KAZU KIBUISHI ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Kazu Kibuishi became a respected a member of the comics community the old fashioned way – through hard work. I can’t remember a time in recent history when I was not seeing his original art appearing in some venue, whether online, like Copper, or in print. From Daisy Kutter to Flight and onto his hit series Amulet, Kazu has been prolific.
Four volumes of Kazu’s Amulet series are in print. Volume 5, Prince of the Elves is due out later this year, and quite frankly, we are very excited about its release.
A gallery of Kazu’s whimsical art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Kazu Kibuishi: The magazine aisle in the grocery store! I used to look forward to getting a copy of Mad magazine or any other comics when my mom took me to the grocery store. She used to work at my grandmother’s restaurant when I was about 4 years old, and I would spend long hours waiting for her. I spent much of this time reading comics, and drawing my own – that is, if I wasn’t peeling potatoes. Garfield was another favorite. Once I started making my own comics, I never really stopped.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
KK: I received a degree in film studies at UCSB [University of California Santa Barbara], where I learned to analyze and write about films, and in the evenings I drew editorial illustrations and comic strips for the Daily Nexus, the school paper. I was also the paper’s art director. The skills necessary to write a good essay in college really inform the way I structure my stories, while the management skills and ability to hit difficult daily deadlines at the newspaper really help me in the day-to-day management of my production studio.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
KK: Artists I look up to most include Charles Schulz, George Herriman, Hayao Miyazaki, Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith, and Will Eisner. I don’t know if I would consider them to be the pioneers of sequential art as a whole, but they all definitely pioneered ways to use the medium effectively.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
KK: Telling stories with pictures.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining? Please elaborate.
KK: The comics medium is very constraining when it comes to storytelling, but the limitations provide great strength to big ideas. Readers understand the limitations of comics, so they are much more willing to suspend disbelief. This disarming quality of comics, if used properly, can produce grand results. For great examples, one could point to the power of comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes, editorial cartoons, and comics like The Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, or One Piece by Eiichiro Oda. What a lot of these comics have in common is that they attempt to encapsulate very grand ideas into a small package, leaving the readers to dream about everything that exists outside of those panel borders. I think that comics are at their best when the creators understand the power of these limitations.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
KK: Aside from the ability to clearly communicate an idea with pictures and words, a comic artist needs to be fast. Speed turns your skills into a viable resource.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
KK: I spend a lot of time thinking while running errands, watching films, reading books, even washing dishes. When an idea congeals, I sit down and work very fast to get it done.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
KK: My schedule fluctuates depending on deadlines, travel, and family. At the height of crunch time on the production of an Amulet book, I am at the office from about 9:00 a.m. to midnight every weekday. Most days, I am only at the office from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I rarely stay at the office late at night these days, though at the beginning of my career, staying at work until the sun came up was almost routine.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
KK: When I started, I never really anticipated being a full-time comic artist. That just didn’t seem like it was possible. So, for me, the struggle came in finding ways to keep doing this for a living once I found myself doing it full-time. Since I initially drew comics as a hobby, I had to shift my mindset so that I thought of my work like a professional, and to also keep myself from being buried by the enormous amount of work required. This spurred me to create a company, with employees, payroll, health insurance benefits, and a studio space. The money I made from the books went back into making more books, and refining the system to set up for a long haul. Knowing how to juggle business with art has been a real high-wire act and the real challenge in making this career work.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
KK: Running a small business. The second would be public speaking.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
KK: Pretty much everything around me!
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
KK: Depends on what you mean by “digital”. We color all our comics digitally, so I feel that our books are actually made for digital display. It’s strange to think that when you read a page of Amulet on an iPad, you are actually seeing it closer to its original form than when you read it in a book. So, I definitely do not see digital comics as a bad thing. We do, however, have a lot of work to do to sort out a proper system of distribution for digital comics.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
KK: I feel that every industry will always have its problems and will require constant change, so I don’t necessarily take issue with the problems I see. I would much rather spend my time fixing them. That being said, I do wish creators were treated better in the mainstream comics industry. My agent Judy Hansen worked closely with Will Eisner to help give comic creators the same rights that writers and illustrators in the mainstream book publishing world would routinely receive. If creators become better educated about their rights, and receive proper royalties for their works, I think comics will become better and better, and more up-and-coming creators will be encouraged to pursue a career in comics.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
KK: James Cameron, during any part of his career.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
KK: I simply hope that whatever I do, I do it right.