Labyrinths and Monsters: Kibuishi talks "Amulet"

Kazu Kibuishi is one of the rising figures of contemporary comics. Both his web comic "Copper" and his first graphic novel "Daisy Kutter" have large followings and accolades, but its Kibuishi's role as editor of the highly successful "Flight" anthologies, featuring wildly creative art by graphic artists from across the comics and animation worlds, that have made him a familiar figure to fans and professionals alike.

Kibuishi's latest is a new graphic novel, "Amulet: The Stonekeeper," from Scholastic's GRAPHIX imprint, and is the first of a series aimed at younger readers. The story – which is set to be adapted into a feature film starring Willow and Jaden Smith (the children of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) -- is about Emily and Navin, a sister and brother who lose their father in a car accident. After their mother decides they can no longer afford to live in the city, she moves the family into their ancestral home in the woods, the former mansion of their missing great-grandfather. On the first evening in their new home, Emily and Navin's mother is attacked by a giant creature and dragged through a door in the basement.  Emily and Navin go through the door to discover a large, subterranean world of labyrinths and monsters, and the kids must find a way to navigate through the underground world and race to save their mother's life, with the aid of a few new friends.

CBR News spoke with Kibuishi about "Amulet, and everything else the lauded comics creator has coming up next.

Where did "Amulet" start? Was it with a character or a scene or an image and how did the story evolve from there?

It began as an idea about kids discovering some giant puzzles underneath their home that was previously owned by their great grandfather, a puzzle maker.  Beyond that, I had no idea where the story would go, except that Emily had a little rabbit doll that would come alive and be their companion on the journey. I shelved the idea since I didn't quite know what the story was truly about, and then decided to revisit it after I was finished with "Daisy Kutter."  Since the last time I worked on "Amulet," I had gone through some tough times with my family and I decided to talk about my experience through this story.

A rabbit character ended up in "Amulet" with the character of Miskit, the robot who helps the kids through their journey. Was it just a question of liking the image of the rabbit?

I always imagined that the kids would have a rabbit doll there to help guide them on their journey, but the way this comes about in the story has changed considerably over the course of making the book.  Every direction I took until the current version felt a little forced, so I decided to try something a little unexpected, and make him a more powerful figure by having him fight Trellis right at the beginning.

This is your second graphic novel but in terms of format and structure, it's very different from "Daisy Kutter" - full color, not serialized, and the first part of a longer story. Did you approach creating "Amulet" differently as well?

KIBUISHI: The approach was very different.  With "Daisy Kutter," I did very little rewriting and I hardly scrapped a thing.  With "Amulet," I needed to do a lot of refining and I ended up keeping about one of every six pages I drew.  It was painful, but it taught me a lot about storytelling.  The coloring took a little bit more time, but it wasn't that different than working in grayscale.

Your wife Amy Amy Kim Kibuishi was responsible for a lot of the color in the book. What influenced the color scheme and what was the working process with the two of you like?

Amy is super talented, so I was lucky that she could match a lot of my painting techniques.  The color schemes were influenced mainly by the mood of the sections we would be painting. I would do a color key for each scene and then ask Amy or one of my interns to try and match it for the other pages surrounding the keys.

You sold this book pretty early in its development. When you pitched Scholastic, what did you give them and how far along were you?

I had six pages and a one-page synopsis. I also met with them in New York and told them the story arc for the first two books.  They were also familiar with "Flight" and "Daisy Kutter," so they had a lot of confidence in me.  I hope they still do!  Heh heh.

Did you have a good experience working with the editors at Scholastic?

It was a learning experience for all of us.  We're still learning how to best structure a system of working that doesn't stress everybody out so much.  However, after finishing the first book, they pretty much leave me alone except to keep me on schedule and to ask me to produce marketing materials, which works great for me.

Was it hard writing children characters?

It was more difficult than I imagined it would be.  Rather than pulling from my own recent life experiences, I had to try thinking about people who were just starting life and have yet to make major decisions that will affect their future.  Basically, it was really difficult to put myself in the shoes of the ten year old me, since I had changed so much. 

Most of your work is aimed at all-ages readers; not necessarily about kids and not only for kids. Do you think that's fair?

Well, I think that "Amulet" is the first book I produced with the younger readers in mind.  "Copper" and my "Flight" stories are made mostly to appeal to the artist side of me.  With "Amulet," I knew for sure that young readers would be the ones reading it, so I tried to channel my ten year-old self and tried to make the book that I would have begged to have at the school book fair.  I used to love the school book fairs, and back then "Garfield" was the book to get.  If I could get a copy of the latest collection, I was so excited!  I wanted to give that feeling to new readers out there too.  If I were that age, at the book fair, I imagine this would indeed be the ultimate find.  Heh heh.

Older readers can feel the influence of the pop culture they grew up with on "Amulet" -- Spielberg and Miyazaki and Uncle Scrooge and all those bad Saturday morning cartoons.

I think that's fair.  Especially Spielberg and Miyazaki.  I was definitely thinking a lot about their work when putting this book together.  As for the Uncle Scrooge influence, I think that actually comes more from my love of Jeff Smith's work, not Carl Barks. If not for [Smith's] "Bone" and [Miyazaki's] "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind," I would not be doing this today. When I read those two books, I knew for certain that I would have to find a way to create a fantasy graphic novel during my lifetime. "Amulet" is a fulfillment of that dream, and I intend to do more when I'm done with this series!

What was it about "Nausicaa" and "Bone" that really spoke to you?

I actually came across the books pretty late in my life.  I discovered "Nausicaa," along with the other works of Hayao Miyazaki, while at the end of my college years.  It was when I started looking into inspirational storytelling in animation that I went to a screening of "Princess Mononoke" and fell in love with his work.  "Bone" was something I was familiar with for a long time, beginning in high school, but it wasn't until after graduating college that I really gave it a strong look, and was blown away by Jeff Smith's amazing comic.  I keep both of these books very close to me while I work on "Amulet." 

Jeff Smith gave you some advice on the book.

Yes.  He gave me some great story notes and they were just what I needed to hear.  He's a really good story editor, and I was lucky to be able to consult him just when I needed his advice.

"Amulet" ends on a note suggesting the second book will be radically different in feel from the first. Is that a fair prediction?

Definitely.  The second book doesn't carry the burden of having to bridge the fantasy to reality, since we're now fully immersed in the fantasy. 

"Amulet" has two more books scheduled, the next one at the end of this year, and then you have two more planned out to hopefully follow those, is that right?

Heh heh.  Actually, "Amulet 2" is scheduled for a Fall 2009 release and each subsequent volume will be coming out on that same yearly schedule. And while I do have five books planned, I will let the story itself determine how long it needs to be.

Besides "Amulet" and "Flight," you're working on some other different projects as well.

Besides "Flight," I am helping to produce a movie and a television show.  They're both traditionally animated, and they are based on the works of some very talented friends. I'm super excited about both projects, but the amount of work ahead of me is a little hard to contemplate.

Are we going to see a print version of your web comic, "Copper," one of these days?

Yes.  It is not yet fully official (still working on contracts, etc.) but the book will have two publishers.  Gallery Nucleus will be producing a limited edition run of oversized hardcovers, and a major book publisher will be handling the mass market books.  This is all probably coming together at the end of 2008, and I'll be producing new "Copper" strips for the website and the book.

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