Our wonderful local comic book store, Little Island Comics, hosted an event with Kazu Kibuishi last week, and Middlest being a HUGE Amulet fan, we went along to hear him speak and watch him draw. Middlest has been counting down the days to the publication date of Book Six in the series all summer, so we were all terribly excited when we got our paws on Book Six a week early because that’s the kind of perk you get with a store like Little Island in the ‘hood. Middlest read it cover to cover in the store, which was all very well until he asked, “When is Book Seven coming out?”
Kazu Kibuishi did a degree in Film Studies (not film making, but film criticism), and in his talk at the Palmerston branch of the Toronto Public Library, he said that it was the essay-writing he did for that degree that best prepared him to create the Amulet books. As an artist, he is self-taught, but he had to learn how to shape a narrative by writing essays. Even now he finds that writing is difficult, and drawing is the real treat that comes after the story has been written.
What I loved most about his talk was how much he shared about the failures he had on the road to success. After several years working in design and animation, he wrote and drew 20 pages of Amulet, but quit after 20 pages because it was so difficult. Scholastic asked him to pitch a book idea, though, and he dusted off Amulet and revised it for a pitch. They liked it, and he had a contract to do the first book.
He wrote and drew book one of Amulet four times. As the deadline to turn in the book drew close, he felt that the draft he had completed was not good enough. Ignoring the editors at Scholastic who said it was, he made the most difficult decision of his life and held the book hostage until it was something he felt right about publishing. He wrote and rewrote the book, and with four drafts in hand, he was still not certain. He asked Jeff Smith, the author of the Bone series, to take a look at what he thought was the best draft. “Some of it is good,” he said. With that as his guide, Kibuishi set about finding the good parts in each of the drafts he had made. He turned the book in a year late, after taking the best pieces from each of the four drafts and building new bridges to connect the sections he had saved. Going through that process taught him that creating a finished book has to begin with the faith that a bunch of small parts that do work will eventually work as a larger whole in the end.
I also loved how down to earth he was about his drawing process. He draws his first drafts on cheap printer paper because he wants to feel that he can throw them away. He carries around a small notebook that he can whip out as soon as inspiration strikes or whenever he has an idle moment. He does not want to be precious about the process.
And what is his advice to young writers and artists? The ability to draw is not something you are born with. It takes practice, hard work and a lot of discipline. He borrows from the Boy Scouts, and also says to “Be prepared.”
Hard work, staying true to what you believe deserves to be published under your name, pushing through writer’s block, illustrator’s block and repeated failure to realize on paper the ideas in your mind–all wonderful inspiration to a crowd of admirers.
I am sorry to say that until I had heard him talk, I had not read the Amulet books. I knew that they were among Middlest’s favourite books, but I just had not made it to them yet. (This could be in part because he re-reads them so often, they are never on the shelf!) That changed post haste after seeing Kibuishi in person, and I read all six Amulet books the next day. Kibuishi told us that the Amulet books are full of parodies and tributes to movies, games and comics that he loves, so Middlest and I looked through the books together, looking for references to those influences.
One influence that he cited specifically was the work of Hayao Miyazaki, so after reading the books, we went off to Queen Video to look for a copy of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. We came home with four films instead of one, and turned the excess into an excuse for a party: a Hayao Miyazaki film fest with sushi for dinner.
One of the things that is immediately apparent as an influence is that both men eschew traditional roles for their female characters, and their girls are leaders, brave, grounded, and in Miyazaki’s case, not paired off at the end of the story. Praise be!
All told, a great way to finish off summer.