Kibuishi's "Copper" Finds a Home in Print

When CBR News spoke with Kazu Kibuishi a few years back, the first volume of his "Amulet "series was just being released by Scholastic. With the second volume just arriving in stores, we spoke with him once more about the series and his brand new book, a collection of his online strip "Copper."

"Copper" has been an oddity as a webcomic. The story of a boy and his dog has been a quiet strip that moves at a decidedly slow pace, though the world they inhabit is notably fantastic and oversized. The single page strips were released infrequently, though Kibuishi also contributed longer "Copper" tales to the "Flight" anthologies he is best known for, and a new story was written and illustrated specifically for the strip's new collected edition. What began as a comic on dreaming became richer when Kibuishi began focusing more on the relationship between the characters and found the pacing that became one of the strip's trademarks.

The busy cartoonist and editor (and new father) took time out to talk with CBR about his new work.

You have a relationship with Scholastic because they're publishing your "Amulet" series, but what made Scholastic the right home for "Copper" as well?

Scholastic has done such a great job of introducing my work to a wide audience that I have been trying to reach for so long. After seeing that my friends over at Gallery Nucleus would not have the resources to properly publish the "Copper" book, I decided I should approach Scholastic about putting one together. Thankfully, they said yes.

How involved were you in the production and design of the book to make sure the color, the paper, the dimensions all came out correctly?

Surprisingly, I was less involved in the production of this book than any other one I have done. Phil Falco handled the design of the book, and I think he did a phenomenal job. In fact, I think it's the nicest looking book in my library.

Most of the "Copper" comics have been single page strips, though you have, of course, produced several longer pieces. What do you enjoy about the simplicity and form of the single page "Copper" stories, and what did the experience of telling such brief stories teach you?

"Copper" gave me a bunch of chances to teach myself how to be a very economical storyteller. My goal was to tell an entire story on one page. It helped me gain confidence by giving me the satisfaction of completing an entire story on a monthly basis. When I moved on to drawing bigger books, like "Daisy Kutter" and the "Amulet" series, I would always think back on how I wrote a "Copper" comic and it helped me manage the longer stories.

You mentioned, when we discussed the first "Amulet" volume's release, that one of the struggles for you was getting the voice of the kids. Has that become easier for you as you've been working on the series ?

Yes. They have become real people to me now. I actually feel like I simply work for them, as a guy just documenting their fantastic adventures. It's the best place to be as a storyteller.

The first volume of "Amulet" was about setting up the characters and placing them in this fantastic world. The second volume really plunges them and the reader into this world. As a writer, was it easier to think about how the fantasy world should function than it was dealing with exposition and bridging the worlds?

The second volume was much easier. When I'm working exclusively in a fantasy world, I get to think in terms of metaphor and I have plenty of story genres that I can use to help guide me. While bridging the real world to the fantasy world in "Amulet 1," I felt I was inviting some cynicism on the part of the audience. They're reminded of the fact that they must suspend disbelief, since the main characters are being introduced to the fantasy at the exact same moment as the audience. When I drew "Daisy Kutter," by setting the story up in an alternate universe from the very beginning, I could focus on making it a traditional western with a sci-fi spin, and then the way it plays out gives the story its unique flavor. Daisy treating the crazy world around her like it's just the way it should be gives it an air of authenticity from the moment we see it. In "Amulet," drawing attention to the fantasy concepts was unavoidable, making it harder to give the settings a more naturalistic feel.

The major character introduced in volume 2 is the bounty hunter Leon Redbeard. How did you develop with the character and his design?

I carry a sketchbook around with me pretty much everywhere I go. In this sketchbook, I drew a bunch of fox heads for reasons I can't remember, but it was back when I was working on "Amulet 1." When I went back to look at the sketches, I realized this fox guy should be a character in "Amulet" some day. Seeing that I had a role for a mentor character in "Amulet 2," I pulled the sketchbook back out and plugged Leon right in there. As for his personality, he is inspired by his namesakes, Jean Reno's character in "Leon (The Professional)" and Toshiro Mifune's character in the Kurosawa film, "Red Beard."

The stone, which is the tool Emily holds, has really been defined this volume as much a danger as it is a tool, and the title "The Stonekeeper's Curse" is really apt. Was this tension and the showdown that it sets up part of your concept for the series all along, and to what degree to you think this metaphor for power is a vital part of fantasy?

Most of the story was planned out while drawing tons of pages I didn't use on the production of the first volume. Before I started the series, I was unsure of how the amulet would interact with the characters, so his intentions were as mysterious to me as they were to Emily and the readers. As I gained confidence in my storytelling towards the end of the first book, I began to see pretty clearly what he represented and what he was after, so the story has been set on a particular trajectory ever since.

The fight between the house and the elf at the end of volume 2 is almost a quarter of the book. Did you intend for it to be such a lengthy and significant sequence, and what did you enjoy about the scene and having the space to make it so big?

One of the best things about drawing a graphic novel as opposed to a serialized comic is the ability to draw sustained action for more pages. I took advantage of this on "Amulet 1," and I wanted to do something similar for "Amulet 2." The moment in the final battle where the house shows up was the scene I've been working my way up to since the beginning, so I wanted to make sure it made an impact. For "Amulet 3," however, I decided to go with a more condensed storytelling style, with big ideas replacing some of the big action, and I think it works well. 

The major crux of the first book revolved around the mother's illness, a situation that was resolved at the end of this volume. Why did you decide to do that, and is she going to play a key role in the rest of the series?

I originally pitched "Amulet" as one big 300-page full-color graphic novel. Scholastic wanted to publish it, but asked me to break it up into two parts. Now, the first two books make one 417-page whole, and they set up for a much larger story that will extend to at least 5 volumes. Emily's mother, Karen, will definitely play a major role going forward.

So, what should readers expect in the third volume of "Amulet" later this year?

In the new volume, readers can expect to see a lot more of Alledia, since the characters travel to quite a few fantastic locations and meet several new major characters. It really opens up the world and broadens the scope of the series. The implications of the stone and Emily's role as a stonekeeper begin taking a darker turn, with the Voice of the Stone appearing as a physical character for the first time. Also, the artwork has been taken up a few levels with this volume. The pages are richer and more detailed than in the previous two volumes, and I think that helps with expanding the scope of the world.

You also have another "Flight" anthology in the works right now. What can you share about that?

You can expect lots of very detailed, lyrical stories that are more like fables in a storybook than they are comics. The new entries by Michel Gagne, Cory Godbey, and newcomers Justin Gerard, Leland Myrick, and Stuart Livingston are among the storybook-style contributions.

Are we going to see a second "Flight Explorer" anthology? It sold reasonably well, but we haven't heard much about it since the first one was published a while back.

Yes. We are currently working out the terms of a deal with Abrams to publish a new anthology titled, simply, "Explorer."

A few months ago you became a father - congratulations to you and Amy, by the way. Do you feel that fatherhood or impending fatherhood changed your work or the way you think about your work? This, of course, assumes you've gotten much work done the past few months.

Thanks! Becoming a father has definitely changed my work and work habits. I have less time to work now, and I get much less sleep, but I've been more productive than ever. It's like someone lit a fire under my feet and I'm constantly on the run. But it's great. I love how everything I do now has a bigger sense of purpose than before, and this extends to the writing of the stories and the ideas I want to explore. And Juni's great. Seeing and holding him makes me ridiculously happy.

Aside from Juni's arrival, the fact that I also have a full-time employee at the studio really gets me working harder. Jason Caffoe has been a huge help on "Amulet 3," and I look forward to working with him on all the projects we have lined up right now. My goal has always been to run my studio like a professional architecture firm or animation studio, and we're getting a little closer to realizing the vision every year. Only three years ago, I was working out of my apartment, in a tiny room. So we've come pretty far since then.

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