An Afternoon With Kazu Kibuishi, Author of Amulet

Last Saturday, my son and I had the pleasure of participating in a Zoom interview with the graphic novelist, Kazu Kibuishi organized by the Tacoma Public Library system.

Kibuishi is probably most well know for his nine-volume tween graphic novel "Amulet". When I was thinking about writing Baby Barbarian, I read this wildly successful graphic novel series for inspiration.

A Dream Deferred

Kibuishi told us that the idea for Amulet had started way back when he'd just entered college. But after only thirty pages of drawing what were little more than knock-offs of Jeff Smith's “Bone” and Hayao Miyazaki's “Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind” Kibuishi ran out of steam and story.

It wasn't until years later, that Kibuishi was able to return to the project with renewed vigor. You see, Kibuishi's parents had run into severe financial problems, and he and his brother had to assume responsibility for the bankruptcy proceedings for the family business, his parent's home mortgage, and their younger siblings. These tribulations provided Kibuishi the theme he had lacked before when he'd first had a go at what would become "Amulet".

The Amulet series begins with a boy and girl striving to save their mother's life.

No Shitty Comic Books

Kibuishi is about my age (although he looks older, haha) and like me, he got turned off to superhero comics in the 90s.

If you read comics back then, then you'll know that it was about that time a mob of bonehead artists, led by bonafide knucklehead, Rob Liefeld, began to spray their macho-musk on the pages of once great comic series. At the time I thought that I had just grown out of comics. The truth was more sinister: they'd just gotten shitty.

Kibuishi turned to other sources. He showed us three books that he said read like graphic novels in his imagination: Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, and The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway.

Hearing this was welcome confirmation that graphic novels can be more than empty entertainment. "Amulet" I could see by the hordes of kids who'd tuned in this Saturday afternoon has truly inspired a generation's collective imagination.

Some Other Things About Kibuishi

Kibuishi does 8-20 drafts of each page. He says he loves the redraw. At the beginning of the book, he'll do more drafts, but as he gets towards the end, the pictures come faster and he has to do fewer drafts.

Kibuishi doesn't actually Ink his pages. Instead, he uses a graphite pencil and then darkens the tone after the page has been scanned. I have never heard of that, but I wonder if any artists reading this might have a similar trick.

Kibuishi studied screenwriting as an undergraduate and worked as an architectural draftsman before 911 made him rethink going to work in a skyscraper.

He told the kids that when he had gone through Disney's office years ago, he'd seen on the wall a fifty year old picture drawn by the master himself of a character that would become none other than Elsa of Frozen.

He reminded the kids (and me) that “These things can take a long time.”

Thanks for reading, and if you're interested in my own loooong brewing project, check out the first six pages of Baby Barbarian here!

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