Designing reMIND – Part 3 – The Gutson May 24, 2011 at 5:00 am
By Christopher Kosek
Something that I hate seeing, is when incredibly talented people (artists, illustrators, photographers) design a piece to showcase their talents and it comes up short. The ideas might be good, but they usually lack the training, experience and design knowledge to pull it off with great success. What usually happens is that you get an amateur level design showcasing incredible images. Unfortunately you see the bad design and usually write off the work. As a designer who sees a lot of promos from photographers and illustrators, my gut reaction is that person doesn’t pay attention to detail and likes to cut corners…all because they sent off an amateur looking promo.
Jason understood the need for collaboration. If I had to guess, I’d say his time working in the big world of industrial animation has taught him this. You work with good people who are good at different things, the final product comes out that much better.
Designing the interior, non-comic book pages was the biggest challenge of this project. Jason has a very visually rich graphic novel. High contrast, rich colors. Whatever we created needed to work with this…not against it and most importantly, it needed to look as if it belonged instead of just dropped in as bookends. He also had a very defined page count that had already been quoted. There wasn’t a lot of extra space but we had tons of extra content. That’s called a “Design Challenge”.
I was tasked with creating front and back matter for the book. He had a Foreword by Jeremy Barlow, a Xeric and Kickstarter page, making of and pinup gallery. A lot of these things we had kicked around but we knew we didn’t have a lot of flexibility for page count. I’ll give Jason credit, his decision making was based very much in the marketing side of things. He knew his price point and how much profit he wanted per copy and we also knew how much it would cost to add a few pages. As a designer I kept asking for more pages to spread things out, show full bleeds, do cool design stuff and all that. But we just had very real constraints to work in. Here’s the thing about page count in books. We’re printing on a proper press, not an office copier machine. You can’t just add 1 page…you have to add 4 because of how the signatures are created. (tune in next week for more on book binding!) 4 extra pages doesn’t sound like much, but when multiplied by the print run, you are actually adding hundreds of dollars to the cost. We did it where we had to, but restrained ourselves towards the end when i wanted to get all design-y and wanted to play with more space. It gave me challenge…fit more content into less area and not make it feel cramped.
A big part of book design is image selection. Figuring out ways to tell a story with images. Making images work together not repeating yourself too much and finding the right complimentary image to sit next to the appropriate body copy. It’s a very big challenge and something that takes a while. There’s no defined way to do it but for me I like to have lots of images to pull from. I place things in my Indesign file (more on that next time!) move ‘em around…work fast. In school I studied with a professor who was a former art director at a legendary Music magazine back in its heyday. Working with xeroxes and printouts we’d cut, paste and move things around. Playing, working fast, getting a rough idea for sequence and story. Don’t get locked in too soon. I translate that same philosophy but digitally. My early design files for each project are so ugly and weird that I won’t show anyone…EVER. Back to reMIND, once I got some stuff in a good place I dropped some dummy copy in to show Jason some spreads. Just to get an idea of what images to use and the scale relationships.
WORDS aka Typography
The first instinct a lot of people have when designing a graphic novel is to make it look “comic-book-y”. Usually the same fonts that you’d use for word balloons or text effects. It rarely works and often comes off as unsophisticated or kitschy. A floppy comic and a hardbound book are two different things. Kitschy is cheap. You can’t sell a product for $25 that looks like its worth $5. Early on Jason told me his concept for the book was to be like a coffee table book. Elegant, sophisticated, clean and well done. This was music to my ears (technically eyes since our conversations were via email). They say that good design recedes, and bad design is what you notice. I really believe that, and for this book I knew that the design couldn’t get in the way or upstage Jason’s story. I drew from my experience designing for art books and brought that sensibility to reMIND. Clean and elegant typography, grids, white space, proper typesetting….all those little things that become distractions if handled poorly.
Typography is the meat and potatoes of book design. I cannot stress the importance of font selection, especially for body copy. There are *traditions* for comic book lettering that go against the rules of proper typesetting and typography. In word balloons you’ll often set all the words in caps, and use bolds on seemingly random words for emphasis. Also there is no such thing as an ellipses…you use a double dash (–) and so on and so on. These traditions/rules were developed way back in the day because it was assumed that the average adolescent wasn’t very well educated and skilled in reading and he or she would need some help so they simplified the grammar and styles down. Nowadays adults read comics and even kids are a bit more sophisticated with their reading skills. Whether or not you want to stick to these traditions for your word balloon lettering is another conversation, but if you are setting paragraph copy in your graphic novel, you cannot get away with it…unless you want a kitschy effect. You need to work with book weight typefaces and proper typesetting rules which unfortunately can’t really be taught here…you need classes, books, mentoring and most importantly, experience with typesetting to really get it. Now I’m sure I’ve lost some of you. For artist’s the word “rules” is dreaded. In the case of design and typography its not so much some outside force saying “you ‘re not allowed to do something” , but more of a tradition of highly dedicated artisans who have been figuring this stuff out over the course of hundreds of years and they’ve passed down a list of trial and error suggestions for things that we know make the English language legible and readable.
For those interested start with Ellen Lupton’s book “Thinking With Type” and start doing some internet book searching from there. Thinking with Type, 2nd revised and expanded edition: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students (Design Briefs)
There aren’t many fonts that come with your computer that are good for typesetting. Georgia and Times were designed for long batches of body copy so you’d be ok with those. Usually, you have to go outside of the default and start looking at professional fonts for sale at type foundries. I have a pretty good selection of fonts and have been doing this for a while. A lot of it comes down to personal taste, but there are some rules you adhere to when mixing typefaces. Contrast is one, pick things that are different, and compliment each other as well as the tone and feel for the book. If you want a delicate feel, don’t use something big and bold and vice versa. If you want elegant, don’t clutter things up. One of my biggest issues with comic book typography is the thinking that the more effects and junk and modifications you can slap onto some letters, the more “designed” it is. I disagree. Fonts are designed by incredibly talented people, let the type be its own thing (unless you are doing a logo) and if you must modify it, use restraint. It’s like that custom Honda Civic with too many racing stickers, obnoxious body kit and a shopping cart spoiler that just went waaaay too far. Newsflash, that Civic still isn’t a Ferrari.
Jason initially wanted a grunge type font for the headlines and subheads that was like the logo. I understood his justification, but that isn’t always the best way to go. I picked something that had a bit of grunge, but still had nice clean elements.
The font was designed to look a bit roughened up by the printing process, and I thought it worked. To contrast that I went with a very modern, clean serif body copy text face specifically designed for book typography. The font has a nice natural color, with nice thicks and thins that don’t appear to heavy or airy in large chunks of body copy. It also retains its legibility when used small and has natural small caps (forcing small caps is a criminal offense!). More importantly I’ve worked with it before, so I knew what it did and how it looked. I found a nice neutral gray green color through trial and error to use for the type. Black is just so severe. I wanted a neutral that would allow the type to receded but still remain legible. All of my color, and type choices were decided by looking at Pantone swatches, designing and printing out on a high quality laser printer. That’s the only way to proof things at that early stage and I can’t stress how important that trial and error is. In fact I made many minor tweaks and changes to the type that Jason never really knew about. It wasn’t a secret, it was more like a chef adding a bit more salt and seasoning to the recipe.
The next challenge was images to supplement the graphic novel. Behind the scenes, process, sketches. I wanted all of it. To me when I’m looking through a hardcover graphic novel, the supplements are what makes or breaks the cost. I love seeing process and sketches. It’s another level of insight into the process and really makes you appreciate the final product. Plus I love the contrast of rough sketches with finished artwork. It’s refreshing. Jason sent me lots of files. I wanted to use them all, but couldn’t. I felt it was important to show early sketches and even the online banner ads. The blog is so important to the process that it needed to go into the historical record that was the book. Jason actually had to rebuild the web banner to print ready specs.
I wanted to integrate sketches and doodles. It’s part of the process but with a limited page count, there wasn’t room. I screened a sketch behind the credits page in the front. It showed enough and pulled double duty by bringing rich visual complexity to a boring informational page. I integrated process work into the designed ‘making of’ pages. It’s all juggling.
Tune in next time to read all about the Production Process, working with the design software and so much more…don’t say I didn’t reMIND you!!! (see what I did there?)
Christopher Kosek is a Graphic Designer who’s been working on his own graphic novel for way too long. Originally hailing from Washington DC, went to school in Southern California and wound up in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife and puppy. He loves sports, comics, design, and stuff in general. He’s always looking to meet new people and get involved with new and fun projects so feel free to say hi!
See more of his work at www.christopherkosek.com