Kazu Kibuishi was born 1978 in Tokyo, Japan and is a graphic novel author and illustrator. He is best known for being the creator and editor of the comic anthology Flight and for creating the webcomic Copper. He has also written the Amulet series. The work of Kazu Kibuishi has been hailed as “a whirlwind tour-de-force.” I sat down with him for a few minutes to discuss cultural differences, comic books, and more! Read below for the full interview!
Could you tell us a little bit about growing up in Japan and a bit of the cultural differences residing in California now?
Kazu: I actually only spent the first three years of my life in Japan, so I remember very little. However, during a trip to Japan a couple of years ago, my friends and I took a train out to Shikoku Island, which is very rural. During the ride, my wife and I were struck by how much the settings reminded us of my paintings. Especially the Flight covers. When I returned home, my family told me that the area we were traveling through was where I spent most of my first couple of years. I guess the memories of Japan are still strong in my mind, but they are definitely buried deep. I also do remember that it was the sadness that came from no longer having cool robot TV shows like Ultraman around once we came to the States that triggered a lot of my early drawings and projects.
What started your love of comic books?
Kazu: Garfield, MAD Magazine, and CARtoons (the magazine). I would try to be the first kid to get to the Scholastic Book Fair so I could buy a copy of Garfield before it was sold out. After school, while hanging out at my grandmother’s restaurant, I would go over to the nearby supermarket and get the newest issue of MAD or CARtoons. My grandmother also had a lot of manga at the restaurant, but I couldn’t read it and most of it seemed geared for adults.
I heard you had a career in animation prior to comics & novels. Could you expand a bit on why you decided to change paths and persue other outlets?
Kazu: I don’t feel I ever really changed paths, but rediscovered my original one. I’ve actually been drawing comics ever since I could remember, but the reason I drew comics was to see my visions realized. I always believed it would save me so much time to just plug a wire into my head and project what I see for others to enjoy, but drawing and writing seemed to be the only way I could get close to doing something like that. In high school, my ambition got the better of me and I started pursuing a career in film. I went to film school and I worked very hard on my screenwriting skills. During all this time, I was steadily drawing comics in my free time. It was fun and therapeutic, while working on films was often heartbreaking, expensive, and stressful. Eventually, I realized it was more important for me to be able to communicate ideas and work on my ability to tell a story than to work on large-scale ambitious projects. Comics gave me that outlet, and once I saw that it was becoming a viable career path for me, one that had been developing under the surface for so long, I decided to get back on the path and dedicate myself to it.
Tell my readers a bit about Flight & Amulet, for the poor souls who haven’t heard about these projects.
Kazu: Flight is an anthology of short comics stories that are written and drawn by a collective of like-minded artists working in the animation, video game, and comics industries. It was originally put together as a showcase for my friends’ works and for a place where I could develop stories while working at an animation studio, but it quickly snowballed into a successful series of books. We’re working on the eighth and final volume right now, and I am now developing a new anthology called Explorer.
Amulet is a series of graphic novels that I write and draw for Scholastic Graphix. It’s a story about two kids who enter a fantasy world to save their kidnapped mother and they traverse all sorts of new and dangerous lands in the process of trying to get home. I’m currently working on the fourth book in the series, and I plan to go about ten volumes.
You are beginning an internship to select a talented individual to help on your projects. Is this something new?
Kazu: Nope. I have brought aboard interns for pretty much every Amulet book. The workload gets too intense down the stretch and I just need a little help to get the project done without overworking myself. Drawing graphic novels is a marathon, not a sprint, but sprinting is required for a few months out of the year, and I’m grateful to see that people are willing to help and learn during our crunch time.
The Cloud Searches looks like it has a slight nod to Japanese animation. Are you a fan of any anime films?
Kazu: Yes, of course. I love all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. I’m also a big fan of the first Ghost in the Shell, the Cowboy Bebop series, One Piece, InuYasha, and more, although I have to admit being more influenced by American cinema.
What can we expect so see from you and Bolt City at Comic Con 2011 or other events in 2011?
Kazu: We’ll have the new and final Flight volume, and both Amulet 4 and Explorer will be complete, but not available yet. We will have all the preview materials, though. As for other events, I’m sure I will have a few at the end of the year where I’ll be traveling around talking about Amulet 4.
A blind man could see your Amulet books are a labor of love. How do you deal with the stressful days when dealing with a project you’re so passionate about?
Kazu: There are plenty of stressful days, but pretty much any production artist knows that it comes with the territory. Ask any dedicated art student and they’ll probably say that they’re addicted to the heavy workloads. So, for me, it’s a combination of accepting the lifestyle and also remembering that I am blessed to be able to do this for a living. These days I also have assistants helping out, so production is slightly less stressful. The best stress relief, however, has been spending time with my wife Amy, and my son Juni. When I’m playing with Juni, it’s hard to feel any of the work stress, since all the work stuff seems so trivial compared to seeing your child grow up.
Got any cool stories or experiences you’d like to share from performing workshops all over the country?
Kazu: Man, where do I begin? I have had so many wonderful and amazing experiences in my travels in the States and abroad I could probably write a book. Since I need to get back to work right now, I will share one of my more recent experiences. I just got back from Rhode Island, where I received a children’s book award for Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper. The best part of the trip, however, was getting to meet and spend time with Lisa and Chris Van Allsburg (the author/illustrator of Jumanji and The Polar Express). They said they were fans of my work, and it meant the world to me. Jumanji was one of my very first favorite books, so it was neat to see things come full circle, where I get to meet someone who instilled in me a love of reading, and to have that person do so much to encourage me to continue. It really blew my mind to have dinner at their house, and to sit at a little table with Chris, Mo Willems, and Mark Teague, having really intense discussions about films and books. It was amazing.
Lastly, any advice for any artist or writer trying to get their big break?
Kazu: The two most important things to remember are to stay focused and work hard, even when you don’t want to. Also, it’s important to remember that when you create your work, you are doing it to communicate an idea with someone, so always consider them. It’s wonderful to love what you do, but it’s even more wonderful to be able to share that love with someone else.
Want to keep tabs on his work? Follow his cookie crumb trail and don’t forget to purchase his book: