Graphic Guru

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008

Aspiring local comic book artists will have the rare opportunity this week to learn firsthand from one of the industry's brightest new stars, when acclaimed graphic novelist Kazu Kibuishi visits Juneau.

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Courtesy Of Kazu Kibuishi
Courtesy Of Kazu Kibuishi

Kibuishi, author and artist of the newly released "Amulet: Book 1 - The Stonekeeper," the first of a five-part graphic novel series from Scholastic, will host two workshops while visiting Alaska's capital. A program titled "Creating Graphic Novels and Comics" will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, March 21, at the downtown library. He also will host a free comic illustration workshop for 30 students in fourth through eighth grades from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at the Alaska State Museum.

After a scheduled workshop for children was recently canceled by another artist, Pat Race of Lucid Reverie Creative Design contacted Kibuishi via the Internet to see if he would be willing to visit Alaska as a featured speaker.

"We're really, really lucky to have him come up here because it's right on the release of this new book that just has an incredible buzz behind it," Race said. "He's definitely a rising star and very talented at what he does, so it's pretty cool that he's coming here to Juneau."

Kibuishi has established himself as one of the premiere up-and-coming comic book artists in recent years. He is the editor and art director of the comic anthology "Flight," and in 2005 his debut graphic novel, "Daisy Kutter: The Last Train," was nominated for an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. Kibuishi also has reportedly signed a deal to publish a paperback book of his popular Web-comic "Copper."

This month it also was announced that siblings Willow and Jaden Smith, children of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, will star in a live-action film version of "Amulet."

Hooligan recently corresponded with Kibuishi about his comic book roots, his evolution as an artist, and his advice for those looking at breaking into the business.

How long have you been drawing and writing comics? How did you get into it?

I've been drawing cartoons and comics ever since I could remember. When I was about 5 years old, my mother would take me with her to work, at my grandmother's restaurant, and they would have stacks of Japanese comics available to read. I also picked up copies of MAD magazine and CARtoons at the local grocery store. Along with "Garfield" and my Bill Peet and Richard Scarry books, these were my first influences that inspired me to create cartoons of my own. Since I didn't get to watch very many movies, I ended up drawing my own versions of them, and to some extent, that's pretty much what I still do now.

How did you get involved with children's graphic novels? Are there many artists out there that are doing similar work, or would you say what you do is fairly unique?

I didn't realize I was drawing children's comics until people started pointing it out to me. Since signing on with Scholastic, I sort of accepted the fact that my cartoons are too cute to be edgy, so I have to work extra hard to make them cool. As for other artists doing the same thing, Jeff Smith is the first artist that springs to mind. I'm also very inspired by the works of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

I find it cool that you are putting on some workshops for kids in Juneau. Do you host similar workshops very frequently?

Actually, I do! It began when I volunteered to teach at 826LA, which is a tutoring program associated with the McSweeney's literary journal. Since then, I've been teaching workshops for people young and old. It's great to see how people simply love comics.

How has your art evolved over the years?

I draw a lot faster now. Also, I made the observation lately that my art projects are no longer my "babies," and that now I just make stuff for people who have actual babies! So, in short, it seems my focus shifted from the actual craft of making comics to getting better at communicating with my craft.

So I've heard that "Amulet" is going to be turned into a live-action movie. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how this has come about? Did you ever expect or hope that this would be turned into a movie? Do you have any future plans or aspirations to do animation movies?

The book was making the rounds in Hollywood by way of my film agent (who is genuinely an amazing person) and there seemed to be a lot of interest. A couple of days later, the writers' strike occurred and the project was on the back burner. Literally a day after the strike was over, I got a call from my film agent telling me that Warner Bros. was making an offer. When I found out who was involved, I felt really good about it. So, I said yes.

In truth, I did expect "Amulet" to eventually be turned into a film, just not so soon. I'm also looking forward to seeing a film version of "Daisy Kutter"! Perhaps because I went to film school and I'm a huge film nut, I just automatically think in terms of the language of cinema, so seeing these books adapted for the big screen seems a natural fit. And despite my affinity for film, I did come to the realization that I'm a comic book artist first and foremost, so for now, I have no intentions of making my own films. I still have a lot to learn about being a comic book artist.

Where do you see your art taking you in the future?

Hmm, I really like the road I'm on now. If I get to continue on this path for a long time, I will be a very lucky man.

If readers could know one thing about you, what is it that you would want them to know?

My family and friends are more important than the work that I do, and in fact, I do my work for my family and friends.

If someone were interested in becoming a graphic novel writer and illustrator, what tips would you have for them?

The biggest tip for them would be to finish what they start. Always finish. Graphic novels in particular require an immense amount of discipline and self-confidence, and working on one may take the "fun" out of drawing comics for some people. Despite this, it's important to find ways to motivate yourself to continue. In fact, the best way to get started is to just draw comic strips and shorter stories, and to complete them. Work on lots of them, all the time. The more mileage the better.

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