Graphic Novels will publish Asterios Polyp, Mazzucchelli’s anticipated new graphic novel, on July 7.

I GREW UP WITH DAVID’S WORK. I first saw his original and groundbreaking drawings in the seminal Batman comic Batman: Year One in 1987. He made those drawings when he was in his mid-twenties. His handling of space and form impressed me, but I was even more inspired by the way he drew, which was more expressive and moody than other cartoonists who were working at the time. After Year One, he made one more superhero comic, but then left the genre to pursue his own project, a self-published anthology called Rubber Blanket. With his wife, Richmond Lewis, David released three beautifully designed and printed issues of Rubber Blanket from 1990 to 1993. Each issue contains thematically rich stories and experiments with color and form that remain influential to the development of alternative comics. It makes sense that David has a big following. Many of the artists I work with seem to have been influenced by his work over the years, particularly C.F. and Frank Santoro. It’s unusual that David’s been successful in both the mainstream and underground worlds and that he’s been able to maintain an aesthetic that is completely his own. I met him a few years ago through mutual friends, and earlier this year he asked me to curate this show for him. I happily agreed.

The exhibition is a full retrospective of his practice, and we selected the work together. It’s primarily based on the story David wanted to tell about his work, and ultimately he designed the look of the installation (in consultation with me). The show is centered around Asterios Polyp, with his original sketches and notes, and also contains pages from projects including Rubber Blanket, his adaptation of the novel City of Glass, a handful of short stories, and a selection of his Batman and Daredevil stories.

He’s a rare cartoonist in that he thinks of the finished, printed piece ahead of time, which adds another layer of meaning to the work. He always leaves elements out while he’s drawing and adds color and texture later, during the printing process. To show this process, we installed printed pages from his various publications, which offer new ideas about the work because they bring to mind the role of printmaking in his practice.

David is an artist who has made incredible cross-genre work for over two decades now, and this is the first time an American audience can see the startling breadth of it. Obviously, comics people will come to this exhibition, but it’s an opportunity for a much wider audience to see his works. David represents a contemporary artmaking practice that is rarely seen outside an artist’s studio, and that alone should make this show worth visiting. But more important, his drawings are rich, beautiful things and should be viewed as masterful examples of image- and mark-making.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler