Comics appealed to Kazu Kibuishi early in his childhood but not just because they were amusing or fun to look at.
“I was always interested in comic strips where the words and art worked together,” said Kibuishi, creator and illustrator of the New York Times best-selling Amulet series of comic book graphic novels for young readers.
Comics, comic books and now graphic novels have come into their own in recent years.
And Kibuishi, who lives in Bellevue, has contributed to that popularity with kids, once ignored by graphic novelists.
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He’s one of 17 authors working with Mid-Columbia middle and high school students Friday at this year’s Cavalcade of Authors workshops at Columbia Basin College.
“I truly believe that graphic novels are a gateway drug to reading novels,” said Michelle Lane, librarian at Enterprise Middle School and Cavalcade’s chief organizer. “We have a lot of struggling readers these days who would read nothing if it weren’t for graphic novels.”
Kibuishi plans to share the story of his convoluted career path with students and demonstrate that it’s not quite as daunting to write a comic or graphic novel as it may appear. But strong writing along with beautiful illustrations are what make for graphic novels that nobody can put down.
“Everybody wants a good story,” he said.
More than 1,100 students are scheduled to attend Cavalcade this year from eight different school districts in and around the Tri-Cities. Donations of up to $30,000 a year pay to bring in authors and cover their speaking fees as they meet with students to discuss their craft.
Kibuishi, who did the cover art for the 15th anniversary boxed set of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, isn’t the first with ties to illustration, graphic novels or comic books to be invited to Cavalcade.
Marvel Comics’ Barry Lyga has attended, as has graphic novelist Rose Cooper and illustrator Brandon Dorman.
Lane has worked to bring in members from that area of writing partly because such work is very popular with students of all levels and that genre tends to lead to students to advance their reading
“Since a lot of mainstream fiction series are now being published as graphic novels, it becomes a natural progression for many students to move from whetting their appetite with the graphic novel series and then moving to our fiction shelves,” she said.
Though Kibuishi loved comic strips such as Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and comic books such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bone, he took a varied path to his career.
Kibuishi was offered jobs as a comic artist by newspapers when he was as young as 15, but it wasn’t something he considered sustainable, he said. And he feared it would ruin his love of the form if it was his everyday job.
He went to school to become a filmmaker and worked in the animation industry for years and also as a graphic artist for an architectural firm. They were jobs Kibuishi was happy with but he realized it wasn’t what he should be dedicating his life to. That led to painful choices and his decision to write and draw again.
“I think this is something adults don’t teach you — Sometimes you might end up in a job you really like but where you don’t belong,” he said.
Kibuishi’s other credits include the web comic Copper, which lasted seven years ending in 2009, along with the graphic novel Daisy Kutter: The Last Train. He was editor of the comics anthology Flight and its successor series, Explorer.
Like Lane, he sees his books as a way to get kids into reading.
“I do see myself as an English teacher’s assistant, a librarian’s assistant,” Kibuishi said. “I’m there to get kids interested in things.”
He doesn’t bring preconceived notions to his work; rather, he lets his stories tell themselves, a practice that lead to years developing a single project. Producing the art has become almost reflexive, but it’s the writing he wants to stand out and leave readers with something to think about.
“A book is a machine,” he said. “If you’re going to build that machine, you have to know what it does.”
But young potential graphic novelists shouldn’t be intimidated by Kibuishi’s own creative process, he said. You can’t really emulate another writer’s path, you just have to be open to wherever your own path leads you.
“If you’re a storyteller you should be able to tell a story when you need to,” he said.