Smash Pages Q&A | Amy Kim Kibuishi

The creator of ‘The Rema Chronicles: Realm of the Blue Mist’ discusses the recently released graphic novel from Scholastic.

Amy Kim Kibuishi was part of a generation of cartoonists who emerged as a force in the early 2000s. Kibuishi was an acclaimed web cartoonist, one of the contributors to the legendary Flight anthologies and a winner of the Rising Stars of Manga competition. Her Sorcerers and Secretaries duology were released through Tokyopop in 2006 and 2007.

Her new book The Rema Chronicles: Realm of the Blue Mist has been a project that Kibuishi has carried with her for many years. It began with her webcomic Reman Mythologies and has evolved into this new graphic novel series, the first volume of which is out this month from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. 

It’s great to have new comics from her again, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about carrying the story with her for so long, and how the meaning has changed.

The Rema Chronicles is a story that you’ve carried with you for a while. Where did the idea behind it come from?

Rema started with a dream I had when I was 12. It arrived fully packaged with the world, characters, and some world-building aspects (like the fact that all Remans can fly). When I woke from that dream, I just wanted to go back, it was so vivid and beautiful. I spent the next few decades building upon those ideas and characters, and finding their story.

I remember that Reman Mythologies was a webcomic and then you ended it and started writing it as a novel. Do I have that right?

That is correct.

What do you think kept you coming back to this story?

I’m not sure, to be honest with you, but working on it always came naturally. I never ran out of ideas for Rema. I think a big part of it is the characters. I love their backstories, their powers, and the way they interact with their world. So many times I would count down the pages of other projects just so I could get to this one! And more than once, the dreams of Rema would return if I stopped working on it. I feel like it’s a story that is trying to be told, and I feel very lucky to be able to draw it. It’s always been my favorite creative playground, and that remains true to this day.

How does this experience compare with other comics you’ve made, whether shorter comics for various anthologies, or the Sorcerers and Secretaries books? Have those stories stayed with you in similar ways?

No other story stayed with me the way Rema has. I would say with my other projects, I’m fully in control of the story. I manipulate it easily and I’m able to be more professional with it. There’s an aspect of control with Rema as well, but I’m more at the whim of where the story wants to go. If I try to control it too much, the momentum is lost. In short, working on Rema has always been more like surfing, while working on my other stories is more like sculpting.

How much did the story itself change over the years?

In the very beginning, the story was almost like a mash-up of X-Men, Final Fantasy, and the dream that I had. As I grew, especially in my college years, I expanded the story to be more mysterious and personal. I put less and less of my influences in it, and more and more of myself. It’s funny, now that I think of it, as I slowly shed off the outside influences, the story got closer to the feelings I had in the initial dream.

Talk a little about Tabby and Philip, who are the main characters.

I see them as two parts of one soul, and their interaction with each other (or their avoidance of one another) in many ways moves the plot along. Philip in the beginning is very stoic and guarded, but since Tabby is so non-judgmental and naturally curious about the world, he eventually learns to open up to her by the end. I love writing about their friendship and seeing how it grows as the story progresses, it’s honestly one of the biggest draws for me as a writer.

As for Tabby, she’s someone who has been a bit of a loner growing up because of her unusual circumstances. She’s always searching for connection, either with her past or with those she runs into. I think that’s one of the reasons she so willingly goes on this journey to Rema. She knows it will lead her to a place of understanding, and hopefully to finding that deep connection she’s been craving. I feel like it’s a quest so many of us can relate to – to find that human connection.

Tell me about drawing the map. Every good fantasy tale has a map and clearly there’s a lot of Rema that we have yet to see.

The map for Rema was inspired by tourist maps I used to get in New York City, where the main tourist spots were exaggerated and big. I used to daydream a lot, studying those maps and imagining flying over New York, hopping from place to place. I wanted to invoke a similar feeling where you could imagine going from one place to another in Cerey, like a tourist.

Tabby’s mom and dad are central to the story in very different ways. And even though we learn how her dad died at the end, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. How did they change over the course of writing this story?

They changed in big ways, but I can’t get into it without some major spoilers. Maybe I can talk about it after book two!

Having worked on the book for so long, I’m sure what it’s meant and what scenes have meant have changed – a child alienated from her parents, a parent obsessed with work to the exclusion of children and family – they mean something very different at different ages.

Yes, it’s my hope that The Rema Chronicles can be one of those stories that sort of grows with you. Every time you read it, at different stages of your life, I hope your interpretation could be a little different. I feel that way about many films, especially Studio Ghibli films. Every time I watch some of those I get something new out of it. I hope Rema can be like that for someone someday.

Her mom has a line early on that jumped out at me on first reading: “I refuse to live a haunted life.” There is a way that that line and the mom’s actions read differently to someone our age than it does to someone young.

That little scene used to encompass an entire 10-page chapter in the novel. I distilled the whole thing down to that one line. In that moment, Tabby’s mother thinks she’s protecting her child by pretending everything is normal, but her trauma can’t help coming out. She’s trying so hard to live this false life, as if they never had a touch of the extraordinary. When confronted even in the tiniest way, her words come out aggressively. To Tabby, that moment only proves her mother doesn’t want to face reality. To her mother, she can only think of the fear her husband’s supernatural death invokes. She is still in denial it ever happened, and hasn’t even allowed herself yet to really grieve.

There are some through lines, but the artwork feels different from other work of yours that I’ve seen before. To what degree was that intentional and to what degree was it you being older and coming to this book with a different set of influences?

It was definitely just me being older and wiser. I took a long hiatus from drawing comics, about seven years, and it did a lot to help in the development of my artistic voice.

So this is the first volume and you include a sneak peek of the second in the back of the book. How big a story is this?

It’s very big, and I hope I’m able to tell the whole story! I have five books planned out total, but as the pages are drawn that could expand.

It’s a beautiful book, and I’m sure that this is a complicated question to answer, but how does it feel having this finished book and seeing it in the world?

Thank you. Mostly, I just feel relieved. The most satisfying moment in the whole process was when I was finishing colors for the first section that takes place on Earth. I actually said “Hello, there you are!” out loud, because I recognized that FINALLY these characters reached their final form, as this graphic novel. That was when I knew I was doing what I set out to do — to bring justice to Tabby and Philip’s story. Everything since has been nice, but that moment was when I felt ah, this is it. After carrying this story with me most of my life, I can finally start to let it go.

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