« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

18 posts from September 2009

September 12, 2009

Jordan Mechner on Marcus Pfister's Rainbow Fish

[click image for larger]


September 11, 2009

Brooklyn Book Festival


Perhaps you have not heard of the Brooklyn Book Festival?  It happens every year at Brooklyn's Borough Hall, and really, it is kind of awesome.  There are speakers and books for sale (of both the new and old and comics and prose varieties) and the Spirit of Brooklyn is everywhere!

You should especially come to these two programs, which are full of both comics excellence and First Second-ness. 


1:00 p.m. Comics Jam with Jessica Abel and Matt Madden A jam comic is an improvised collaborative comic. One person draws a single panel and then passes it on to the next person, who draws a new panel that continues the story. Get ready to draw and collaborate!  For teens and adults.  Participation limited to 25. Held at the Borough Hall Conference Room. 

3:00 p.m. Love, War and Adventures in BabysittingTransforming Stories into Comics. How does a comic artist take a favorite story and make it new? Three new stars in the literary comics cosmos shine the light on their process, adapting award-winning fiction, found historical materials and one of the most popular teen series of all time into graphic novels. Raina Telgemeier (The Babysitters Club graphic novel series), Danica Novgorodoff (Refresh, Refresh) and George O’Connor (Journey into Mohawk Country) in conversation with :01 Editor Calista Brill.  Held at the Youth Stage. 


If you are not convinced to come by the sheer awesomeness that is First Second, the full schedule of programming is here.  There will be lots of extraordinary comics people there, including the folks from D&Q. 

Last year my trip to the festival yielded a book entirely about accomplishing bank robberies!  How is that not worth a trip to Brooklyn?

September 10, 2009

Victim or Vixen: Breaking the V-Blonde Pattern in Mystery Covers

Noticing patterns is a part of my job, so as I dove deep into research for my first :01 cover design, I couldn't help but notice the Mystery of the V-Blondes of Mystery.

The women on vintage and even contemporary mystery covers are, more often than not, busty blondes that generally fall into one or another simple category: Victim or Vixen. You'd think you'd be able to tell the V-Blondes apart by how scanitly dressed they are, but another pattern is that both types are often pretty disheveled in the clothing department. (Who knew ghosts and murderers loved fabric so much!) The true way to tell if they are a Victim or a Vixen is by their gaze. If they are looking directly at the reader they are a Vixen and are not to be trusted. They are the ones hiding knives in their shoes and poison in that cup of brandy. If they are looking away—namely at a ghost, creepy closed door, towards a dark alley or graveyard, or um... at their own hand (sorry that last one made me laugh too hard to not include it), they are a Victim. Their role is to be saved as the mystery is solved. And often not much more than that.

CAT BURGLAR BLACK was the first book I designed for :01. Whenever I start a new project I completely go overboard with research. This time it included pouring over old covers in all of the used bookstores I know, watching old mystery movies, and wading through the huge pools of mystery covers and posters so wonderfully cataloged on flickr by collectors. Two of my favorite flickr members let me use their scans in this post: THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS, whose photo stream is simply one of the best out there; and cover collector and artist MATTHEW KIRSCHT. I warn you, in case you have something important to do that doesn't involve designing a mystery cover, you can spend hours looking at their collections. I know I did.

What struck me most about the image Richard Sala drew for the CAT BURGLAR BLACK cover was how it played with this idea of the traditional mystery novel cover: the creepy unnatural glow of his gorgeous watercolor bleeds, a the beautiful girl as the focal point, eerily background and sinister landscape. But at the same time a quick glance made me realize four things. She is
1) not a blonde*
2) not a vixen
3) most certainly not a victim
4) alone—no skeletons, no men—just a girl who is about to have her own story. One she completely owns. K.'s stance is powerful. Her gaze isn't one of fear, but rather one of intelligence. She knows something we don't. And it's pretty hard to look at that image and not want to find out what it is.

*a white haired teenager? How bizarre!

I guess I should talk about the parts I actually designed and I could bore you with talk of foil and the ridiculous things I do when picking a style of it for a book cover: Walk into a room with lightbulbs; walk into a room with fluorescence; turn off the light and see if you can still read it; hold it at every possible angle a book could wind up on the shelf. Is it shiny enough? Is it too shiny? Too yellow? Too red? Why am I using foil for this? Am I accidentally writing the paragraph I just said I wouldn't? Why yes! Yes, I am!

I wanted the logo to be contemporary, to mimic the blue glow of the background and to be something else that K. was conquering. She stands above it and presses that G down into a defeated squiggle. (For those design-y folk who like to deconstruct things: if you ever need to make a box 4 lower case l's work wonderfully and sideways S's make great accents. Letters are just shapes, and often pretty beautiful ones.)

In my mystery binge, along with getting annoyed with all the pointy boobed bondes with tiny waists, I also learned of a designer/artist named Tom Adams. He was resonsible for reworking all of Agatha Christie's books in the 70's. Many of her previous covers had not only been overly narrative but were covered in V-blondes (more often Victims than Vixens, since, as I'm sure you know, Christie was a proper lady). Adams took these stories and gave them iconic and haunting covers, often with simple still lifes or collages, and when he did choose to include a blonde...or at least part of her hair, he broke the line of victim and vixen. The hair suggests she's in trouble, but her stare and faint smile in that picture says otherwise. The only way you'd know is to read the book. Which is exactly what it made me want to do.

September 09, 2009

the artist as miracle worker

A dazzling piece of art magic, expressed in sand and time and passion...


September 08, 2009

My Day at the Bookstore, by Glenn Eichler

Last week something very exciting happened to me: my book came out.  Stuffed!, written by me and drawn by Nick Bertozzi, was published on September 1st, and since I’m not one of your prolific, established authors like Philip Roth or Rachael Ray, to me it was a big day.  So big, in fact, that I decided to go down to my local Barnes & Noble so I could see for myself the first time someone came in to buy a copy.  Naturally I took notes throughout the day – you never know what you’ll need for your memoirs and rereading them that night, I thought: I bet my fans would love to see these.  So here’s my journal of Stuffed!’s first day.


Sept. 1st, 8:50 AM.  Arrive at Barnes & Noble ten minutes before it opens.  Obviously I’m a little overeager, but I’m not the only one who’s here early.  There’s also a gaggle of five 12-year-old girls and a man with his hand wrapped in a bloody cloth.

9:00.  A Barnes & Noble staffer unlocks the door and, before they can ask, informs the girls that there’s still no new Twilight book and they should stop coming by every morning.  They talk it over and decide that they might as well go to school, since it’s the first day and all.  Guy with wrapped hand asks whether anyone has written a book called Finger Reattachment Surgery for Dummies, and if so, is there an audio edition?  He’s having trouble turning pages.  Without waiting to hear the answer, I scoot upstairs to the Graphic Novels section

9:01.  There they are: two copies of Stuffed!  Only two?  They must not have unpacked the rest of the order yet.  But anyway, these two are right there on the shelf!...  the next-to-the-bottom shelf.  Why so low?  Then I see the little sign explaining that the books are arranged alphabetically by title.  That explains why Stuffed! is next to the first entry in Frank Miller’s new series, Sin City Preschool: Corpse in the Fingerpaint.

But that shelf is so low… what if I just move one copy of Stuffed! to a higher shelf where casual browsers will see it?  Maybe up at the top there between Batman: The Haunted Dark Knight and Batman: The Night of Dark Hauntings.

9:05.  I realize that it probably won’t matter where Stuffed! is shelved, because I’ll be right here when buyers come in and I can just show them where it is.  And since this is publication day, pent-up demand means these two copies will probably sell in the next five minutes.

10:10.  Okay, no buyers have come in.  One guy did stop by and thumb through a copy of Watchmen: The Annotated Guide to the non-Dolby Version of the Movie Trailer, but where are my fans?  I know they’re a cultured bunch, so I can think of only two possible explanations: either 1) they’ve all gone to the opening of the new African and Oceanic sculpture exhibit at the Met, or 2) Spencer Gifts is having a sale on Beer Pong balls.

10:38.  I’m now convinced that Stuffed!’s placement on a low shelf is not only keeping my readers from finding the book; somehow, it’s keeping them from finding the Graphic Novels section at all.  The urge to move the two copies up to eye level grows almost overpowering.  But what if one of my wheelchair-bound fans catches me and interprets it as an act of prejudice against the differently abled?

11:00.  I’ve got it:  I’ll leave both copies on the ‘S’ shelf where they are, but remove all the other books from that shelf and scatter them artfully on the floor to make it look like they just happened to fall.

1:10 PM.  Because I have to carry out my plan when no store employee is looking, it takes me two hours to complete, but it’s worth it.  Stuffed! really stands out, now that it’s on the shelf by itself.  I gaze at it proudly for ten minutes, and then realize I’m starving.  Lunch.

1:30.  Halfway through my Triple Meat Italiano pizza (no one knows true Neapolitan cuisine like Pizza Hut), it occurs to me that my wheelchair-bound fans probably won’t love the floor full of books, either.  It’s so hard to please everyone.

2:00.    Back from lunch feeling queasy, and not just from the 3MI pie: someone has put all the books back on the shelf and Stuffed! is now surrounded by very menacing Spawn covers that I’m sure are causing my characters’ testicles to retract in fear.  A B&N staffer walks by, eyeing me coldly, and I freeze: do they suspect me for dumping the books? I decide to do the rest of my observing from a nearby easy chair, wearing sunglasses.  If anyone asks, I’ll claim pinkeye.

3:00.  This has been an extraordinarily slow day for graphic novel sales.  The only customers in the section in the last hour have been two college students loudly debating why Tintin won’t come to terms with his sexuality.  Near my chair, a security guard looks them over.  I tell him, “This morning I saw them pulling books off the ‘S’ shelf.”

3:30.  I feel pretty confident that sales of Stuffed! will pick up, now that school’s out for the day.   It crosses my mind that those Twilight fans from this morning may come back, and I briefly consider taking out a Sharpie and changing the title to Stuffed – With Delicious Blood From A Hottie!  But if the store catches me vandalizing the book they’ll surely make me buy it, and I already have a copy.

4:30.  Still no sales.  On the plus side, I was here for Story Time in the children’s section.  If you ask me, they should have locked up that Peter Rabbit and thrown away the key.

6:00.  You know what I hate?  Bookstores that don’t close at 6:00.

7:15.  I am still in my easy chair, wondering how long it takes to develop bedsores, when I spot someone coming up the aisle.  Her eyes radiate intelligence… maybe too much intelligence.   Is she just passing through Graphic Novels on her way to Twelve-Hundred-Page Important Historic Biographies?  I knew I should have pursued my idea for Gerald Ford: The LSD Years... no! She stops at the GN section… she’s looking at the ‘S’ shelf… she’s picking up Stuffed!

7:19.  Is she going to put it back?  No!  No!  Don’t do that!  I fight back the strong urge to buy it myself and give it to her.  I read somewhere that doing that can cut into an author’s income.

7:20.  Yes!  She’s taking the book downstairs to the cashiers!  I have a reader!  I watch joyfully as she pays.  And from what I can tell she doesn’t have a Barnes & Noble card, so there’s no discount to mar my triumph.

7:21.  In the flush of victory, I decide there’s no reason to stay here until the store closes at 9:00.  It’s obvious that Stuffed! will be a success – hell, this store alone has already sold half its copies.  I close my notebook and prepare to leave.  If I hurry, I might even catch my reader in the parking lot and surprise her with an autograph.  I can’t do that for every fan, of course, but this one is a special case.  Besides, I forgot to send her a card on Mother’s Day.

September 04, 2009

Danica Novgorodoff -- Exhibit Opening


(click for larger)

Danica Novgorodoff, the creator of the excellent Slow Storm and the forthcoming Refresh, Refresh (October) will have a show at Charmingwall Gallery in NYC that opens this Saturday.  Check it out! 

Since it's all Danica's artwork, we can guarantee that everything is going to be gorgeous.

September 02, 2009

Editor speaks: "I yam what I yam"


"One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors. They are all, without exception--at least some of the time--incompetent or crazy... It is useful, in short, for young writers always to think of editors as limited people ... though if possible one should treat them politely." - John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist

"All editors are different, and even a very good editor isn't a magic bullet, because writing always comes down to you and your book." - Hope Larson, Comics Comics

Someday I will indulge myself in the pleasure of writing a nice long post about the editorial process and what precisely what goes into it and how it works, exactly, but in the meantime, I wanted to thank Hope Larson for her lovely interview on Comics Comics about working with editors. If you haven't read it, I do recommend it.

And of course, human vanity being what it is, I couldn't resist adding a brief two cents to this discussion... So, a quick run-through, from a personal perspective, on what an editor is and is not.

What an editor is:
Someone who provides a second pair of eyes for your work. Think of a good editor as a mildly reactive surface for your work to reflect off of so you can see it better. Both flaws and strengths in your writing that you have been too close to it to see may be a lot clearer to someone else.

What an editor is not: A mind-reader. Although someone with some experience and skill may be able to intuit a great deal about what you're trying (whether you're succeeding or not) to say in your story, it doesn't always work out that way, especially not at first. I've found that the editorial process often involves a certain amount of groping around in the dark on the part of both editor and author.

What an editor is: a reader, talker, and listener.
There are two modes I find I alternate between when I'm talking to an author about their work. First, mostly asking questions -- the more open-ended the better -- to get the author thinking and talking about the story, especially about what works and what doesn't; what's important and what isn't. Second, I give my opinion, and offer my solutions. I usually start out with the one and then move to the second, but not always.

What an editor is not: the final authority on how you write and illustrate your book. As happy as I am in certain situations to say "Such-and-such isn't working; it would be better if you did so-and-so," that's kind of the exception to the rule. I'm always aware of my own blind-spots and shortcomings, and, as Hope says, "writing always comes down to you and your book." My role is primarily that of a facilitator and asker-of-hard-questions, not "Boss." By the way, this is a more pragmatic position than you might expect, given how high-minded it sounds! Think of it this way: my two primary goals as an editor are 1) a great final book, and 2) a happy author. Strongarming someone into adopting my brilliant idea isn't going to get me either of these things.

What an editor is: someone who probably knows more about publishing, and the market for your book, than you do. Format constraints, cover design constraints, schedule constraints, content constraints -- most authors have no reason to have thought about these issues much. I spend a good part of my day thinking about them. (Not the fun part, either, so count yourself lucky.)

What an editor is not: the final authority on publishing and the market for your book. I do know a certain amount about this stuff. But the best way I can represent a book's best interests is by never assuming I know what's definitively right or wrong for it before I've given it real thought... and heard the author out. You want a purple melamine cover for your book with an embossed illustration of human genitalia? Let's talk. Chances are I'll talk you out of it, but I'll always hear what you have to say, first.

- Thanks to First Second translator Hanvey Hsiung for the terrific quote from John Gardner
- Your mileage may vary on all of this; I offer no universals or proscriptions. Or if I do, it's probably wrong anyway.

September 01, 2009

:01 Around the Internet

Go, Look!

Ball Peen Hammer excerpt in PW Comics Week. 

First Second signs up new projects!  It is impossible not to be excited about working with awesome people like Gene Yang, Thien Pham, Dave Roman, and Lucy Knisley. 

CWR really likes Kim Dong Hwa's Color trilogy.  "If you’d told me before I started that reading 900 pages of a man’s take on his mother’s memoirs on growing up in rural Korea would captivate me as much as the COLOR trilogy did . . . I’d have accused you of being drunk, insane, or over-medicated."

ICv2 likes Cat Burglar Black.  "The story reads like a Tintin/Oliver Twist hybrid."

Dustin Harbin's journey to love for Gus & His Gang.  "When Gus came out, with its garish safety-orange cover, and its Wild-West subject matter, I looked forward to reading it but wasn’t really peeing myself or anything."


Let this image serve as a PSA for Tiny Tyrant: The Ethelbertosaurus.  It has adorable artwork and mutant rats!  What more could you ask for in a book?

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 05/2005