Searching the Clouds & Taking Flight w/ Cartoonist Kibuishi

Searching the Clouds & Taking Flight

Since the launch of his Scholastic graphic novel series Amulet in 2008, Kazu Kibuishi has seen it become one of the most popular all-ages comics around.  The momentum continues with recently-released third volume, The Cloud Searchers, which literally takes our heroes to new heights…and new dangers.  Kibuishi, with whom we’ve discussed the previous Amulet installments here and here, gave us the scoop on the latest volume, along with plans for the future of the Flight anthologies he edits and contributes to as a creator.

Newsarama: Kazu, for our readers, tell us about The Cloud Searchers.

 

Kazu Kibuishi: The Cloud Searchers is the third installment in the Amulet series. It's the story of Emily, Navin and a small band of resistance fighters looking for a lost floating city that serves as the home of the powerful Guardian Council. 

They believe that with the help of the Council, they will be able to defeat the Elf King and his army.  The Elf King, however, has hired an armored assassin to track down the crew and stop them by any means necessary. 

Like the second book, The Cloud Searchers continues to open up our view of Alledia, the world that these characters inhabit.  We also learn a lot more about the characters from Alledia, including Trellis the Elf Prince.

 

Nrama:  Have we reached about the midpoint of the story?  You said you were interested in going for five volumes or so earlier on.

Kibuishi: Not yet.  Books 3, 4, and 5 all came out of the outline for what was supposed to be Book 3.  The way I write I generally like to give myself a basic framework and then try and discover things along the way. 

Working like this tends to spread out the story a bit.  Daisy Kutter was initially supposed to be a 25-page one-shot that ended up being a 150-page graphic novel. 

Amulet was originally supposed to be a 300-page single volume and now we're already past 600 pages.  If Amulet is on the same trajectory as Daisy Kutter, I guess that means Amulet will unspool to 1800 pages. 

At this point, I have seven books clearly mapped out, but it's likely the last book will need more space than a single volume can afford me.  I actually try to tighten the story as much as possible and pack as much as I can into each volume, but I still feel like each book is bursting at the seams. 

I'm actually contracted to deliver 144-page books, but Amulet is averaging more than 200 pages per book.

 

Nrama:  How has your art style evolved since the first volume?

Kibuishi: It's hard to tell.  I constantly feel like I'm not a very good draftsman and I feel like I'm learning to draw again on every page, but my wife Amy and my assistant Jason keep telling me I'm drawing better.

 I think my artwork hasn't evolved so much.  It's just that there are certain characters and objects that I have now drawn over and over again, and naturally the drawings look a little better due to the practice.

Nrama: In this volume, it feels like you're a little more comfortable with the smaller scenes where the characters are interacting.  How has your writing style evolved as the series has gone on?

 

Kibuishi: Again, it's hard for me to notice.  I am definitely a lot more disciplined.  When I need a scene to work, I can get it to work faster than before.  Basically, I keep scrapping pages until it feels right.

Long ago, I would freeze up as if I were doing something wrong.  Now I know that making all these mistakes is just part of the process, so I just try to make mistakes faster.

Nrama: My favorite new character is Gabilan -- how did you create him?

Kibuishi: When I was putting together this book, I knew I wanted to have a really vicious-looking villain.  I quickly drew an armored elf with the eyes of a hawk and I knew I had my villain. 

 

The name actually comes from a superhero I created back in high school.  I had a hawk-like assassin as part of a military strike team, and he wore a mask.  He looks nothing like the new Gabilan. 

I believe the name originally came from a John Steinbeck novel, either Cannery Row or Of Mice and Men, can't remember.  It was a reference to a mountain range named for its hawks.

Nrama:  Don't want to spoil the scene, but is that a homage to The Dark Crystal near the climax?

 

Kibuishi: I actually haven't seen that film in a very long time, so no, not intentionally.  I am, however, very inspired by Jim Henson on a daily basis.  Like most of the world, I really miss his work. 

When I think of his absence, it makes me sad and motivates me to try and capture some of the essence of what he was trying to accomplish in my own work.

Nrama: Flight's coming to an end with its current volume -- why did you decide to end the series?

Kibuishi: The short answer is that the books weren't selling well enough to continue in its current form.  I attribute the declining sales almost entirely on its size and format.  It's hard to ask readers to pay expensive entrée prices for a big sampler plate of material, no matter how good it is. 

 

People want to know what they're buying when they make such large purchases, so unless they already knew what Flight was, it was difficult for them to make the leap of faith and spend nearly 30 dollars on a paperback book.  So instead of introducing comics to a lot of new readers, which was the goal of the project, we ended up serving a very small but dedicated group of fans. 

The new Explorer anthology is going to be Flight's spiritual successor.  It's my last shot at trying to make the anthology format a viable platform.  If it works, we'll continue.

Nrama: What are you most proud of having accomplished with the series?

Kibuishi: With Flight, I am proud to have been able to work with who I think represent the future of the graphic novel medium.  I also know the book has provided inspiration to thousands of artists out there. 

When I visit animation and video game studios or attend comics-related events, nearly everyone knows what Flight is, and seem to really love it.  I'm hoping that I can find a way to continue the project, but I have to make it a financially viable project for both the artists and the publishers to deem it a true success.

As for Amulet, the book is doing what I always hoped my graphic novels would do: introducing many new readers to comics.  I fell in love with comics as a kid.  When I was little they were everything to me.  My sanctuary. 

As I grew up, it made me sad to see that there were less and less quality comics geared towards the younger readers, as though the industry abandoned them or simply forgot they were even there.  I hear from a lot of parents and teachers about how Amulet is being used to get even the most reluctant readers reading, and that makes me very proud of the books. 

I was one of those kids. Comics got me reading for fun, and then I fell in love with classic and modern literature.  I hope a lot of my readers are taking a similar path.  The kids, parents, teachers, and librarians have all been amazing.  They're so enthusiastic, and it really fuels our production.

 

Nrama:  How are plans for the Amulet movie going?

Kibuishi: The movie with the Smith kids is no longer in development and we have gone our separate ways.  I have the rights back, and there are no immediate plans for a film.  We're just laying low now while the books build momentum and I have more story content finished.

Nrama: What else are you currently working on?

Kibuishi: Aside from <.b>Amulet 4, we have the first volume of the revamped Explorer coming out from Abrams ComicArts and the final volume of Flight.  While I do have several other books in development, my focus is on Amulet right now.

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers is in stores now.

Can the anthology survive?

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