A Good Start
September 10, 2009 - Thursday

Amulet 2 debuts at #2 on the NY Times Bestseller list for Paperback Graphic Novels!

 

Amulet 2 - reviews and interview
August 17, 2009 - Monday

Here are some early reviews for Amulet 2:

Fleen
Books4Your Kids
Graphic Novel Reporter
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
Comixtalk
Pop Damage
Broken Frontier

And here's an interview at Graphic Novel Reporter, where I discuss the making of the book. Just a couple more weeks until the book hits the shelves.

It'll be nice to know the book is finally out there. One of the more difficult things about working on this series is the long wait until publication. It's fantastic that Scholastic spends their time to carefully prepare and market the books before publishing, but it's hard to shake the uncertainty that comes with working on the next book before the previous one reaches its intended audience. I'm getting used to it, however, as I grow more confident.

I really hope the readers enjoy the second book. We put a lot into this one, and hopefully we can top it with what we have in store for Book 3.

 

Amulet 2 Proofs

March 25, 2009 - Wednesday

I recently got the Amulet 2 proofs in the mail. The orange on the cover proofs is printed on an overlay to indicate where the spot UV varnish goes (and is not the color of the actual titles). Since I haven't yet posted the cover image on this blog, I guess this is the first preview I have shown of the second book.

Along with the color proofs for the pages and the covers, I was also sent a copy of the book in black and white, printed on less expensive paper. It was nice to see the project in book form for the first time.

This is a picture of the color proofs for the interior pages. Sometimes I get a little woozy thinking about the number of work hours this stack of papers represents. This volume is nearly 20 percent larger than the first book, and it clocks in at 225 full-color pages. I'm looking forward to seeing what the readers think of it! Next month, I begin work on the thumbnails for Amulet 3. I have the basic storyline in mind, but now I'll have to spend some time designing the new characters and sets. Should be fun! In the meantime, Flight 6 is nearly complete, and so is the Copper book. Both books look like a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing them in a bound format as well.

 

Amulet 2 - complete

January 14, 2009 - Wednesday

A couple of days ago, I completed Amulet 2. Well, save for a few minor edits to make before the book goes to the printer, it's pretty much finished. As with the previous graphic novels (Daisy Kutter, Amulet), the end of the production cycle was pretty anti-climactic, with me going home at about 6 in the morning after sending the files to upload. Anthony was sleeping on the studio couch, working late as usual to finish his Battlestar Galactica comic for Tokyopop. I woke him to let him know I was leaving for the night and the book was done. He said "right on", gave me a fist bump and went back to sleep. Amy was still up, waiting for me at home, and then we went to sleep as our neighbors were starting their day.

Looking back at Amulet 2, I'm really proud of the work that was done on it. It took only about half the amount of time Amulet 1 required, the level of detail in the artwork and story has increased exponentially (the book is also more than 30 pages longer), and I was able to pay all of my assistants with the royalties I received from the first book. I was also able to find a couple of very talented assistants who could paint pages to a near-final stage, and Amy got a lot better at painting pages too. The best part is that we were able to deliver the book without any massive delays, and I'm already preparing to move on to Amulet 3 (whereas I felt completely burnt out after finishing Amulet 1).

Normal life...

I decided to take it easy for the last couple of days, spending time watching Lakers highlights and Halo 3 videos (I'm an avid Halo 3 player), but I'm already feeling guilty for not working. I have to finish the new Copper comic now and deliver the Copper book in a few weeks, and I have to complete my Flight story ASAP. So, as I work to correct my daily schedule (trying to get back to my 8am to 7pm work cycle), you should see the new Copper posted sometime this week...


(UPDATE) Based on the emails I'm receiving, people seem to think I haven't been sleeping! The fact is that I sleep 8 hours every day and don't use an alarm. During crunch time, I might get a little less sleep, but mostly my schedule just shifts to odd hours to allow for more concentrated hours of work at night. Just FYI... Don't lose your health over your art folks!

 

The Home Stretch

December 16, 2008 - Tuesday

I just wrapped up painting on the big climactic battle sequence of Amulet 2 (a 60-page action scene), so now we have only a small handful of pages left to paint. After that, it's all adjustments and repainting panels down the final stretch. Amy took a few photos of us working at the studio during the final weeks of production. Better scheduling and better production methods are keeping us from having to pull a lot of all-nighters like the old days. Hopefully, I won't have to revert to those methods for the final few weeks.

Scholastic posted an interview I did with them at the Book Expo of America earlier this year. You can also find some good interviews with other authors like Jeff Smith and Shaun Tan, who are among my favorite artists.

 

Comics Marathon

August 21, 2008 - Thursday

The final months of production on a graphic novel are the sort of months where you wake up every morning and begin questioning whether or not this line of work is a) worth it, or b) healthy (see also "sane"). It's that time now, and despite the stress, seeing the work as it comes together is pretty darn exhilarating. I read the book as it stands today, and I think it's working out. Not entirely sure yet, but I think it might be good.

In order to hit my deadline (which is looking nearly impossible at this point), I'm having to sprint every day, and I'm looking at a distance of two months to go. At this point, I'm only just finishing the thumbnails, so I'm going to have to skip the penciling process and go straight to the "inks" (in my case, it's cleaned up pencil work), so it's a good thing I went extra tight on the thumbs. I'm hoping this works out well, as this process will definitely save me time on future projects. I guess this means my original penciled pages will be smaller than index cards!

Assistants Wanted!

So, as I wind down on the drawing side of production and begin ramping up for the painting stage, I will need some volunteers! Anybody interested in giving me a hand with the flatting (and perhaps painting) of the pages? This year, I decided to find assistants online, to see what the internets will yield. My lead assistant, Alan Beadle, will still be joining me on this journey, as will Amy, Shadi, and Tim, but we'll definitely need some more brave souls to join the party. If you are interested, please send me an email at kazu(at)boltcity.com and some examples of your work. From what people who worked on the first book told me, they seemed to have a lot of fun and found it to be a rewarding experience. I hope they were being honest! Anyway, I'll be sure to post about this some more in the coming weeks.

 

Amulet for CAPS

August 03, 2008 - Sunday

I haven't done too many Amulet drawings in ink, so it was fun dusting off the old crow quill and ink bottle to do this cover image for a CAPS newsletter. It was a CAPS-produced how-to-draw book that really got me started towards being a professional cartoonist, so it's nice to find myself amongst the people who put it together.

 

3:00 AM

July 21, 2008 - Monday

It's 3:00 am and I'm taking a short break to post this. Amulet 2 production continues at a steady clip, but I'm realizing, as usual, that I'm not moving fast enough to hit my deadlines. With Comic-Con already here, I'm juggling convention booth preparations, hotel reservations, and transportation for a big group of people, and I'm having to find some time somewhere in there to do 6-10 pages of thumbnails a day. If it didn't take so much thinking, I could be blazing along happily! Heheh. Unfortunately, story writing is like intense brain gymnastics, and this book is kicking my butt. It's also looking to clock in at over 200 pages (while still feeling too compressed).

This week, we'll be heading down to the San Diego Comic-Con, where Flight 5 will debut. It will also be in stores one day ahead of the event. You can also pre-order from Amazon. I shipped 600 copies of the book to San Diego, so we'll have plenty on hand, and we'll have a giant mob of Flight artists there to sign copies. At the booth, we'll also have copies of Amulet, new Flight 5 posters, and a few new books from other Flight artists, including Michel Gagné (who will be signing at our booth at 1-3pm Saturday) and JP Ahonen (who is flying in from Finland!). Gallery Nucleus and Out of Picture will be joining us again this year in massive booth #1228.

Here's a preview of Flight 5. Okay, back to work...or sleep...

 

 

The Night Owl Returns

June 16, 2008 - Monday

It looks as though I'm back on the nocturnal schedule again. After spending a few days preparing for the Into the Woods show, I got into the groove of working late into the night, college-style, and now it's carried over into production for Amulet 2. A couple of days ago I had a nightmare in which I realized that Amulet 2 had a terrible story and it woke me up after only 3 hours of sleep. I was so stressed that I actually just got out of bed, showered, and went back to the office to work. Yep, it's that time again.

Oh, and it looks like I found a new technique for creating rough sequences that shaves some time and allows me to work non-linearly, so I'll be sure to add it to the Amulet tutorial when I have a chance. Recently, I received several emails asking about when a new Copper comic will appear. I'll try and squeeze some time away from Amulet and Comic-Con preparations to do a comic. I actually have three of them sketched out, and I've been wanting to get to them. Thanks for being patient!

 

Readers!

May 14, 2008 - Wednesday

Yesterday, Amy and I went to Our Lady of Lourdes School in Montclair, California to talk to their students about Amulet. It was the first time I really got to interact with a large audience of kids that have read the book, and man, they love it! It was great to field more questions about the story than the craft of making the books, and when I showed them a preview of Amulet 2, they were so excited, especially when they got to see the Elf King. One of biggest goals with Amulet was to create the book that I would have been looking forward to picking up at the Book Fair when I was their age, so to see the excitement among them is incredibly gratifying. Now I have to hurry and finish book two to keep them all from waiting! A big thank you to the school's librarian, Sofia Brenner, for putting this event together.

Research...

Recently, I've been doing "research" by reading and watching One Piece and Naruto. It's really no surprise that the young readers are more into this stuff than anything we produce here in the States. By the way, the Naruto: Rise of a Ninja game for the Xbox 360 is fantastic. I haven't read and seen much Naruto, but this game seems to follow the story so closely (even utilizing animated segments of the show for the cut scenes) that it feels like a Cliff's Notes version of the original material, and it's super fun. Anyway, I highly recommend the game, and I hope the influences from both One Piece and Naruto come through in Amulet 2.

 

Stand and Deliver

May 04, 2008 - Sunday

Amy took a picture of me while I was thumbnailing pages of Amulet 2. One of the weird habits I picked up while working on Daisy Kutter was that I began to draw and write thumbnail pages while standing. It seemed to keep me awake more, and really pushed me to get pages done (so I could eventually sit down and rest). Now, I notice that this technique helps me on action scenes, so when I know I have to go through a long stretch of action, I stand up and do my work on a tall piece of furniture. That's my random fact for the day.

Speaking at Cal State Sacramento was a lot of fun, and I have to thank Mario Estioko for setting that up. The audience was awesome. I also had a lot of fun signing books at the LA Times Festival of Books. Thanks to the folks at Whale of a Tale for having me at their booth. I was glad to see that they sold through all their copies of Amulet! One kid came back to our booth about twenty minutes after having picked up Amulet earlier and his dad said he just read the book and loved it. Two years of work in twenty minutes! Sheesh. Heheh. I'll try and make Amulet 2 a little slower so you guys can enjoy it a little bit longer...


Amulet Movie


March 14, 2008 - Friday

Well, it appears the cat's out of the bag. Amulet is going to be turned into a live-action movie, with Jaden and Willow Smith (the children of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) as the leads. I never imagined we would be moving so quickly on the film side of things. I better get the next few books done a little faster! Anyway, I'm really looking forward to meeting the Smiths. I've been a huge fan ever since the early Fresh Prince days, and seeing the kind of work they've been doing lately, I can see that we'll be on the same wavelength on this project. This is going to be cool.


Flatting an Amulet Page

March 06, 2008 - Thursday

Seeing as how I haven't posted much on the website the past few weeks, I decided I better dust it off and start posting new material. So here is the first entry in an ongoing series of tutorials on how I work on Amulet (I'll be posting them slightly out of order). This will show you how to flat an Amulet page. The process of "flatting" is very helpful for a colorist, since all of the major shapes are masked and ready to be digitally painted. This step-by-step shows you how we did this on Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper. For most of you, I imagine this will be dry reading, but for those who like the technical details, this post's for you!

In other news, a Copper book is now definitely underway. I just signed a book deal with a major publisher for a paperback version of the book, and Gallery Nucleus will be creating a limited edition run of 2,000 oversized hardcovers. This also means I will be creating a new set of strips to add to the collection and they will be posted for viewing in the months ahead. For readers of Copper, thanks for being so patient. Speaking of Nucleus, be sure to check out their new Frank and Frank book. It's skinny and awesome.

Flight 5 is also nearly wrapped up, and this collection looks to be the best one in the series. We even have several stories that are about 40 pages in length. Epic! My hope is that this segues into the advancement of more professional graphic novelists in the field. We need more talented folks to keep this going! For those of you gearing up to try and do this thing, I have more tutorials on the way...



Back in the States


February 11, 2008 - Monday

I just returned from the first leg of the Amulet book tour in Toronto and the greater Detroit area. Amy was happy to know that I finally experienced a real Northeastern American winter, as a big snowstorm swept through Toronto. It was great to see snow falling in the city, something I never really experienced.

Thanks to Denise, Nikole, Michele, Chris, Peter, Ab, Kean and everyone who helped make the trip a fun and eventful time. I was glad to finally be able to talk to kids who read the book, and now I'm pumped to get more books out on the shelf for them. Also, here's an interview I did for the National Post in Canada, and here's one over at Publisher's Weekly.


Jellaby and Amulet in Toronto

February 05, 2008 - Tuesday

Hey all! I'm in Toronto right now on the first leg of the Amulet book tour. It's pretty neat to see snow on city streets. Being from Southern California, I don't get to see much of this type of stuff. Strangely enough, despite it being technically colder here, I felt it was colder back at home. It must be the dry weather in Los Angeles.

Today, my friend Kean Soo and I will be speaking at the Keep Toronto Reading event at the North York Central Library. You can read an article about us in the Toronto Star by clicking here. And here's the event info on Facebook. By the way, Kean Soo's Jellaby comes out today, so be sure to look for it on store shelves!

On Wednesday, Kean and I will also be signing books at The Beguiling from 5 to 7pm. Click here for more info at their site, and here for info on Chris Butcher's blog. I love that store.

For those of you in the states that hold their Presidental primaries today, please be sure to head to the polls and vote. I already put in my ballot (by mail), and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to vote for a future President that I will admire and be proud of.


Preview at NY Magazine and Newsarama Interview

January 09, 2008 - Wednesday

New York Magazine has a nice preview of the book up at their website. I love the layout of the piece. Check it out here.

I also just realized that a recent Amulet-related interview went up at Newsarama. More preview pages in the link.

 

Amulet Hardcover

December 22, 2007 - Saturday

I just received the Amulet hardcover in the mail and it looks and feels great! The weight and heft of the hardcover makes the book feel just right, and the satin finish feels good to hold. I've been told they are already moving into the second printing of the book (after a 41,000 copy first printing of the paperback and a 5,000 copy first printing of the hardcover), so the logo color and design will be switched back to my original design very soon. If you have a gold-colored logo, it means you have a first printing! Thanks to all the people who sent kind words of support for the book. It sounds like the kids are really enjoying the story and characters, and that's the most important thing.

 

 

Amulet Desktop

November 1st , 2007

Here's a desktop image made from one of the panels in Amulet. You can download it at either 1024 or 1280 resolution. I got word from my editor that they're already moving into a second printing of the paperback edition before the release date (likely due to heavy Book Fair pre-orders). This means we'll have a revised edition, with the proper logo and text colors available on the release date. The copies with the unapproved yellow logo and text will thankfully be the only ones in existence, but I guess that makes them collector's items. Heheh.

 

Amulet Paperback

October 27th, 2007

I just received the Amulet paperback edition in the mail yesterday. The print quality overall is very nice, especially considering its ten dollar price point. I'm not a fan of Scholastic's decision to change the logo color to yellow, but hopefully we can get that fixed in subsequent printings. I'll be receiving the hardcover edition soon, and I'll be sure to post some photos of it. By the way, my editor tells me the books will be sneaking into stores in December, though the official release date is January.

Here's a look at some of the interior pages...

 

 

Amulet Cover

September 6th, 2007

Here's the cover image for Amulet Book One. It is now available for very early pre-ordering on Amazon in either hardcover or paperback formats. I've begun thumbnailing Amulet Book 2 and I'm excited about this series. Now that most of the heavy lifting- establishing the characters, the world, and the themes - is done, it's time to really fine-tune everything and amplify all the good stuff. This is my favorite part. More Amulet-related news and other goodies (desktops, etc.) are on the way.


Amulet Book One - Complete

June 29th , 2007

I was beginning to think that production on this book would go on forever, but Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper is finally finished. Many thanks go out to Alan Beadle (pictured above with Amy and me), Erik Martin, Shadi Muklashy, Chris Appelhans, Dawn Fujioka, and Dave Au for helping out during the final week of production. For the long final stretch, however, it was just Amy and me, painting pages at a breakneck pace. If she wasn't here by my side, the book would never have been completed.

Anyway, I'll be back on this blog a little more often now. Thanks for sticking around despite the lack of updates. Now, it's time for some sleep...


A Little Help From My Friends

May 20th , 2007

I'm just about finished with the inking of Amulet. Well, there is no actual ink involved (since the finals are done in pencil), but it's essentially the same process. Recently, I decided that I needed to get help on the color production of the book, and so I enlisted the aid of a team of assistants. I don't know how I would be able to finish this book without these guys, many of whom were referred to me by legendary drawing instructor Kevin Chen. The in-house team includes my lead assistant Alan Beadle (who has been with me for quite a few months now), Dawn Fujioka, Katy Wu, Arree Chung, Erik Martin, Sho Katayama, Shadi Muklashy, and of course, my always supportive Amy. I have also been receiving help from friends outside the studio. Kean Soo, Matthew Armstrong, and Sarah Mensinga have been flatting some of the pages.

For two years, production on Amulet was an exhausting and oftentimes torturous process when working by myself. With a team, however, I look forward to coming to the studio every day. Now, work gets done at a steady clip and we still have time to just chat, hang out and play Settlers of Catan at the end of a hard day's work. I'm very fortunate. Life is good. And I have my friends to thank for it.

Oh, and since deciding to treat the book like a team production, I gave myself enough time to work out the story without stressing out, and now it all reads very well. It's a much, much stronger book, and also about 40 pages shorter! I can't wait to share Amulet with the readers.

 

Simplify & Amplify

February 17th, 2007

Production continues on Amulet at a brisk pace. I've been producing between six to ten pages of pencils or inks a day, staying up till 6 or 7 in the morning. Still redrafting material to clear up backstory information and to make it read better overall, and this is what takes the most time. My current mantra is "simplify and amplify". I'm aiming for the simplest way to get the story information across while heightening the emotions as much as possible.

One thing I didn't realize is how difficult fantasy world-building could be. In Daisy Kutter, I just let the fantasy setting sit in the background, the ways of the world in which Daisy and Tom lived being secondary to the emotional conflicts. Now, with a comic that is about much more than just the emotional conflicts of the characters, I'm finding the world-building to be quite a challenge. When working with child protagonists it's very difficult to imbue them with emotional weight and baggage, since they're at a stage of their lives where they are still observing and making their earliest decisions rather than living with the weight of their past. This makes the world they travel through all the more important, itself becoming a major character in the play.

Being a writer that hates exposition, I've been having a difficult time getting the world-building information in there without compromising the natural flow of the story. I'm not sure I'm doing the best job of it, but this has been a very good experience that I'll take with me onto Book Two, which will hopefully be a little less laborious on the story front.

In other news, I picked up the new Shazam: Monster Society of Evil comic by Jeff Smith (with colors by Steve Hamaker). It's just a great, fun all-ages comic book in the vein of old-fashioned serialized adventures. And the artwork is stunningly beautiful. Steve's colors do a fantastic job of complementing the storytelling and it makes re-reading the comic a joy. Speaking of Jeff Smith, he also designed the new Pogo collection coming out through Fantagraphics Books. I've been waiting for this for years!

 

One More Time

February 1st, 2007

The newest rough draft of Amulet is complete, but I think I'll have to go back in there and do a little more tweaking before heading back into full production mode. The new version of the story is a little over 200 pages long, and about 65 percent of it is entirely new material (created since the previous draft). Going back and retelling the story with a calm confidence has done wonders for it. Now that the story has a definite shape and feel, it's all about sculpting it into its final form. This is my favorite part of the process.

Speaking of process, Stephen Timothy McCranie sent in this nice illustration inspired by my rant about creating graphic novels. Heheh. Thanks Stephen!

 

The End of the Tunnel is the Beginning of the Next...

January 24th, 2007

The thumbnailed pages of the new draft of Amulet are nearly complete. I still have to draw the thumbnails for the final few pages, smooth out 3 or 4 transition scenes, and I'll be back on production full time. The new draft is going to make the book about 224 pages long. It's going to be a long haul to the finish line.

 

Working Round the Clock

January 17th, 2007

For the longest time, the book looked like a big pile of shattered glass after I decided to scrap more than half of the pages I had drawn. Now, I am happy to say it has some semblance of cohesiveness, and the brutal beating I gave it seems to have done the story some good. I still have to rescript and thumbnail the final sequences to see if it all works. Knock on wood...

The picture above is of me digitally painting the new cover for the Flight Volume 1 reissue...

 

The Slowest Typewriter

December 12th, 2006

As a reader of graphic novels, it always bugs me that most long form comics read like they are the first draft of the material, when in fact they often are. And for good reason. As a creator of graphic novels, I am exhausted by my selfish reader tendencies by having to redraw page after page to smooth out the reading experience. I can see why, over the years, creators often compromised their stories under the pressures of deadlines and satiating the public's thirst for the material. For the large amounts of time and energy a creator must spend to create the work, the reader only gets a small handful of information to chew on. Sometimes, working out the details are not an option.

This is the pickle that the readers and creators of comics seem to always find themselves in. Readers are very forgiving of the story elements in a comic book. This is unlike other media, like films or novels, where audiences often criticize stories with sharpened talons, and only the very best and most appealing works make their way through the gauntlet. Is it because comics readers understand how difficult the process is and are simply happy to have reading material? Or is it simply that we have low expectations of the medium, as opposed to extremely high ones for films and novels?

Amulet has been an experiment in treating the graphic novel with the standards of filmwatching and novel reading in mind, and I have to admit that it's been an incredibly exhausting project. I'm currently in the middle of redrafting and redrawing nearly half the book to bring it up to snuff. The book already reads well, but I think Scholastic's incredibly high expectations and my own (possibly foolish) ambitions want the book to work like a very well-oiled machine.

I've actually burnt myself out several times now, and I just took a much needed break from the extreme deadline pressures to refocus the narrative and build up enough energy to go back at it. I've already drawn well over 300 pages (penciled, some inked) to produce a book that will be about 200 pages in length, and I'm about to draw at least 70 more. One thing that I am realizing is that I am not naturally a good writer. I have to work hard at it. But I do know good writing when I see it, so I just have to keep throwing stuff at the wall and hope I see something that sticks.

For those of you aspiring graphic novelists out there that are likewise not naturally gifted, I highly recommend scheduling enough time to do about twice the amount of work you would need for the final product (something I should have already learned from working on films), otherwise it's likely that you can end up with a case of first-draftitis or a stream-of-consciousness project , neither of which are necessarily bad things. In any case, we'll have to figure out how we can get the comics medium, a vessel akin to a ridiculously slow typewriter, to sing at the level of the brightest media available to the public.

Much of the problem can be solved with more disciplined work methods, but with more structured systems comes heavy pros and cons, something I'll talk about in a later entry. Back to work for now...

-Kazu

 

New Section

September 7th, 2006

Welcome to the new Amulet section of the website. This is where I'll post less frequent updates related to the upcoming books. Since Amulet takes up nearly all of my time and energy these days, I figured the project deserved a spiffy section all to itself.

Please check back for more updates, or watch the Bolt City front page for even more news related to all of my projects. Thanks for reading!

-Kazu