Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, publishes some of the top-selling comics in the industry and all of it all-ages. We don’t cover all-ages content as often as we should so this was a fantastic opportunity to expand the reach of our coverage with not one, but TWO creators from the imprint with recent releases: Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the “Amulet” series, and Gale Galligan, who is currently adapting the The Babysitters Club novels. We sat and discussed a whole host of things related to style, content, the process of adaptation and the ways in which art reflects the artist.
Let’s start with Kazu. Give us a little background on your work on the “Amulet” for those who don’t really know what it is.
Kazu Kibuishi: Yeah. I’ve been working on the “Amulet” Series for over ten years at Scholastic. It’s been out ten years. Number 8 in the series, “Supernova” just—was just released and I have one more book in the works and that’s the 9th book in the series.
The story of the “Amulet” is that these 2 kids, they lose their dad in a car accident in the very beginning of the story, and their mom moves them into an old house that they’ve inherited from their great grandpa. And in there, they actually — their mom gets kidnapped by a creature from another dimension, and the kids have to go chase after her to rescue her. And in so doing, they go to their fantasy world called Aletia and while they’re there, they become heroes in that land. So, it’s pretty long.
You said you were working on this for 10 years now. Is this the 10th anniversary then?
KK: Well I’ve been working on it for probably about 20 years, but I. . .It’s been published for 10 years. This is the 10th anniversary, yes.
Very cool. Does it feel—
KK: It came out before Iron Man. “Amulet” pre-dates the Marvel movies.
I’ve been reading “Amulet” actually since the first one came out. It’s been very popular at the library.
So, now that it’s nearing its end, how does it feel to be almost finished with the story?
Good? Not kind of bittersweet? You’re just very hap-
KK: [Laughs] No. I got other things to do. No, I got other stories that I want to work on. I’ve been working on developing another series. And this series, I’ve actually started working on this particular project at the same time I started working on “Amulet.” So it’s about as old. It’s about 20 years old or more.
Any details that you can. . .that you’re allowed to reveal about that?
KK: No. . .But I think when people see it, they won’t be surprised by it because I think all my work has a very similar feel to it. To some extent, I feel like it is just. . .It’s like I’m doing my job but as a. . .with “Amulet,” I was learning how to do my job. But this next series, I’ll know how to do my job from the very start. Whereas with “Amulet,” I was learning as I went.
I didn’t know how to make a graphic novel; I wasn’t married with kids. You know when I started, I was basically a kid working on that book. Now, I am 40, I have 2 kids, I talk at hundreds of schools. And so I know where my books go and I didn’t back then. So knowing what I know now, I can write my story from that perspective and I’m excited about that.
Has the story kind of evolved over the course of writing? Obviously it has, but in what ways do you feel that it has grown with you? As you say, you’ve changed and this next project will be. . .I guess reflective of you who you are now, what you’ve learned, but how has the “Amulet” do you think reflected that?
KK: Yeah, this one I can answer all day long because every book is different, and it’s a reflection of the experience that I—the experiences that I had during the making of each one.Continued below
I try not to know too much before I go into each one so it’s more enjoyable for me and I’m discovering things. And if I don’t sense that feeling of discovery then I’m not going to be able to pass it on to the reader.
So, I have to essentially set-up a framework where I am going to accidentally discover things. And so, I’ve learned how to fish for that feeling better over the years. I know how to make a book. If someone just told me, you got two hundred pages to do, it’s got to be full color, illustrated, I knew exactly what had to happen from panel to panel, it will take me almost no time at all to get that done. But it takes me a long time to design the experience that those 200 pages can give to the reader, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out how to sort of basically grow that and organically create the status that these adventures that feel like you’re actually there.
Discovery, kind of being a key theme to “Amulet.”
KK: Yes, yeah, yeah. I don’t write with it. I don’t write a script. So I — my editor doesn’t even know what — how the story completely it’s going to turn out until the last few weeks.
Your editor must trust you a lot.
KK: She does, and she’s amazing. And I feel like I’ve done it enough times that I trust myself, to through it. Because if I didn’t trust myself, I would do the script but this process has worked so far, you know, 8 times without fail. So, I’m going to hope that it works the 9th time in the series.
Have you started to work on the 9th book?
KK: I guess you could say I’ve been working on it since the beginning, you know. Because it is the end of the story. A lot of my work is a bit. . .It has a bit of a cyclical or circular shape to it. And so I know how it ends and I’ve always known. But getting there has been. . .The journey has been a lot, you know. . .Hasn’t been what I expected. I especially didn’t expect it to be successful at this level. I thought I would be a successful person [laughs], but I didn’t think that “Amulet” would be so well-received. I thought I was just trying to. . .I was just practicing for my other projects, but now after 10 years, it’s taken on a life of its own.
Do you feel proud that that so many people, that it’s been in so many places especially in schools and libraries and such?
KK: Yeah. I am happy about that. I think I did a decent job., I thought. I wouldn’t give myself an A.
KK: Yeah. I’m about, let’s say, low 80s, 80%, I’m about 82.
Is there a specific reason for that? It is because you were learning along the way?
KK: I could do this better. Yeah, I didn’t know — I had to invent my process while I was doing it. There was no. . . There was no rubric, there was no guide. No one had done books like this in this format for this market, for this type of publisher at this rate before.
Were you part of like the. . .some of the initial books from Scholastic? Because I know their Graphix imprint started with “Bone,” the color reprint.
KK: Yeah. When I signed on to work with Scholastic, I think that was the year that they were created, 2005. That’s when I signed my contract.
You’ve been with them since the start.
KK: The very beginning, yeah. But Jeff Smith has been doing his work for a long time and so I feel like I’m just following Jeff. And so he was the rubric except that he wasn’t doing graphic novels. He’s doing a comic book, a series, a serialized story. And I was used to doing that as well. So, having to reconfigure my work process to fit the format of graphic novel coming out without them being serialized was really difficult and it took me 2 or 3 books to figure that out.Continued below
Thank you very much. I might have more questions but I should get to Gale. So, you have been publishing with Scholastic for the last 3 years?
Gale Galligan: Two and a half at this point. Yeah, my first book with Scholastic came out last September. So, I have been working with them for around 2 or 3 years now, yeah.
So, you have been doing the adaptations of The Babysitters Club?
GG: Yes. I picked up after Raina Telgemeier who did the first 4 and I have done 5 and 6 so far. Six having just come out.
Can you tell us a little bit about that, sort of that process, if not from start to finish, but the process of adaptation. It is different process entirely from creation, but it isn’t. . .A lot of people kind of think it’s lesser, but it’s not, it’s just so different.
So, what is it like for you?
GG: I love it, it’s fascinating. Like, part of it for me is, I grew up loving The Babysitters Club. So, it’s definitely something that I’m already really excited to dive into as a fan and reader.
I really like adapting The Babysitters Club because it’s a bit of a puzzle. When Raina worked on the first four, she wasn’t just going like chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3 from the original prose books. She was pulling parts that she thought would work well as a graphic novel from book 1, book 3, etcetera. So, like, she had a Raina timeline that I get to look at in addition to the original Babysitters timeline. So in that way, I’m kind of piecing together the most fun story that I can which is really a good time.
So, what I’ll do when I’m adapting, I’ll make sure that I remember everything that Raina’s done, and I’ll read the volume that I am adapting and so I’ve done Dawn and the Impossible Three and Kristy’s Big Day so far. The most recent one, Kristy’s Big Day, I read the original book, first for pleasure and then again taking notes like underlining stuff, saying like, “I would love to see this. Wait, how would this even work?” And then I start thinking about what I think the core of the story is. So for Kristy’s Big Day, it would be Kristy’s feelings about her mom getting re-married and her entire family becoming one much bigger family, which is really exciting but also scary. From there, I’ll pretty straightforwardly write out an outline. Chapter 1 this happens, chapter 2 this happens and then I’ll break it down into more and more detail until I have a script and start working on it.
Yeah. So, process is a little bit different.
But do you find that coming in after Raina was a bit of a challenge? Do you think you feel like you have big shoes to fill? Or was it, “Oh, I know how I’m going to keep the spirit of Babysitters Club while also leaving my own mark?”
GG: Well, you know, no pressure at all, no big deal.
No, it was both scary as a fan of Raina’s original work. You want to step up, fill those shoes, as you said, but it was also really reassuring to know that both Raina and Scholastic trusted me to take this position because it really had been a while since Raina adapted the first 4 and it was something that they wanted to continue bringing to a new generation of kids. So knowing that they trust me to do that was really cool.
I didn’t even realize there was that big a gap actually.
GG: Yeah. Because they just re-released like the re-colored editions, yeah.
That’s what it was, yeah. In addition to that, have you been working on any other projects? Do you have anything else planned? Original work, other adaptation work?
GG: Yeah, yeah. So I’m working with Scholastic on the next two Babysitters adaptations so I’ll have 4 in total, and then I’m going to be working on 2 original books after that. I’m really excited about it. I just [turns to publicist] (How much can talk about them?) Okay, yeah.Continued below
Yeah, it always gets a little tricky
GG: Yeah, yeah. I will say that I’m developing original projects that I’m really excited to share with you.
Is there a timeline on that or maybe even just genre?
GG: Yeah, yeah. Let’s see. . .about the same audience. . .kids, friendship, adventure? Shoot. [Laughs]
I could fit a Babysitters Club too.
GG: There we go, yeah, yeah. It’s a lot the same like, core feelings because that’s what I personally love to explore.
What about those things do you like to explore, that maybe you haven’t already explored and that you still wanted to explore?
GG: For me one of the things that I find delightful and fascinating about The Babysitters Club is that it is about a group of friends who are learning and growing together. Like, I read a lot of Shojo manga growing up and like, I think the core that always drew back in was the fact that people can help each other to be better. Like you’re more together than you are alone, and that means a lot to me. And I’m really excited to just keep on like pulling in those threads while having lots of fun around it.
Did you work directly with Raina at any point or on like, did you say that you were supplied with scripts? Or no, you wrote the scripts.
GG: I wrote the scripts.
You wrote the scripts. But did you work with her to help with that transition or was it just, you had the originals and then the original books and you worked from there?
GG: I would talk to Raina sometimes as a fan because we both love The Babysitters Club. So, we would say, “Hey Raina, what were you going for with this?” for example. But mostly what I try to do is keep the same visual feeling. If she had a character designed already in place, I would try to emulate that in my style. So, mostly I was looking to her work reference to make sure it wasn’t jarring what people transition from her books to mine.
Do you feel that you’ve accomplished that transition?
GG: I think so. I feel like these books are still very much in my style while also having also recognizable characters and locations.
Is the process of modernizing from the original books to now difficult? What were some of the challenges and hurdles you might have hit trying to modernize The Babysitters Club?
GG: Yeah, I think the interesting challenge was giving it a kind of indistinct place in time where it could be today. So, for adapting Dawn and the Impossible Three, one of the core problems is that the mom is away and Dawn has to deal with problems that the kids are having. If we’re doing that today, the mom should have a cellphone. What I ended up doing was, okay, her cellphone’s off, goodbye. Like let’s just push that away. Yeah, so I always try to come up with like, solutions that would keep it close while kind of pushing away a problem.
Thank you very much! I have five more questions that we’ve been asking at the end of all of our interviews. For both of you! First question, if you could swap talents for one comics creator for a day, who would you swap with and why?
KK: You have one?
GG: Um. . .OK. There are a few but if I could Space Jam someone’s talents for a day, I’d probably pick Jen Wang. She’s done “Koko be Good,” “Prince and the Dressmaker.” I absolutely adore her character acting, her expressions and her linework are all so very strong. If I could just do that with my body and understand it for one day, I feel like that would really help a lot.
KK: I don’t. . .I don’t know if I could pick anybody.
GG: It’s hard.
KK: Honestly, yeah. As a kid, I hated my own style. I had a real problem with it; I thought I was the dumb cartoonist kid. Like, I did the cartoons stuff and I didn’t do the serious drawings and I even had people tell me, “Oh, why don’t you do real art?” I was a kid and I was like “Yeah, I dunno. I really like the cartoons I think. It’s just how I draw.” And for years — it took me a long time to just accept that’s just the way I do things, that’s just the way it looks. It looks like it’s for kids. [Laughs]Continued below
I’ve come to full accept that and really, I’d say, the last decade or so, I’ve really enjoyed being that guy so I don’t know if I’d want to shift positions at all cause I’ve spent so much time being getting here. I’m OK with it; all the things I can do and all the things I can’t do, I think that’s all part of the package. I don’t wish to be another artist but I admire all the other artists. I love all their stuff.
In fact, the more different their work is, the better. It makes me feel like there’s some magic out there and that their doing things differently. That makes me excited as an artist and I’ll come back to my station to do my work with maybe a little bit of a spark that came from seeing theirs.
Also, you’ve made some very beautiful art. Especially those Harry Potter covers.
KK: Oh, yeah. That was fun.
Alright, question two. What’s the most underrated soft drink?
GG: I’m gonna go with Red Fanta. It’s red flavored and I could drink it all day.
KK: I don’t drink soda but I love carbonated water. I’ll drink Perrier, San Pelligrino. . .ever since I traveled to Italy. Everyone gave me that option, “Gas? No gas?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll take gas.” My wife Amy and I, ever since then, we’ve decided we should always have fizzy water. It’s like a de-greaser.
GG: Yeah, we’re the same way. There’s something really refreshing about it.
KK: Yeah, but I don’t want the syrup, that stuff is toxic. So, I just, I just want the bubbly water. I don’t know if it’s underrated but that’s the part I like.
Yeah. I could call it underrated.
GG: People do talk smack about that. Yeah.
If you had a Green Lantern ring, what would be your go-to construct?
KK: I have no idea what that question means.
GG: So, like, you can imagine anything and make it happen. So, sable brushes and new pen nibs.
KK: Does he turn into things?
GG: Um, no, he makes stuff kind of appear. Like, if you can imagine it, it can be. I’m right, right? OK.
KK: OH, so if I had to conjure something with my ring, what would it be?
KK: Oh, OK. A really nice mountain bike.
GG: Would you have to visualize all the parts of the bike?
KK: And I can now because I studied it because I had to invent bikes for “Amulet” 8: “Supernova.”
GG: That’s so hard. [Laughs]
I should’ve asked about that.
KK: Oh, bikes, yeah. There’s bikes in there. I want kids to be excited about riding bikes. That’s why I put them in there.
I can tell you from firsthand experience [at the library,] all your books are checked out. I processed personally 40 of ’em this Friday. [To Gale] Also processed some of yours, not as many as his today but back in August-
GG: Hey, it’s “Amulet” week.
What is one comic every fan should have on their shelf?
GG: I guess, the “Complete Calvin and Hobbes?” It’s just so gorgeous and good spirited. That’s something I go to over and over again
KK: I have one for people who make comics and that would be “Understanding Comics,” that has to be on the shelf.
GG: Oh, absolutely.
KK: It’s the cornerstone for pretty much all the work I do these days. I feel like Scott’s book is the best primer on why you would make comics and how to read them. But as far as. . .as a reader. Man, I don’t know. What would that be? Personally, I would probably pick a Naoki Urasawa book.
GG: Oh yeah, that’s fair.
KK: Because I think he’s the best comic artist on the planet right now.
KK: Best writer, best writer-artist on the planet. So, I don’t know, I guess-
GG: “Pluto” if you’ve got a small shelf.
KK: “Monster” is a good start.
They’re re-releasing “20th Century Boys” right now.
KK: Yeah, the nice looking ones. Yeah, anything that Urasawa’s gonna be good. Oh, you know what, wait nevermind. I’ve got one. “Black Jack.”Continued below
GG: Oh there you go.
KK: Osamu Tezuka. That is my favorite comic book of all time.
Who is your personal style icon? I’ve had people answer this in two ways. Like, your personal style icon or your personal style icon. I’d say either one.
KK: What do you mean? What’s yours?
Oh god. [You’ve] turned it around. I have no idea. I don’t have one. This is a problem. I should have answers to these questions.
KK: Gale? I don’t know. I’m just me so. . .
GG: It’s so hard because there are so many people I look to for inspiration that’s it’s hard to narrow it down. I guess, right now, I’m really into Rosemary Valero-O’connell. She just did this gorgeous mini-comic called “What is Left?” and right now, she has an upcoming book called “Laura Jane Keeps Breaking Up with Me” written by Mariko Tamaki. Rosemary’s work is absolutely gorgeous and lush and emotive and I could look at it frankly all day. I guess style icon if that’s something I could aspire to, she would be one of them.
KK: I mean, I’m most influenced by Miyazaki’s work. So, Hayao Miyazaki’s style. Mine is like his work with a more western flair to it. I’d have to say Miyazaki, if I could draw like him. I mean, nobody can draw like him, really but I did aspire to it after reading “Nausicaa.” I just knew that I was reading the work of a master and that it would take quite a few years to get where he was at.
I do have one more question. It’s not about. . .We don’t cover a lot of all-ages stuff on the site. That’s not what ends up happening because of the monthly weekly grind. It’s just not what’s out there, which is a shame and really sucks so I wanted to ask a question that was geared more towards that market. Since Graphix is Scholastic and that’s its purpose. I guess what are your feeling on writing to that market? What are your thoughts on — because it is the biggest market out there. Raina’s books frequently are the top selling of all comics.
GG: Oh, absolutely, yeah.
I want to hear your thoughts on the market, on writing to a general audience as well as focusing more on kids and getting those types of narratives. What’s the value in that? Literally, what are the values in it that you see that you try to put in your work?
KK: When I was in high-school, I was only slightly interested in super-hero comics because I thought that was the only gig you could get in comics. I didn’t really think syndication would be an option. And when I looked at the comics, almost none of them were made for my mom or my grandma. I do almost all things for my mom and my grandma. When I was younger, I just wanted to make sure they were happy. I was willing to be a doctor, whatever they had asked me to do, they just wanted me to be happy but I wanted them to be happy. And I didn’t want to make comics that they wouldn’t want to read.
So, I didn’t see these types of comics being made so I actually quit comics in high school. That was around the time I was being offered work as a professional cartoonist. When I was 17, 18 I was being offered work from really nice people working out here in this field and I said, you know, I’m gonna go be a filmmaker because I think I could make something my family could watch. So, I decided to study film. When I came back to comics, I decided you know what, I’m just gonna make that comic book that nobody was asking me to make and I could share it with multiple generations.
When I’m making comics for kids, I’m actually not necessarily making comics for kids, I’m actually making comics for parents as well, making comics for the grandparents as well. I’m making comics for all-ages. I really think about all-ages comics as being for all-ages and not specifically for kids cause I think when people say all-ages comics, they think “Oh, well, just for kids.” Kids are people too. [Laughs] They’re young adults in the making; they’re going to be your future adults and will take care of the older people and their kids and so on and so on. So I wanted to create something that bridges the gaps between multiple generations. Which is one of the reasons why, in my story, it begins with that, with the idea that it’s about four generations having to work together to solve problems.Continued below
I see that happening in the classrooms now where the book is actually like a place for all four generations to sit around and share a space and talk with each other. I think about it as made for the oldest readers and as much as for the youngest readers. I just don’t want to exclude anybody. That’s not to say that I don’t like making books for a specific audience because when I made my first graphic novel, “Daisy Cutter,” it was very much for a steam-punk western YA audience and I knew the rules of the game and I wanted to play that game with that particular book. With “Amulet,” I wanted to make sure that everybody could be involved.
GG: Oh boy. [Laughs] I think for me, one of the things I love most about telling stories for younger people is that the tween and teenage years are such a pivotal point in your life. You’re figuring out who you are, feeling a lot of things for the first time and making all sorts of exciting personal discoveries that are really fun to talk about in a story. You have this big internal adventure right here and I like being able to connect with people over that. I remember being a kid and turning to fiction for answers and discovery. Being able to connect with characters over things that I was feeling or going through was really helpful for me as a person and thinking that I could give back in that way, or, you know, share a laugh or maybe even make someone cry in the good way is really exciting to me.
“Kristy’s Big Day” and “Supernova” are out now wherever books are sold and, hopefully, at your local library.