Daisy Kutter and Flight: The World of Kazu Kibuishi

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Egg Embry

Out of the blue, Viper Comic’s President, Jessie Garza, shot me an e-mail saying, “Click this link!” The URL sent me to Bolt City, home of Kazu Kibuishi’s artwork/comic books and strips/his articles/and the ads for his upcoming books, including Image’s 200+ page full color graphic novel, Flight (featuring a RANGE of artists headed up by Kazu) AND Mr. Kibuishi’s upcoming four-issue mini-series from my friends at Viper Comics, Daisy Kutter.

Kazu has been making the rounds of the comic-related websites doing interviews in anticipation of his forthcoming projects: Flight in July, and Daisy Kutter issue one (of four) in August. This writer/artist/animator agreed to share a few minutes with us and answer every random question I could come up with. He’s a good sport for that!

Egg: Before we get too far into this Kazu, can you give us the boilerplate about who you are? What do you do for living?

Kazu Kibuishi: I’m a 26 year-old writer/illustrator living and working in Pasadena, CA. I write and illustrate for animated films, magazines, and comic books. I also put together a book called FLIGHT, which will be coming out under Image Comics.

Egg: Ah, now that I feel like family ;-) can I ask you to pitch Daisy Kutter. What makes this book standout in your mind?

Kazu Kibuishi: I think the only thing that makes it stand out is the depth of the story mixing with a lot of conventionally cool genre elements. For me personally, I just had a burning desire to tell the story, and I knew this project was worth diving into despite it not being anything like what I was used to producing. This was my first step in my pursuit to become a full-time graphic novelist. It’s really my training ground, and so far, I think it’s my best work yet.

Egg: And pitch Flight. I know this is a unique idea, who first proposed a project of this scope?

Kazu Kibuishi: Flight just started as a little project my friends and I were putting together for the Alternative Press Expo. Before the project, I had wanted to put together something like it for a long while, but in the form of a magazine. It was mostly talk, but I had silly dreams of revolutionizing comics with the first true American manga-format publication. Meanwhile I was working in 3D animation full time, daydreaming and updating my website in pursuit of making people want to read comics again in my off hours. I saw Flight as a way to make that foolish daydream a reality on a small scale, so I started getting obsessed with turning it into this amazing book. It was kinda like getting into playing intramural basketball or something after work and really, really looking forward to being that weekend warrior on the court, kicking ass and taking names, and training super hard for some big tournament at the end of the year. Hehe. Yup. Something like that.

So, the project began as this tiny black and white operation among friends. My friends happened to be some of the most talented people on the planet, however, and people started wanting very badly to be a part of the project. It eventually blew up into this massive effort that culminated in a beautiful full-color book full of some of the best and most inspired comics I have read or seen in recent years. I’ve just been working my ass off to keep up with it, making sure the giant runaway train stayed on the track. I just delivered the files to the publisher, so the biggest hurdles have already passed. Now we just have to wait and see what everyone thinks of it…

Egg: You’re a Winsor McCay fan, right? I love his Little Nemo in Slumberland! I really dig the colors on those old, turn of the century newspapers. So, what’s the best Winsor McCay story you’ve ever seen?

Kazu Kibuishi: Ooh, my favorite Winsor McCay story would be one of his first strips, where Nemo accidentally collapses a mushroom forest. I only say it’s my favorite because it was the first one I saw, in a textbook somewhere, and after that, I was so intrigued with his work I had to seek it out.

Egg: Ok, what’s the hardest thing to draw? Easiest?

Kazu Kibuishi: The hardest to draw? Right now, I’d say realistic animals. I just don’t do it very often. I also can’t draw caricatures of existing people at all. I’m really terrible at it. Also, I think Copper [Kazu Kibuishi’s online strip at Bolt City and a portion of his contribution to Flight] is also insanely hard to draw. His design is so simple that when I mess up, it really, really looks like I messed up.

Egg: Who is the first person you get to review your artwork to make sure it is right? And why them? What about their opinion or experience makes their thoughts valid?

Kazu Kibuishi: I let the other Flight artists see it. They’re all very talented and they know when it’s a hit or miss. They give great critiques, and depending on the strengths of a particular artist’s work, I’ll know when they know what they’re talking about and I give them the benefit of the doubt even when I don’t quite agree. Most of the time, it turns out they were totally right and I was off. They’re also honest, which is very important.

Egg: What’s the most difficult scene you’ve had to illustrate/tell? What scene were you thinking, ‘What possessed me to write this?!’

Kazu Kibuishi: Hmm. Actually, all of the Copper stories outside of maybe two or three were incredibly difficult for me. I don’t naturally tell these kinds of stories and in the way that they’re told in these comics, so it feels like a stretch for me every time I go into it. The ones with the simpler compositions, like the ones with the mysterious Glasses Girl, are by far the hardest. So much time goes into thinking about the process before doing it, and the results look so damn elementary and simple. It’s aggravating sometimes, making me think it might be easier to just draw a bunch of cool stuff and not spend so much time doing this type of stuff, but strangely enough, I notice that this is the kind of work that will stick with me longer than anything else. I can look back and feel glad that I did it.

Egg: In several interviews, you mention Jeff Smith and Hayao Miyazaki as influences on you. What makes them important to you?

Kazu Kibuishi: They wrote and illustrated masterful graphic novels. It’s my goal in life. I have several I want to do. I see everything I do now as training for the moment I decide to take on those massive projects…

Egg: So, this leads me to ask, what’s the best comic ever?

Kazu Kibuishi: That’s hard for me to answer, since I like so many comics for so many different reasons. I think it’s why I like drawing my own comics so much. I feel like I just take what I think are the best elements of other works and present them in my own work the best way I know how. However, if I were to have to give an answer, that answer would be Krazy Kat.

Egg: Before comics, you started in animation, correct? What’s the best animated film you’ve seen (story and everything)?

Kazu Kibuishi: That’s also difficult since I love so many. My favorites include Porco Rosso, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service… heck, anything by Miyazaki and Takahata, including Whisper of the Heart and My Neighbors the Yamadas. In the States, The Iron Giant and Toy Story 2 are at the top of my list, but anything by Pixar is gold.

Egg: What movie do you pop into the DVD player and mute because it’s beautiful to look at, but some aspect of the story makes blood shoot out of your nose?

Kazu Kibuishi: Ghost in the Shell. But I would never mute it because the music is beautiful...

Egg: In another interview, you mention poker as one of your favored pastimes. Ever hit Vegas or Biloxi? And if a comic convention is held at a casino, will you be hitting the artist’s alley or the blackjack tables? [winks]

Kazu Kibuishi: Oh yeah, I have played Texas Hold Em in Vegas, but contrary to what my friends may tell you, I am an awful poker player… [winks]

Egg: Sorry, I’ve gone off on some tangents at this point. Let me try and find my focus again. Uh, how did you end up being an editor on Flight? If I understand correctly, you’re contributing a story AND you’re pulling this enormous project together, steering it to print. How did this come about?

Kazu Kibuishi: I’m actually responsible for this mess. Since I pulled everyone together and got us all into this, I figured I gotta work ten times harder than anyone else to get us all through…

Egg: Was this Image’s baby all along or did you try other companies before settling on the mighty ‘I’?

Kazu Kibuishi: We had planned to go to several other companies, and we did. They were interested, as were several other publishers who approached us just because of our website, but Image had the best deal and they were also the most excited about doing the book. While I was going around asking Dark Horse and Top Shelf, Erik Larsen was sending me e-mails saying, “when can you send the files? This deserves to be seen by everyone!” Hehe. That enthusiasm made it really easy for us to decide to go with them.

Egg: On Viper Comic’s Daisy Kutter you are merely the writer/artist/inker/toner on four 48-page monthly comics? ;-) As an aside, does your mother worry about your health? I mean, how long have you been awake this month? ;-) Seriously, is this better or worse than your duties on Flight?

Kazu Kibuishi: Oh man, much worse. And you only ask this question because you don’t know me all that well yet, Egg. Most of my friends and family have just accepted the fact that I work as much as I do. I even heard from some people at UCSB that I was looked at as this mythical hermit that produced more work than humanly possible! Hehe. The truth is, I sleep 7-8 hours a night, I find time to spend time with friends and family, and I go out on weekends when I don’t have pressing deadlines. It only SEEMS like a lot of work, but honestly, I have always been really disappointing myself with my lack of productivity.

Egg: From what I can gather, you feel that Daisy Kutter is an extremely character driven story. Can you give us a rundown of the characters of Daisy Kutter and their personalities.

Kazu Kibuishi: I’m still exploring them now, so it’s hard to break it all down, but this story revolves around the life and loves of Daisy Kutter, who has a tendency to let her problems lead her into a series of trouble-filled situations. Her inability to be content with any one station in life usually leads us on all these adventures. I think most of us who are daydreamers can relate. Her ex-boyfriend Tom McKay is stuck being her right hand man and morale support. If any guy out there has ever been in the “friend zone,” oh boy you’ll love this comic. Hehe. It’s all about that tension between lovers who are so close and so far at the very same time. This is the heart of the world, and why it’s so interesting for me to write about it…

Egg: You’re working for two companies at the moment, Viper and Image. Image is the number three or four comic company, Viper is a more family-oriented corporation; can you highlight some of the big differences between the two. And some of the similarities.

Kazu Kibuishi: They are VERY different. Image is like a big brother that is coming over to help you out, but for the most part that big brother lets you push forward on your own and you sink or swim. It’s a really great set-up for very strong, punk rock creators, but it’s definitely not for the more sensitive set that might be averse to self-promoting.

Viper has been awesome on the one-to-one aspect from the very beginning. I feel very comfortable with them, and I know they work really, really hard. When I need to talk to Jessie, he’s always there to answer questions or provide moral support. They’re also very focused and they’ve set themselves on a slow steady road to success. I really like the Viper guys, and I hope that I can help them get rolling with Daisy Kutter. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be seeing much money on this project, if any at all, but I have a lot of faith in Jessie and Jim, and I’d like to put my energy into this project to support these kinds of people. Without guys like them, who are capable of being extremely professional and have an overriding passion to bring comics to the readers, the comics industry simply won’t survive. That said, let’s all hope Daisy does well for both Viper and me. My stomach is definitely rooting for her.

Similarities… The two companies are very similar when it comes to the money issue. Basically, there is none, especially up front. There is hardly any money in this industry, and it feels like I just walked into a ghost town. What’s great is that this means the people still producing comics do it for more than the money. It’s much more about their love for the medium and material, and that’s what I find to be exciting about all of this. I just hope I can do something to help revitalize this place.

Egg: And finally, if you were accepting an Eisner for comic of the year or an Oscar for best animated movie of the year, who would you thank?

Kazu Kibuishi: My parents. I can’t believe they let me do this for so many years! I owe them a lot. :)

Egg: Kazu, thanks for participating!

To find out more about Kazu Kibuishi visit his site at Bolt City or Flight Comics (from Image in July) or Daisy Kutter at Viper Comics (in August).

For more information about Egg try out www.KamenComic.com. Look for Egg in the upcoming anthology DEAD@17: Rough Cut (in stores in August).

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