Kazu Kibuishi may be one of the more versatile creators in comics today. In addition to his current project, the ongoing graphic novel series “Amulet” published by Scholastic, Kibuishi is the cartoonist behind the webcomic “Copper,” which was collected into a book in 2010, and the miniseries “Daisy Kutter: The Last Train,” which he reprinted last year after running a successful Kickstarter campaign. He was the editor for the Image Comics-published, critically acclaimed “Flight” anthology and currently edits its spiritual successor, the “Explorer” anthology, a series targeted for a more all-ages audience. The new volume in the series, “Explorer: The Lost Islands,” comes out this October.
Kibuishi’s latest — and arguably highest profile — gig has been creating new covers for all the “Harry Potter” books. Scholastic decided to promote the series’ 15th anniversary by giving J.K. Rowlings’ acclaimed wizard books a facelift, and turned to Kibuishi for the job. CBR News spoke with the acclaimed cartoonist about tackling the world of Harry, Ron and Hermione, his approach to re-interpreting scenes so familiar to millions of readers and the future of his comics work.
CBR News: I suppose I should start with the most obvious question: How did you end up getting this Harry Potter gig?
Kazu Kibuishi: David Saylor, Creative Director at Scholastic, was the original designer, along with artist Mary Grandpre, of the Scholastic editions of Harry Potter. Â He also founded Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, which publishes my “Amulet” series.Â He sent me an email asking if I would be interested in trying out for this project, and my immediate reaction was like that of everyone else — that no one should do this!
After thinking about it some more, and realizing how long it’s been since the first Harry Potter book came out, I started to realize how this project could help introduce the stories to a whole new generation of readers. In fact, the readers of my books would be the perfect age to begin reading Harry Potter.Â I submitted thumbnail images and was chosen to do the project.
Walk us through your thinking as you sat down to work on the first drawings you did. Did you reread the books? Were you consciously trying to avoid everything that had already been done in the original covers?
I did not re-read the books until pretty late in the process. My first several sets of roughs were done completely from memory. It wasn’t until I was working on the details of the scenes that I had to really comb over the text to make sure I got everything right. Thankfully, Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books helped vet the images to make sure they were accurate. When I started painting the images, I was really trying to capture a feeling I had about each book. I wanted to capture the subtext, meaning and emotion first, and work out the details later. I write my books much the same way.
You’re primarily a cartoonist, so how do you approach an illustration as you did in this project? Is it about trying to capture a scene? Is there a storytelling aspect?
The approach I chose for this project was to capture a scene, but I think that’s because this is what I naturally enjoy doing anyway. I love creating spaces. When I draw or write or design, I am always working to create a really great space to be in. I tried versions of the covers that were more like movie posters, where you see the characters posed in front of scenes, objects, and other characters from the books, but it just didn’t feel right.Â I decided instead to approach the design of the books as a series of windows into the world of Harry Potter.
I just called you a cartoonist, but you’ve created plenty of artwork over the years which people have seen in exhibitions or at Gallery Nucleus and elsewhere. To what degree was the illustration work similar to those kinds of pieces?
Strangely enough, I did a painting for a Harry Potter tribute show at Gallery Nucleus, but it is nothing like the work on the covers. In fact, if someone saw that piece and was told that the artist who did those also drew the new covers, people would be left scratching their heads. David Saylor asked me to try out for this project because of my work on the covers from the “Flight” anthology.
“Amulet: Prince of the Elves” came out last year. You’ve had a busy year, obviously, and I know that you had some health issues, but where do things stand on book six?
I’m working on it now, and I promise it will be the best in the series so far. So far, it’s looking very good.
Whatever you think is going to happen is probably not going to be the case. Hopefully, you will all be surprised in a great way. Also, Navin has a really big role in this one.
How many books are planned for the series in total?
No plans. I’ll just let the story do its thing.
“Explorer: The Lost Islands” comes out in October. What do you enjoy about the “Explorer” anthologies? And after ending “Flight,” what keeps you interested in editing and overseeing these books?
The best part of working on “Explorer” is seeing the newcomers get a chance to show their stuff. Â Seeing the work that my assistants Chrystin Garland and Jason Caffoe did on the new anthology is an amazing feeling.
As for continuing our work on anthologies, I see “Explorer” as a continuation of “Flight,” so I don’t feel we ever stopped creating anthologies. I just readjusted the project so that younger readers can feel more welcome.