June 19, 2007

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Kazu Kibuishi

When you look at the work of Kazu Kibuishi, it wouldn't be far off to say that comics are his life. He's edited the Flight series of comics anthologies, he's authored online comics that have gotten critical acclaim, he's working on a two-volume graphic novel with Scholastic, and he's even married to fellow graphic novelist/illustrator Amy Kim Ganter as of this past April. Their wedding was officiated by comics guru Scott McCloud, for heaven's sake. What more could a young comic book artist want?

Hey, it sounds pretty good to us, which is why we were eager to ask Kazu about his Cybils Graphic Novel Finalist Flight Vol. 3; his solo projects Daisy Kutter: The Last Train (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2006) and the upcoming Amulet; and what it's like to work on anthologies and web comics.

FW: The setting for your graphic novel Daisy Kutter is reminiscent of the old "Wild Wild West" TV show, with its Old West flavor and preponderance of robots. Can you talk a little about the setting and what prompted you to write this story?

Daisy Kutter started out as a silly little sketch of a cowgirl I drew and posted on an online forum called The Drawing Board. People seemed to really like her, so I drew more images of her, and inadvertently, stories started forming around them. Eventually, I realized I had a lot in common with the character and I decided to tackle a 25-page comic about her thwarting a train heist. That idea ended up becoming a 150-page graphic novel. I actually didn't go into the project with the idea of creating a steampunk western, but I did know I was creating a story about a cowgirl and it was actually really hard for me to draw a story without robots in it. Heheh. It was just a habit. My focus, however, was on Daisy's story. Her view of the world really interested me, being someone who sees a fast-changing, disposable world swirling around her, and somehow she has to make peace with it, and adapt to it. I think it's the story of the modern American.

FW: Congratulations on Flight Vol. 3 being one of the finalists for a Cybil Award! What were your original goals for the Flight series? Have your goals changed now that you're a few volumes in, as comics and graphic novels continue to grow in popularity?

Our original goals for the series are actually still the same ones we have now: to do whatever it takes to create a financially viable venue for a new form of American comics. Graphic novels have definitely grown more popular recently, but the medium is still in its early development stages. I've been working round the clock for the past few years trying to figure out some practical solutions to producing high quality graphic novels. Daisy Kutter, Flight, Amulet, and now Flight Explorer are the first contributions to the experiment.

FW: Can you talk about the process involved in putting together such a diverse collection of stories? What considerations are involved in selecting stories for the anthologies? Have you gained any new insights in your role as editor?

I really only have control over a couple of things when working on this book. The first, and most important thing, is choosing the right people. Once I get a sense that an artist has something to say and can say it in an articulate and well-designed fashion, they are tapped on the shoulder to contribute and much of my work is already done. At that point, I trust them to put some genuine energy into their story and I can only lightly guide them to the finish line. In fact, I find that the best way to do that is to do a story myself and show them the progress. I think it helps people to know that there's somebody on the book that's leading the charge. When it's not me, it's often one of the other core members of the Flight group. Michel Gagné, Kean Soo, and Jake Parker often take up the vanguard.

FW: It must have been a challenge to put together a good balance of stories, visual styles, and still consider the intended audience. What has been your favorite part of working on the Flight series? What has been the most difficult part? What have been some of your favorite Flight stories?

My favorite part has been in meeting all these great friends. They are my extended family. I feel incredibly honored, privileged, and fortunate to represent them as the editor of their book. Being able to work with these people makes all the extra effort worth it. That said, the most difficult part of the project is cutting artists out, especially after they put so much effort into their stories. I'm lucky in that it generally works out so I don't have to cut much material (since it's all so good!), but I really wish I could still include everyone, every time.

FW: Speaking of intended audience, I read on the Flight blog that a volume specifically for younger readers, Flight Explorer, is in the works. How is it going to be distinct from the previous, more "mixed" volumes of the series? How will it be distinct from the also-upcoming Flight Vol. 4?

Even though Flight Explorer has been in the back of my mind for a couple of years, and a few of the artists have even suggested doing something like it several times, the book really came about as a solution to an immediate problem. We had too much stuff, all of it fantastic, and our publisher could not afford to print it all at once. The strange thing was, when I was putting it all together, I could tell that a good portion of the material was perfect for young readers while the majority of the material had a slightly older tone to it. To solve the issue, I suggested we do the Flight Explorer book and that's how it was born. Like many aspects of Flight, Explorer came about as a solution to a problem. As for how they differ, it will be pretty apparent when people read the material. It's not so much about the difference in surface content, but about the voices. The voices are distinct.

FW: Please talk a little about your experience and career in the world of comics, and how you came to produce the Flight series. How did you find your contributors? Was it a difficult project to pitch to publishers?

Before Flight, my only foray into the world of comics had been my college newspaper strips (Clive and Cabbage ) and my webcomic, Copper. Since Flight began, I kind of got sucked into the world of comics publishing and I'm trying to figure things out as I go. It's not something I expected to happen, and while I perhaps dreamed of being a comic artist when I was a kid, it wasn't what I dreamed of doing at the time it happened. However, I love where I am now.

The contributors to Flight have mostly been friends I knew from work, from posting in online forums, or acquaintances I made in the world of online comics. Most of them knew of each other's work, and they were fans of each other, so it was easy to get people aboard. When we started, I had saved about fifteen thousand dollars to print the book myself, but when we decided to produce it in color, I realized my budget was too small and that I would have to pitch the book to a publisher. So instead, I quit my job and lived off the savings while looking for a publisher or more funding to get the book into print. Since I felt the quality of the comics were of such a high caliber and the stories so heartfelt, I was very confident that we would find someone who would give the book a chance.

FW: As the Flight series shows, clearly you have diverse tastes and interests when it comes to comics. Who have been some of your biggest influences and favorite reads? What are you reading now?

My two biggest influences are definitely Jeff Smith and Hayao Miyazaki. After I read Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Bone, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, even if it didn't seem (at the time) to be a viable career option. Currently, I love Jeff Smith's Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil, Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, and Naoki Urusawa's Monster. Last year, we had the addition of three graphic novel classics and that's always exciting. These would be Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, and Scott McCloud's Making Comics. Not only were these the best comics I read last year, but I felt they were the very best books.

FW: You and your wife, Amy Kim Ganter, both write and draw comics. Have you ever considered a collaboration? Why or why not?

Yes! In fact, we're already collaborating. We both work on each other's books. It really alleviates the stress and it makes work a lot more fun. We're eventually planning on creating a book from scratch where we work on it together at every stage. I'm really looking forward to that.

FW: You also write and draw web comics, such as Copper, which is drawn by hand and then colorized in Photoshop. Besides the obvious differences in technical process, how does planning and creating a web comic differ from planning a print comic?

Well, there's not too much difference between print and web when it comes to my comics, since I always work in CMYK, print-safe colors. However, there is a big difference between creating a single page comic and a graphic novel. I tend to draw on much smaller paper and work with much more disposable means on Amulet, where story controls the production. On Copper, since the page design is so important, the layout and design often inform the story. I tried working on Amulet like I do on Copper and it hurt me. Heheh. I learned my lesson though. I really enjoy the process of creating graphic novels now.

FW: Right now you're working on a two-part graphic novel, Amulet. What can you tell us about that project?

Amulet is my first very focused effort in attempting to create a modern graphic novel. The story flow and design all work to fit a 200-page book. It's going to be interesting to see how people receive it. Most of my energy from the last two years have gone towards trying to figure this out.

The story is about two children who have lost their father in a car accident and their mother is forced to move them out of the city for financial reasons. When they move into an old house they inherited from a mysterious ancestor, their mother is kidnapped by a creature down in the basement. Not wanting to lose another parent and face life alone, the kids chase after their mother into a labyrinthine fantasy land that exists deep below their home.

The book is turning out really well and we're on the long final stretch of production. I'm working with a few assistants to help me hit the tight deadline and we're having a good time getting it done. I'm really excited to see the final product!

We're excited, too, and look forward to getting our hands on Kazu's upcoming projects. In the meantime, there are still four more fabulous days of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. On Finding Wonderland tomorrow is another treat for comics fans: an interview with Svetlana Chmakova, author of the Dramacon series of graphic novels (Tokyopop) and The Adventures of CG! in CosmoGIRL! magazine.

More information about Kazu Kibuishi

Kazu's website, Bolt City
Amy Kim Ganter's website, including a gorgeous wedding picture in the April archives
The Official Flight Blog/Website, which includes tons of great info on other goings-on in the comics world
Online previews of Flight Vol. 1, Flight Vol. 2, and Flight Vol. 3
A review of Flight Vol. 3 by a. fortis, on The Edge of the Forest
Kazu's online comic Copper, with a step-by-step making-of section
Kazu's first official webcomic, Clive and Cabbage
News and updates on the progress of Amulet
A New York Times article about webcomics, including Kazu's Copper


Anonymous said...

What an interesting window into the creation and dynamics of an evolving market. I think you asked great questions to make this accessible too people not as familiar with the graphic novel front. I'm intrigued to read more about Daisy Kutter.

Kelly said...

Very interesting interview! As a recent convert to the graphic novel, I learned a lot here :)