If you couldn't guess, Amulet, Book 3: The Cloud Searchers is the third book in Kazu Kibuishi's "Amulet" series. The basic premise of the series is that Emily and her family stumble into a Wonderland-type world in which Emily becomes a stone keeper of great power. She eventually comes across and is helped by her great-grandfather's old friends, some robots and anthropomorphic animals. The Cloud Searchers specifically follows the group's adventures as they seek out the lost city of Cielis.
The first thing of note in any of the Amulet books is that they're gorgeously illustrated. While the character designs aren't especially complex and the linework seems to be scanned directly from Kibuishi's pencils, the pages are still amazing to look at. This is where the difference between a simple coloring job using Photoshop filters and a digital painting are highlighted. I mean, it's easy to see how great things look on the occasional splash page, but Kibuishi really does some handsome work across the board. Even on what could've been plain backgrounds in small panels, there's a showcase of texture and depth that really makes the artwork sing throughout the whole story. It's worth taking a look at these books for the artwork alone.
Of course, it's hard to sustain a series with just good artwork. Fortunately, Kibuishi turns in a fine bit of storytelling as well. The characters all come across as fully-formed and distinct, with their own motivations and drives. The story is primarily plot-driven but, to my distinct preference, the characterization is then shown through the actions and re-actions of everyone without a lot of needless pontificating. Even the expository dialogue makes complete sense within the context of the story, so the story flows very smoothly overall.
The one thing that strikes me as curious in The Cloud Searchers (and I seem to recall having the same impression in at least one of the previous books) is that Kibuishi's influences show through pretty readily. He quickly admits that the story is heavily influenced by the original Star Wars trilogy and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, and there are some scenes where the point of reference seems quite direct. The scene where Enzo docks his ship for repairs and refueling and then meets Selina feels very much like when Han Solo flies to Cloud City to meet Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back. What strikes me, though, is that while the shadow of Empire hangs over that scene, it doesn't feel like Kibuishi has tried to blatantly rip the movie off. It really feels like he needed such a scene, wrote it, and then only realized that he pulled ideas he saw in Empire out of his subconscious only after someone pointed out the similarities to him. I don't know if that's exactly how it happened, but it has that strange feeling of familiarity with an honest spontaneity that suggests he wasn't trying to deliberately copy and then change what he wrote.
This actually goes back to a larger issue I have with fiction in general. And that is that I've done enough research on storyteller's source material that it's often hard for me to tell if one creator is copying another, or if they both happened to draw inspiration from the same original source. I really noticed that when I first saw Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy and I thought, "Wow. He totally ripped off Star Wars." Then I thought about it for a second and corrected myself, "No, he just studied Joseph Campbell the same way George Lucas did." Kibuishi, to his credit, has freely owned up to his influences and it's only a mild distraction for me, as I'm very familiar with them.
Overall, I've really enjoyed the Amulet series thus far and The Cloud Searchers is no exception. I'm eagerly waiting for Book 4 and I'm keeping tabs on Kibuishi's progress via Twitter in the interim.