Kazu Kibuisihi Takes a Final "Flight"

Since it premiered from Image Comics in 2004, the "Flight" anthology has been one of the leading anthologies of the past decade and an amazing showcase for young talent. If the book never quite managed to live up to the praise that Scott McCloud offered for the first volume, looking through the list of contributors, the anthology served as a training ground for many artists who have later found a home in print and online. Just a few contributors to the first volume include Vera Brosgol ("Anya's Ghost"), Erica Moen ("Bucko"), Jake Parker ("Missile Mouse") and Jen Wang ("Koko Be Good").

Series editor Kazu Kibuishi's own cartooning career has taken off in the years since "Flight" was published. His webcomic "Copper" was collected by Scholastic in 2010, but he is perhaps best known for his Scholastic series "Amulet," the fourth volume of which will be released this fall.

Last year Kibuishi announced that Villard Books' new volume of "Flight," its eighth, will be the final one. CBR News spoke with Kibuishi over e-mail about why it was time to end the anthology, what to look at in the upcoming "Explorer" anthology and provides an exclusive look at the fourth "Amulet" volume coming out this fall.

CBR News: Take us back if you will. How did Flight originally come together? I know that a number of artists were talking online and posting work, but to go from there to a print anthology is a big step. What prompted it?

Kazu Kibuishi: Before working in the comic industry, I felt that there were so few venues to do the comics that I liked to create, and was always hoping to see something like "Shonen Jump" or "Heavy Metal" appear in the US. When a few of my friends suggested putting together a small black and white anthology for the Alternative Press Expo back in 2002, I ended up being in charge of the project, so I took it as an opportunity to try and create the kind of magazine -- or in this case a trade paperback anthology -- that I was looking for. My friends on the Internet happened to be fans of the friends I hung out with here in LA, so they all got excited to work together and the project snowballed from there.

How did you decide to end the series? What made this the right time to end it?

I honestly didn't plan on ending the series until the day my editor called and we had an honest discussion about the future of the series. While "Flight" continues to be very successful for an anthology, it doesn't sell enough copies to be considered a hit in the mainstream book publishing world, and our sales numbers were not rising. My goal with the project was to reach new readers and bring them into comics, but I was seeing that we weren't doing a good enough job of it. I think much of the blame can be placed on the size and price of the books. It's just a bit much to ask someone who has never read the other "Flight" books to spend $27 on a paperback. So I realized that the time spent on the series could be better spent helping the artists begin working on their own books. We'll revisit the project again, but it will probably show up in a different form.

This may be a question you can't answer just because you've been so close to it, but what do you think the influence of "Flight" has been?

I hear from a lot of people in comics and the animation industries that the project has been very inspirational, and helped them to start thinking about creating their own stories again, which is great. A large portion of the artists that have been a part of the project have gone on to work on big movies and their own books. Not sure how much influence "Flight" itself had on their careers, but I think it did serve as a nice place to practice, to get valuable critiques and to meet new friends on their journey. I know that for myself, the most valuable thing I will take from my experience is in getting to know so many wonderful and amazing people, some of whom have become my closest friends.

It's hard not to think, on some level, this is the end of one stage of your career and the beginning of the next. Does it feel that way to you?

It is definitely just a transition into a new phase of my career, and for the careers of all those involved in "Flight." It's time to do more than just practice. One of the things that started to clue me in on our need to transition was seeing how some animation talent on the books would feel satisfied that "Flight" would provide them with a platform to tell their own stories on a small scale and they would then be able to to return to the safety of a big animation studio job. If this is how they feel, then I am doing them a disservice.  They need to stay hungry. That hunger to create is more valuable than most artists are led to believe. My hope is that I'll be able to spend more time with the artists that are most committed to their original visions and help them get their stories to the widest possible audience.

Will there be a "Flight" booth at Comic-Con International this year?

Yes. We will be where we were last year, at booth #2235.

I know there's a second "Explorer" anthology in the works. How does the approach and thinking differ from "Flight?"

"Explorer" is my last effort at trying to make the anthology a viable format. I never really thought about the market when putting together "Flight." It was all about the artists. This time, I am trying to find a better balance between servicing the artist and servicing the reader. "Explorer" will be a much smaller, much less expensive, entirely all-ages anthology. And when I say all-ages, it doesn't mean the book is just for kids. It just means it is entirely age-appropriate, but I hope the artists do not shy away from exploring mature themes and ideas. I also have an actual book editor by my side this time. Sheila Keenan, my editor on "Amulet" 1 and 2, will be working as my co-editor on the anthology.

When you talk about wanting to service the reader, in what sense will "Explorer" be different from "Flight" and how has assembling it been a different process?

The stories in "Explorer" are not as artist-focused as in the "Flight" anthologies, and the price point won't present such a high barrier for entry to new readers. Each book will also have a central theme that ties every story together. Sheila Keenan is a seasoned book editor, and she brings in a lot of comments and critiques from a reader's perspective. Her involvement is crucial to making the book work, since it's been so difficult for me to wear so many hats with all of the projects going on. So, the simple answer is that the book will be more streamlined, more organized, and more attention will be paid to the details.

Why are anthologies so important for young creators and what does it mean that there are fewer print opportunities?

Anthologies are a fantastic way of showcasing work. I have seen, on many occasions, the "Flight" books being used as reference by art directors and editors in animation, video games and publishing. A lot of the artists in the books have gotten jobs because of the work they did in "Flight." Several of the stories that began in "Flight" also became their own graphic novels. Basically, the anthology format is a great way to gain momentum and attention. Fewer print opportunities mean that young artists are going to have to rely more on building a strong web presence to get their work seen.

Turning to your ongoing series, "Amulet." The fourth volume comes out from Scholastic in a couple months. What can we look forward to in the upcoming volume?

The new volume is easily the best in the series. This is where I have been able to fully utilize everything I've learned about writing and drawing comics, about interacting with readers, and managing other artists on the production. It has also been the most fun book in the series to work on so far.

This volume is about our hero, Emily, seeking the aid of the Guardian Council, a group of powerful old stonekeepers that used to govern the world of Alledia. She finds them in Cielis, a flying city hidden in the clouds, and discovers that something is wrong. The city is gripped with fear, and the streets have become desolate. In order to uncover what happened, she joins her new friend Max Griffin at the Academy, where they are subject to a series of tests to determine who will become the newest members of the Guardian Council.

I imagine a project this large has been a learning experience in many respects. How has the story changed and how has the process of working on it changed over the years?

The core story hasn't changed all that much, and I'm still on track to get to the ending that I had originally envisioned. What did happen is that the story has expanded. The details have become full story arcs, and side characters have become more important than I originally imagined they would be. All of the surprises have been really enjoyable, and have allowed the writing process to feel fresh even after six years (when I began working on this series full-time).

How many volumes do you see the book running?

At the moment, we're talking to Scholastic about getting a contract extension to do books six and seven, so I know I will be doing seven books for sure. Whether it extends beyond that seventh book depends largely on how much of the story I can fit into book five. This next volume is the most ambitious one yet, and it's likely I won't be able to do everything I intend to do within the pages of this one book. However, I've gotten much better at compressing the information while working on book four, so we'll see if I can pull it off. My stock answer is "between seven to ten books."

"Amulet" has also been optioned for a feature film. Can you update us on its status?

The first book originally got optioned in 2008, but since then it was stuck in development until the option lapsed. For a short while, I thought the film was dead in the water, so I tried not to think about it and focused on the production of the books. At the beginning of this year, however, Overbrook Entertainment -- Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith's production company -- gave my agent a call and said they and Warner Bros still want to do this and they are very serious about getting it made, so it appears there is momentum again. I recently worked on a treatment for the film that Overbrook and Warner Bros. seem very happy with, and we are currently still working out the kinks in the new contract.

"Flight" volume 8 is on sale now.

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