For the first time this year, The National Book Festival had an entire pavilion devoted to graphic novels. The festival has been quite welcoming to comic creators in the past, so this wasn’t necessarily a huge leap. Still, it’s a welcome addition.
And clearly the star of the lineup was Amulet creator Kazu Kibuishi.
Kibuishi opened his talk by saying when he was 3 or 4, his mother had her sights on him becoming a doctor. As a child who already liked drawing, he figured the only chance he’d really get to make cartoons was by doing caricatures of his patients, and that didn’t seem good enough. He expressed his excitement for the Scholastic Book Fair at school, where he’d pick up Garfield collections And sometimes, if they were out, he’d begrudgingly get a Marmaduke one instead (he then jokingly clarified that since this was being recorded, he did want to state Marmaduke is great). He also said he’s delighted that his books are now published through Scholastic and being sold at the same book fairs he loved.
Kibuishi said he didn’t go to art school — as much as he loved drawing and comics, he realized he probably couldn’t make a living at it. So he picked what he thought was a safer bet — filmmaking. He said, basically, film school taught him “to watch movies really well” rather than the actual craft of making movies. Still, even he admits that his film background tends to give his comics a cinematic scope.
After graduating, seeing that his family was facing some financial difficulties, he got a job as a graphic designer. But he decided that wasn’t for him and after turning down a promotion, he landed in animation, including a stint at Disney. His frustrations there (he said he was being paid to not do anything) eventually decided to give comics another try.
Amulet began as a pitch for an animated movie and was inspired by his parents’ financial situation — or as Kibuishi put it, that he, in some ways, had to become his “parents’ parent.” He said that the siblings Emily and Navin are, in a good number of ways, based on his sister and brother.
Since Kibuishi was not able to use any computer-assisted visual aids, he drew for the audience instead as he talked. I know he’s quite used to drawing these characters at this point, but I was amazed at how quickly and casually he was able to do this, especially when his attention was elsewhere.
Kibuishi also talked about his high school teacher that encouraged him to write and that he feels like his training is stronger as a writer and storyteller rather than someone who makes comics.
Kibuishi then turned it over to audience questions (which probably took up about half of his allotted time). Many of the young fans of Amulet had questions, from specific plot points to his inspirations (there were a good number of children in the audience), which I think is great.
I liked his responses to the question of his recommendations for elementary and middle school students interested in drawing and making comics. He said that the technical aspects aren’t as important as just doing it. He said the main problem is trying to find a way to function while doing it (as well as making money) but that at this point, he feels like it’s his job to teach and encourage children to read.
When asked when the fifth book of Amulet was coming out, he pulled out his three-ring binder containing his thumbnails of pages and sketches. He said he’s working on it now. Later, when someone asked how long the series was going to be, he joked that he thought it was going to be 2 books and at this point, it will be over “whenever the story decides it’s over” but probably somewhere between 7 and 10 books. (In any case, we have more Amulet to look forward to.)
He talked a bit about the Flight anthologies he edited. Initially, he had seen other animators and artists in his position and wanted to give them a platform to showcase their works. He also mentioned being inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s comic works (it should come as no surprised to anyone that Kibuishi is inspired by Miyazaki). Even though Flight has ended with volume 8 (which he said was for a variety of reasons, but partially just that anthologies are often hard to sell), the concept will continue in a format for younger readers called Explorer.
A few questions were asked about an Amulet movie and he said a live-action one is in the works with Will Smith’s children in the lead roles. He said he wrote a treatment but understanding how the film industry works, he doesn’t know if they’ll use it. When asked if he wanted to write the script, he said it’s still a possibility but he’s more interested in doing his comics.
Around that point, his time was up and he gave thanks as he began to leave the stage to make way for the next guest.
I am curious, though, what happened with his drawing that he created on stage. I did see two girls excitedly approach the stage and ask about it. I don’t know if they ended up with it but I would love it if they did.
It was a good first year for a dedicated Graphic Novel pavilion at the National Book Festival and I hope it’s back next year. Especially if they continue to bring in creators like Kibuishi.