Skip to main content

Interview: September 2009

September 2009

Comic book artist Kazu Kibuishi is the founder and editor of the comic anthology Flight, as well as the creator of Amulet, a young adult graphic novel series about two children who must rescue their mother, taken captive by a dangerous creature inhabiting a sinister underground world found below the basement of the great-grandfather's home.
In this interview with's John Hogan, Kibuishi provides insight into the process of creating the series and credits the legendary film The Empire Strikes Back as a source of inspiration for its newly released second installment, THE STONEKEEPER'S CURSE. He also discusses his background in animationrecalls some of the first comics he enjoyed as a child, and shares details about projects currently in the works. AMULET, BOOK TWO: THE STONEKEEPER'S CURSE pays homage to several sources, one of which is The Empire Strikes Back. How did a movie like that influence your comics work in general and this book in particular?
Kazu Kibuishi: The Empire Strikes Back was hugely influential in creating Amulet 2. I think I watched it about 20 times during the production. I mainly looked at the film for its structure, since it’s one of those rare films that is able to successfully weave together several plot lines and still maintain its focus. I was also inspired by the Star Wars trilogy’s ability to provide a strong modern mythology for its viewers.
TRC: What other works inspired you?
KK: Other works that influenced Amulet 2 include the film adaptation of THE NEVERENDING STORYand the video gameShadow of the Colossus. Both of these works were able to give its viewers a sense of large-scale fantasy. I wanted the Amuletseries to be a sort of introduction to these types of stories.
TRC: Who were your influences in the comics format in general?
KK: Hayao Miyazaki and Jeff Smith are my biggest influences. Both of their works reflect the interests they have outside of the comics field. In Miyazaki’s case, his love of children’s literature and his experience as a director of animation shines through in his loose aesthetic and dense, action-packed panel layouts ofNausicaa of the Valley of Wind. And for Jeff Smith, his love of old comic strips is fused with a grand Tolkien-inspired fantasy story to create the classic Bone graphic novel series. I only hope that every time I draw comics, I’m bringing something new and interesting to the table as well.
TRC: How did Flight come about?
KK: It began as a small book that my friends and I were planning to self-publish and sell at the Alternative Press Expo. The project began to snowball into something much bigger, so we ended up having to work with a publisher. The inspiration for the project was the comic strip Hayao Miyazaki drew for Model Graphixmagazine, called Porco Rosso. In several short comic strips about five pages in length, he told a story that became the basis for the film of the same name. After seeing that one of his best films began life as a comic strip totaling 16 pages, I wanted to find a venue to draw a comic strip in a similar manner to develop into larger projects. Sadly, I couldn’t find a suitable venue, so when I began putting together Flight, I had the intention to create the perfect place to house these projects, for myself, and for others.
TRC: Was there any resistance to Flight based on how young you were when you began it?
KK: I suppose there was an undercurrent of resistance at the time, seeing as none of the Flight artists were really a part of the established comics industry, and I was definitely younger than most editors. However, there were a lot more people championing the project, and with the artists on the project as a great support group, it was difficult for me to feel much negativity. The project, as a whole, has been an absolutely wonderful experience.
TRC: What defines Flight now? How do you see it proceeding as an anthology in the future, particularly now that it will be coming out twice a year?
KK: Well, Flight won’t be coming out twice a year, though we hopeFlight Explorer gets picked back up, which means we will have oneFlight and one Explorer every year. One of the things I learned about Flight is that it isn’t my job to define it. The book is defined by the artists that contribute to each volume. I do what I can to design thematic covers, but for the most part, the interior pages determine the voice of each book individually. I like to allow the creators as much freedom as possible, since the book is supposed to be a sanctuary for the tightly held ideas they’ve had for a while. Going forward, it will continue to be a place to find great new talent and for more experienced artists to be able to experiment with new styles and stories. Along with my Amuletbooks, I have been working with Flight artists to develop several new graphic novel properties, and without having worked with these guys on several Flight books, I probably wouldn’t be working with them on these projects. The natural progression will be thatFlight becomes the launch pad for a whole line of books with a similar sensibility.
TRC: The fight scenes in THE STONEKEEPER'S CURSE are beautifully orchestrated, almost choreographed for the reader to follow. Does your background as an animator help you to accomplish that, and does it influence how you illustrate comics?
KK: Thanks for the kind words! Despite having worked for a short while in the animation industry, I have actually done very little traditional animation outside of college. When I was working for a small studio years ago, my job was to model, texture, and light 3D environments and characters, while also handling some cleanup animation. The truth is I just watch a lot of films, and I intended to be a director of action films when I was younger. When I was in college, I directed some live-action films, but realized I was more suited to drawing the scenes on paper after doing a lot of comics and illustrations for the school newspaper. Since then, I’ve been really interested in finding ways to make the comic page feel more visceral and exciting, like a film. Drawing compelling action sequences is one way to do this.
TRC: What kind of technique do you use to create the shading and tones of the book?
KK: All of the coloring is done in Photoshop. I treat the images in the book more like photos than illustrations, and Photoshop provides me with the unique ability to use lighting effects to inform the color and shading of a scene or character. It’s like a hybrid between 3D animation rendering and traditional illustration. Strangely enough, it suits me perfectly.
TRC: Do you have any plans to animate the Amulet series?
KK: I plan on just drawing the books. At present, I have no ambition to run a big production, especially when I have so many stories to tell. Comics are much faster and more manageable.
TRC: How long do you see this series continuing?
KK: For now, I am contracted for five books, but I definitely see it extending farther beyond that. The number I usually give is 10, but I’ll let the story dictate where it needs to end.
TRC: Do you remember the first comic book you ever read?
KK: It was probably something I read while in Japan. My guess would be Doraemon. The first comic I remember really enjoying, however, is Garfield.
TRC: What’s next for you? What other projects are you working on?
KK: I’m currently busy on Amulet 3, but I also have two other graphic novels I’m developing with Flight artists and my assistants at the studio. I’m also still working on Copper comics, though I haven’t updated my webcomics lately. The Copper book, which collects all of the Copper comics, comes out in January 2010 from Scholastic. On top of that, my wife and I are expecting a baby in November, so that’s probably the most exciting project we have going right now!