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Amulet: The Fantasy Worlds of Kazu Kibuishi

            Kamulet       Ikazukibuishi
            (The cover of Amulet, and author self-portrait from Scholastic's Amulet site)

One of the great pleasures of reading is coming across a book that surprises you and exceeds your expectations. Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi is one of those books, a graphic novel from Scholastic that is aimed at children and young adults, but which rewards adult reading as well. Right at the beginning of the book, a family loses its father. The mother, son, and daughter relocate to an old ancestral home, only to be immediately engulfed by a rich, fantastical world beneath the house.

Kibuishi, who edits the magnificent Flight series for Villard, does several things incredibly well in this opening volume: he raises the stakes from the beginning and makes it clear to the reader that this is serious and that actions have consequences. He also manages to create a vivid, deeply imaginative fantasy world that is evocative of his influences but not derivative of them. From the strange house underground to be-tentacled assailants and bizarre tick-like creatures, the setting comes alive and seems deeply believable. Scholastic has an amazing interactive webpage for Amulet that explains even more--definitely something to amuse and entertain you for more than a couple minutes. Curious about the origins of what seems to have all the makings of a modern classic, I recently interviewed Kibuishi via email...

Amazon.com: Please describe where you are while answering these questions.
Kibuishi: I am sitting in my studio where I work, located in Alhambra, California.  It's a fairly large loft with hardwood floors and lots of natural light.  A few of my friends work here with me on their own projects, and when we're at the final stretch of production on an Amulet book, a few more artists are working in here to help me get it done.  Today, my wife Amy and I are the only ones working in here.

Amazon.com: Can you tell readers a little bit about your background?
Kibuishi: I began drawing comics when I was in preschool, so I've been doing this pretty much my entire life.  In middle school, I began to take the craft of making comics pretty seriously, and then my focus shifted to film and literature in high school.  After attending UCSB film studies, I worked as a graphic designer and animator for a few years until I found myself back in comics again, working on the Flight anthologies and Daisy Kutter.

Amazon.com: What was the spark for Amulet?
Kibuishi: Ever since reading Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki and Bone by Jeff Smith, I've been inspired to create a fantasy graphic novel series of my own.  When I first set out to accomplish this, back when I graduated from college, I realized soon enough that I wasn't ready, both artistically and emotionally.  Since then, I worked at a variety of jobs, created a graphic novel, and put together several anthologies.  After struggling through some tough financial hardships with my parents, I also realized that I had something to talk about in the book, and so it felt like the right time to finally tackle the project.

Amazon.com: This seems like the kind of series both adults and children can enjoy. Did you have an audience in mind when you wrote it?
Kibuishi: I always write with my family and friends in mind.  For this project, I was also thinking about what my ten year-old self would have liked to see, and if I remember correctly, he was a pretty harsh critic.

Amazon.com: Actions have consequences in Amulet, which is as impressive as the beautiful art and mysterious storyline. What kind of reaction have you gotten from readers thus far?
Kibuishi: The reactions from the readers have been great!  I almost kept out the violence for the sake of the younger audiences, but then I realized that would have been a mistake.  Hopefully, kids are able to use the book to talk with their parents about things like dealing with a death in the family.  When I was a kid, the idea of losing my parents would make me cry before going to sleep.  I figured that I wasn't alone in thinking these things.  The more that parents are able to talk to their children about real world consequences, the stronger their family will be.

Amazon.com: In my novels, I use mushrooms and squid quite a bit, so you had me hooked almost right away in that regard. How did you decide what elements of the "real" world you would use for your underground world?
Kibuishi: People tend to be afraid of things that look very different from themselves.  Spiders and tentacled creatures fit that bill quickly, so I made creatures that had BOTH tentacles and spider legs.  Heheh.  Everything in the fantasy world takes real world iconography and heightens them to bring out certain emotions in the main characters, be it fear, hope, loneliness, wonder, or excitement. This is both the most fun and challenging part of creating a fantasy world.  Anything goes, but that means you have to have a really strong understanding of the characters' emotional journeys, otherwise none of the concepts you throw in there will seem to mean anything.

Comments

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I stumbled across "Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper" in a brick and morter book store (sorry Amazon) when it reached out its tentacles and yanked me over to its display, refusing to release me until I agreed to purchase it....

Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway I'm glad I found it; it was an amazing beginning to what looks to be a marvelous tale. It struck me as having some superficial similarities to "The Spiderwick Chronicles" at the start, but we quickly get into unknown territory. There appears to be a lot of depth, and I'd wager there will be some tough moral choices ahead with serious consequences.

I haven't written a review for it, though I rated it on Amazon at five stars, because I find it difficult to review a portion of a serial that doesn't really stand too well on its own. For me at least the Endings MATTER, and I'll probably wait until then.

Besides, based on what's already out there on Amazon, Kazu Kibuishi doesn't really need my praise.

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