An Amulet Update: Checking in with Kazu Kibushi

Checking in with Kazu Kibushi

Kazu Kibushi is one of the hardest-working men in comics, from helming the award-winning Flight and Flight Explorer anthologies to his own characters such as Copper and Daisy Kutter – and that’s just for starters. Last year, the first graphic novel in his Scholastic all-ages fantasy series was a smash hit that garnered an Eisner nomination and was optioned as a film by Will Smith as a possible vehicle for his children, Jaden and Willow.

Now, Book Two of Amulet, The Stonekeeper’s Curse, hits stores in a few months, and it’s even bigger and better than its predecessor. In it, our young heroes Emily and Navin undertake a dangerous quest in a fantasy realm to save their mother…a quest that involves ancient trees, a deadly assassin, a brave fox, mystic giants, and oh yeah, a robot house.

Kibuishi took some time out from his very busy schedule to give us a look at Amulet 2, complete with some preview art that will have you chomping at the bit for the full book.

Newsarama: Kazu, for our readers, give us an idea of what's happened before, and what will happen in this volume.

Kazu Kibuishi: The first book began with the abduction of Emily and Navin's mother, and it ended with her being rescued, but poisoned. In this book, the kids continue on their quest to find a cure. On their way, they will team up with some brave warriors and fight powerful new villains, while getting a more expansive view of the fantasy world they inhabit.

NRAMA: You have some dark themes in the first volume, but in Vol.2, the adventure gets pretty intense, with some high stakes. What's the challenge in crafting a story that could go out in so many different directions?

KK: The biggest challenge was setting up the series in the first volume. Once the characters became real to me, their stories began to write themselves. The flexibility of the story being able to move in different directions allows me more freedom to build the subsequent volumes around particular themes and emotions, so the challenge now comes more in how I end the story to set up the next one.

Thankfully, I spent a lot of time redrafting the first book to make sure it set up for the next one nicely. It allowed me to complete the second book in half the time it took to create the first, despite the more complicated storyline and more detailed artwork.

NRAMA: In this volume, you go for a more expansive style, really experimenting with double-page spreads and locations. How did your art style evolve from Vol.1 to Vol.2?

KK: In Vol. 1, I was laser focused on making sure the story flowed well, sometimes to the detriment of the artwork. Many of the pages I scrapped looked nicer than the ones that I kept in the book, but they would have hurt the story flow, so they had to go.

In Vol. 2, since I was more experienced and had a much better grasp of who the characters were, I was able to spend a little more time and energy on creating nicer artwork. And since the first book was successful and was earning royalties, I was able to hire some very talented artists to help me with a lot of the painting work. A lot more resources went into the art production of Amulet 2, and I think it shows.

As for the double-page spreads, I wanted to create large images that established multiple fantastic locations. The first book took place almost entirely in a cave. This time I wanted the reader to feel like they were roaming around in a vast world above ground. These next few books will hopefully expand the universe to new levels in each subsequent volume.

NRAMA: Trellis is a pretty cool character in this one – he reminds me of Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender, to get geeked out. Tell us a little about this character.

KK: Zuko is a great character to compare Trellis to. They're very similar in that they both harbor some deep scars caused by having major family problems. I have a very clear picture of Trellis's backstory that I won't get into here or else I'll be giving spoilers!

What I can say is that he is a major focus in Book 3, and I think that will become evident to the readers by the end of Book 2.

NRAMA: Also, Leon Redbeard is due to be a about his development.

KK: I created him long before we began work on Amulet 2. After drawing tons of sketches of this fox character in various sketchbooks, I realized he could play a key role in Emily's journey to become a warrior.

He is inspired by all the great mentor characters in cinema. He's like Yoda or Mister Miyagi. His name is actually derived from the films Leon (aka The Professional) by Luc Besson and Red Beard by Akira Kurosawa. Like those titular characters, I wanted him to be a powerful fighter with a humanist attitude.

In Red Beard, Toshiro Mifune plays a gruff doctor in feudal Japan, and in one scene he singlehandedly dispatches a gang of bandits by breaking their arms and legs. After the fight is over, he mends them! I wanted Leon to be as cool as this guy. The artists who helped on the production drew a bunch of fan art for him already, so I take that as a positive sign.

NRAMA: What cultural elements did you incorporate into the story? For example, I am curious about the design of the Elf King's mask.

KK: The mask was very much inspired by the masks that Hayao Miyazaki creates for many of his villains, and by Darth Vader from Star Wars. The idea of a faceless entity strikes me as being much scarier than a mean-looking dude.

As far as the specific design of the mask, it doesn't have any cultural references. I pretty much just drew something that I thought looked interesting and just stuck with it. It had to be similar to Emily's stone's design, however, since the mask represented the idea that a stone had taken over the soul of its keeper.

The character himself was inspired by a ballad by Franz Schubert called The Erlking, which was set to a poem written by Goethe. It tells the story of a father carrying his dying son by horseback through the woods, and the son tells his father that he sees the Erlking, a mythical demon, coming to get him. Ever since I heard it I could never get the story out of my head, so when it came to creating a villain for Amulet, I felt the reference was a perfect fit.

NRAMA: You got a film deal with Vol.1! Can you give us a status update on that?

KK: Last I heard, the screenwriters wrote the first draft of the script and are now working on the second. I don't get too many updates, and I would certainly like to help them out with story issues to better fit the Smith family into the picture. However, I trust them to do what's best and I hope it's all going well over there.

NRAMA: There has been talk of the series running five books. Can you confirm or deny that -- how long do you see it running at this point?

KK: I can confirm that we are slated to do up to five books, but I intend to take the series even farther. At present, I have at least 10 books in mind for the series.

NRAMA: What are some of your other projects at the moment, and what is the challenge of balancing all of them?

KK: I'm currently developing several other graphic novel projects with Flight artists, on top of handling duties for Flight and Flight Explorer. The challenge mostly has to do with scheduling. The bigger workload now has me working late night hours again, despite coming into the office between 8 to 9 in the morning. It's all very satisfying work, however, so that keeps me motivated.

NRAMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

KK: Perhaps the most exciting aspect of working on Amulet has been the creation of a new production system. I hired two digital painters in Jason Caffoe and Anthony Wu who also have a great sense of story. I am currently developing my new projects with them from the very beginning, and that has made the process more fun and efficient.

We're hoping it provides a good model for how graphic novels are created, and hopefully we'll be able to demonstrate its success by creating some great books at a quick pace.

The Stonekeeper’s Curse: Amulet, Book 2 is due to ship from Amazon and be in bookstores on September 1st. For more of Kazu Kibuishi’s work, visit .

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