Monsters, a precocious heroine, and fantastic robots conjured in Alhambra

It’s crunch time at Bolt City Studios, a comic studio tucked away in the heart of Main Street, Alhambra. Artist Kazu Kibuishi is putting together the fourth book in his Scholastic fantasy series, Amulet. Two of his staff paint on digital tablets, while a dog whimpers from a small kennel and a developer plays a video game on the other end of the room. Kibuishi is surrounded by frenetic energy, but he sits at his desk and yawns.

“Geez, I only got like five hours of sleep last night,” says the artist, who lives with his wife and one-year-old son walking distance from his studio.

Alhambra is removed from the entertainment epicenters in Los Angeles, which makes it a surprising place for this studio in a loft across the street from City Hall. But Kibuishi likes it for just that reason, and has fostered a network of creative people who collaborate with him in Alhambra. Gordon Luk, a former Yahoo programmer who is now an iPad developer, is working on an interactive map of the world of Amulet. Luk met Kibuishi while playing a death match of Halo 3 with a group of friends. Lead production assistant Jason Caffoe sits at a desk fixed with a small mirror, a common staple for animators to get facial expressions just right, and works on a digital tablet which has a grinning character and miniature figures frozen in action poses. Caffoe found Kibuishi via a comic convention. He now also lives within walking distance of the studio, and likens Alhambra to a “small town atmosphere that you can’t find anywhere else in LA.”

Gallery Nucleus, which is a few blocks east on Main Street, was a catalyst. In 2004, when Ben Zhu opened the Main Street art gallery, Kibuishi was just starting his comic career and was looking for a place to set up a studio.* The two shared the same loft and an artistic exchange was created. When Nucleus moved down the street four years later, Kibuishi invited Adhesive Games and a pair of iPad developers to share the space with him.

On a recent afternoon, Kibuishi sat at work on book three of Amulet, a steampunk-style adventure filled with monsters, a precocious little girl heroine, and lots of fantastic robots. “I want this series to be something that makes you want to reread it again,” Kibuishi said. “So as a child you’ll enjoy it and as an adult you’ll come back for more.”

It is not lost on Kibuishi that the plot, which is based around the rescue of a mother from a monster, contains some parallels to his own childhood. Kibuishi grew up with a sensitive mother, who moved with him and his brother from Japan to America, when they were small children. She had divorced his father, who then cut off contact with the family. Even though when Kibuishi was five his mother remarried — to a man he considers his real father — he and his brother have often felt like they had to protect their mother and now support her financially.

Kazu now has his own family and often collaborates with his wife, artist and writer Amy Kibuishi, who did colors for Amulet Volume 1. The couple have a similar deadpan expression when talking about their art that melts suddenly as they laugh at quirky insights into their fantasy realms.

“When we go home, we try to be adults,” Amy said. “But the conversation always finds its way back to comics or to our work.”

Kibuishi, holding his son’s small hand, begins to define his immediate family and the extended family he’s made at Bolt City. It’s apparent that Kibuishi loves telling a good story — his books are more than just a financial endeavor, they are a legacy he has created.

“Simply put, it has to get done,” he says referring to the deadline he’s going to meet. “Too many people are relying on this.”

*In the interest of full disclosure, Amy Kibuishi’s brother, Tim Ganter, is the Alhambra Source’s web developer, and Ben Zhu designed the Alhambra Source website.

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