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9 posts from October 2009

October 29, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Gird your word-swords, writers."

Today's quote of the day comes from Margaret Atwood.  It is technically the quote of yesterday, since this was part of Margaret's speech at the Whiting Awards last night.  Most excellent imagery, is it not?

Congratulations to all the Whiting Award winners, especially Adam Johnson, who (as well as running the Stanford Graphic Novel Project) writes wonderful strange and peculiar stories. 

October 27, 2009

Rob Steen has monsters in his head...

... and on his drawing table!

Fun stuff: http://robsteen.blogspot.com/


October 23, 2009

Hiding Under the Covers (well, really "Jackets," but that doesn't make as good a blog title)

Fun Game for all you Design Dorks out there (a title I proudly wear like a Girl Scout badge I stapled on since I was way too Grrrl and lazy to sew)!

Pull out all of the jacketed books on your bookcase and one by one peek underneath. To make it even more interesting try to guess whether there will be anything hiding—be it art, a subtle emboss, some foil, or a water stain from that time you fell asleep reading it in the bathtub (NOTE: that last one doesn't count...and seriously if the book was that boring why do you still own it?) Guessing is like calling the eight ball for people who's coordination lies more in kerning than in cues. You'll be surprised which ones have little hidden gems. Surely that $50 collector's edition you scrapped up enough money for at the very end of a convention will, right? NOPE! But winds up that cheesy Phyllis Diller book someone bought you as a joke is hiding a gorgeous embossed green foil design. Who woulda guessed it? They say you can't judge a book by its cover but this seems to prove you can't judge a case by its jacket either.

:01 doesn't often do jacketed hardcover books, preferring fancy french flaps and keeping the price of full color books a bit less "ak! I must now move to a cardboard box!," so when I see a beautiful case treatment I can't help but drool.

Here are some of my favorites hiding in my bookcases (click on the images for larger views):

Hidden Art in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari Hidden Art in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari Hidden Art in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari. The cover image is um...weird to say the least. Weird in a way I utterly love. As we all know Mr. Toad gets carried away. Quite literally. Beautiful line-art of Toad slightly more sane underneath as he brushes his...hair?

First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger with Jacket First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger with Jacket removed If you have yet to see a Laura Vaccaro Seeger book in person and care anything at all about book design you MUST get to a bookstore or library right now. Seriously don't even finish this sentence. She is, without a doubt, the modern master of the concept book and a true genius when it comes to playing with interaction between jackets and cases. FIRST THE EGG (which was a stunning cover before all those awards it had to go and win—geez Laura!) is probably my favorite reveal of hers as the chicken and the egg swap places, while still sharing the same beautiful paint through a clever die-cut.

THE OTHER SIDE by Istvan Banyai Backwards Author on Flap for THE OTHER SIDE by Istvan Banyai Front of Author Pic and Backwards Text under the jacket for THE OTHER SIDE by Istvan Banyai One I did guess right was that Istvan Banyai's THE OTHER SIDE would have something amazing on the other side. So many little touches of brilliance here, but my fav would have to be the back flap with the author facing the wrong way. Take off the jacket and see the author's face...plus all of the text from the outside backwards as if it bled right through.

Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi Okay this is one you MUST click on to get the full effect. Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi's HOUDINI THE HANDCUFF KING has some stunning hidden artwork under that cover continuing where the front image left off and escaping once again.

At the risk of making this entry give WAR AND PEACE a run for its money here's a gallery of my other favorites. I'd love to hear what books you find on your bookcases that have gorgeous hidden art. Feel free to comment below or just friend us on flickr and post them there silently if you are feeling shy.

Clyde Fans Book 1 by Seth Under the Jacket of Clyde Fans Book 1 by Seth Walter Dean Myers's MONSTER Walter Dean Myers MONSTER without half jacket Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? by Shel Silverstein
Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? by Shel Silverstein THE CLAWS COME OUT by Pat Lewis Case for THE CLAWS COME OUT by Pat Lewis McSweeney's Issue 13, ed by Chris Ware Under the Cover of McSweeney's Issue 13, ed by Chris Ware
A Natural History of Giraffes by Ugo Mochi and Dorcas MacClintock A Natural History of Giraffes by Ugo Mochi and Dorcas MacClintock Under the Jacket of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith Ellen Raskin's FIGGS & PHANTOMS Ellen Raskin's FIGGS & PHANTOMS

October 14, 2009

Why we should be teaching comics: wherein I preach to the choir

First, thanks to John Hogan at Graphic Novel Reporter for getting the word out about Reading With Pictures, a new not-for-profit organization working to get comics into classrooms and to make resources on comics literacy available for educators and researchers. This is a huge and very necessary undertaking, and I can't think of anyone better suited to head it up than Josh Elder, Peter Gutiérrez, David Rapp, and John Shableski. (Katie Doland, Director of Operations, I don't know you, but I hope I will soon!)

You can help support this project in a number of ways, but for starters, how about you head on over to IdeaBlob.com, and vote for this project to win a $10,000 grant! Go, register, vote! I understand voting ends tonight at midnight, so don't delay.


This excellent project got me thinking, a little, about what it means to teach (with) comics. I don't claim to know much about the pedagogical or developmental advantages of getting kids comfortable with the language of comics. I'd be shocked to learn that there aren't a number of them, but I'm no expert.

But what I am an expert in, like many of you, is reading and loving comic books. And that's in large part possible because I've been reading comics since before I could read. I probably learned the language of comics - the visual idioms and rules of order and symbolism and meaning - before I learned to read my spoken language of English. I can't remember a time when I have not felt utterly comfortable diving into a well-written, well-ordered page of comics; I love that feeling of being in harmonious communication with the creator of a comic.


It's easy for me to take this for granted, because so many of the people I spend my time with - friends, co-workers, and family - are in the same boat: comics-literate and comics-loving. We speak a common language, and view the world through rosy, speech-balloon-shaped glasses in which comics naturally take their place in the pantheon of the arts along with poetry, music, painting, dance, etc. Obviously in the context of American society at large we aren't there yet, but in my little personal microcosm, we sure as heck are.  

Which is why it's always a bit of a shock - and a pang - to find myself in conversation with someone who doesn't know how to read comics. Not just "doesn't read comics" but doesn't know how. "Oh," the conversation usually goes, "they make my head hurt. I can't figure out what the order is, I don't know where to look next. It's just too confusing."

For a while this sort of thing just baffled me. It was like talking about food with someone and having them say, "Oh, I just can't figure this 'eating' thing out. Where does it go? In my ear? My nose? It's just too confusing."

It. Blew. My. Mind.


But I got to thinking about it, and, well, okay. Comics have a language, a symbol-system. It's easier to figure out than hieroglyphics, but that doesn't mean you can just dive in and enjoy yourself if you've never looked at a comic before, never taken the time to work out the rules of order and sequence and visual symbolism. It's like trying to do the New York Times crossword puzzle if you don't know that an answer is always the same part of speech as its clue. Either someone explains it to you, or you figure it out after a while. But you can't instantly intuit these rules any more than you can instantly intuit the rules of comics. 

Kids figure these things out faster, and internalize them better, than adults, with those crazy-flexible brains of theirs. But an adult who's never read any comics - never learned the language, never became literate in this idiom - she isn't going to be able to pick up Fun Home and effortlessly sink into it. It's going to be a labor, maybe enough of one that she's going to give up after a few pages and go back to reading novels, or poetry, or science journals, or sheet music.

Or maybe she won't, maybe she'll persevere, and make it through Fun Home, and go on to Persepolis, and Scott Pilgrim, and The Photographer, and French Milk, and maybe a comics reader will be born.


But that's sort of like taking someone who's never read a line of poetry or looked at a painting and handing them Musée des Beaux Arts and waiting for a poetry or art lover to be born. Maybe it will happen! It could! But it probably won't, not with someone who hasn't had at least some kind of early exposure to these art forms. Our brains get all crusty and stiff, when we grow up. (Yes, that's a scientific fact!) It's harder open yourself up to new languages of expression, as the years go on.

All right, but so what? Who cares? I mean, comics professionals care, because it translates to fewer readers (and fewer creators). But why should novel/poetry/data/music-reading Jane Doe care that she never learned to read a comic? She's a teacher/poet/astronaut/farmer/conductor. She doesn't need comics to enrich her already rich life.



There are things you can say, things you can do, with comics, that you can't say or do any other way, just as there are things you can say or do with music or literature or an elegant proof that you can't say or do any other way. There are comics that can change your life. And you'll never know about them if you can't even read them.

There's nothing fundamentally different about teaching comics literacy to kids than teaching them the basics of poetry, art, music, math, science, reading - even running. When we educate children, we are giving them the tools to educate themselves. To find the things they love. To experience the world more fully.

And as long as there are people making amazing comics in the world, anyone who lacks the basic tools to read them is missing out. Big time.


Photos taken without permission from:


October 12, 2009

Ball Peen Hammer at Book Court


Join Adam Rapp and George O'Connor for an event at Book Court in Brooklyn tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7:00 pm. 

Haven't been to Book Court yet?  You should go!  They have books, wood floors, and large dogs. 

October 09, 2009

Texture Field Trip: The Making of the RESISTANCE, BOOK 1 Cover

Wrap Around Cover for RESISTANCE, Book 1

I've always been a big fan of wrap-around covers. I have a habit that whenever I get a new book I always take off the cover and open it flat, look at the case, look at the spine...see it the way the designer did on screen, flaps out, all of the pieces together...a visual conversation of the whole package. 

Color Variations on Resistance When Leland Purvis sent along a thumbnail concept of this great art for RESISTANCE, BOOK 1 (a SPRING 10 book written by Carla Jablonski, with some pretty incredible art by Leland telling the story) our entire floor was buzzing over it. Playful, strong, and sets the tone of the series which chronicles the French Resistance during WWII and the children who got involved in the fight.

Realistic coloring wouldn't have made the cover as strong so I started to play around, inspired by the palette of the book which is a lot of beautiful blues and browns. I made over 20 until I had pushed myself too far. Got to the point of "world's ugliest color scheme" and then worked my way back. (You guys don't get to see THAT one, though I blame that fourth one down in the image on the left on me watching GHOST DAD earlier that week. NOTE TO OTHER DESIGNERS: Don't watch Bill Cosby movies and design at the same time. Listen to someone who learned the hard way.) After all the variations, I realized I had been on the right track in the beginning. Something quiet so a shock of red for the band would be impossible to ignore.

But it still felt too static and flat for a story with so much action, spying, running, disguises, and danger. It wasn't working, so I decided to add some texture. Sure I could have made fake bricks in photoshop or thrown a simple filter in, but what fun is that?! This was an excuse for a Texture Field Trip!

If you live in NYC and haven't yet become a wanderer, you're doing it wrong. I could argue it's the greatest place in the world for people watching...and texture hunting. A few hours of walking around NY and brooklyn and I had over 60 new textures on my camera. I'm a firm believer you should always have a camera on you, especially if you are a designer or tend to run into Hulk Hogan a lot. (I swear that guy is stalking me.) There's just something so beautiful about naturally aged architecture, broken concrete, bricks who have seen a lot of things...though if they could talk, I'm not sure I'd want to hear the stories. That first wall below was stunning close-up. The picture didn't do it any justice.

Texture Field Trip: Union Square NYC AKA the most beautiful brick wall in the worldTexture Field Trip: Greenpoint BrooklynTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYCTexture Field Trip: Greenpoint BrooklynTexture Field Trip: Greenpoint Brooklyn Texture Field Trip: Union Square NYCTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYC AKA THE WINNERTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYCTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYC

Can you spot the winner? Click on any for larger versions and feel free to use them, since it will give me an excuse to go on another Texture Field trip in the future. Though honestly...wouldn't you rather go hunting yourself? There's a lot of beauty if you look around you a bit and everything can be a texture if you use it right.

Hand-lettered Resistance Cover Paint Logo Up Close

I didn't want the wall to look like a photograph in the end and I definitely didn't want it to overpower the art. I'm really happy with how it turned out and proud to have this as my second :01 design. Despite the fact I am constantly drooling over fonts, I've gotten really into hand-lettering lately. (Note if you are a fontophile and don't subscribe to these newsletters you are missing out.) But there's just something about hand-lettering that makes me connect more emotionally with a book. This is definitely not a light book. Sure there are funny and sweet moments, but it's dark, real, and inspirational. Creating the logo by hand made me feel connected with the kids in the story. My own attempt to say "take that" against the oppression France faced during the dark times of their Nazi occupation.

October 05, 2009

:01 Around the Internet


First, read an excerpt.  Then, an author interview.  Then, read or listen to some commentary. 


Richard Sala.  "There's nothing on the shelves quite like his work."  [read about it]


Read people talking about Refresh, Refresh


"Nothing short of a triumph," says SLJ.  Knights and princesses and dragons and comics triumphant!  Yay!


Plus!  Our editor, Calista Brill, is totally awesome.  How do you know?  The Graphic Novel Reporter tells you so: "Calista Brill doesn't disappoint."  [go, read]

October 03, 2009

Joann Sfar's GAINSBOURG movie


Appetizing morsels, courtesy of The World of Kane blog — some concept art from Joann Sfar, connected in some ways to his upcoming movie GAINSBOURG... From what I can gather, it's due to release in January, at least in France. I can't wait to see Joann's film directing debut, which promises to add new dimensions in his creative universe.


For French speakers, there's a delightful 15 minute video interview at Le Figaro online which hints at some glorious movie pleasures to come...

October 01, 2009

On Betting the Farm

[a piece about writing from Benjamin Percy, author of Refresh, Refresh]

I used to be stingy with my ideas. From my creative bank--my folders full of articles clipped from magazines, my notebooks busy with images and overheard conversations, my electronic files clotted with first lines and characters and metaphors that needed a home--I would withdraw one thing, maybe two things, when beginning a story. I was like some coupon-clipping grandma who eats dinner at 4:30 for the senior discount and refuses to leave a tip even though she's got stacks of money in the bank.

And then I overheard a writer I respect very much -- Tony Earley -- say that when he wrote a story I respect very much -- "The Prophet from Jupiter" -- he put everything he had into it. Every last thing. All his energy, all his best tricks, all that had been lying in store. And after finishing the story he felt completely tapped. For two weeks he laid on the couch and wondered if he would ever write again. Of course the well filled back up, but the point is, he was willing to throw himself fully into his work, to write with complete abandon. The result is one of the greatest short stories of the past twenty years.

I didn't have the courage to pull a Tony Earley -- to go the distance, to put everything I had on the table and risk failure -- until a few years later when I wrote "Refresh, Refresh." This was late 2005, and though I was writing and publishing stories with regularity, I didn't feel like I was challenging myself. I was hungry for a big fight. I found it in the war. I had read so many articles about Iraq, but no fiction, so I set out with that express purpose. In particular I was inspired by a small town in Ohio, where overnight several dozen men and women had died in an ambush. I grew up in a rural community and I couldn't imagine the cavity that kind of loss would leave behind. And there was my story: the battleground at home: a town without fathers.

Keeping this concept in my crosshairs--boys without daddies--helped me write a story that was political without being polemical. The war is a character in the story, yeah, but the emotional circumstances transcend Iraq. Into "Refresh, Refresh" I unloaded all of my treasured images and metaphors and snippets of dialogue. Bet the farm. And afterwards I, too, laid on the couch for two weeks and wondered if that was all I had, if I would ever write again.

I remember when my agent, Katherine Fausset, called to say The Paris Review had accepted the story. "This is a game-changer," she said. And she was right. It opened a lot of doors. It got in a lot of anthologies and won a lot of awards I'm still shaking my head over, wondering how a dumbass like me got so lucky. But more importantly, it moved a lot of people. I still receive, on average, three emails a week about the story. From ROTC cadets, Vietnam vets, mothers and wives and daughters of soldiers alive and dead. From students. From teachers. From journalists. From housewives and truckers and ranchers and insurance salesman and even one stripper. Some praise it. Some criticize it. Some criticize me, calling me alternatively a liberal pantywaist and a conservative nutjob. The range of emotions pleases me, because I know I've touched a nerve that belongs to all of us -- I know I succeeded in writing about more than the war. Sometimes I wonder how I did it. And then I remember that feeling -- that whitewater rush of emotion that came at the keyboard, when I decided to hold nothing back and lay it all out there, to tell the best story I could possibly tell -- and it's maybe one of the most important moments I've had as a writer, not simply because I wrote this particular story, but because I bullied my way into a different place artistically.

It's so rewarding to see "Refresh, Refresh" take on a new life through the screenplay adaptation by James Ponsoldt and now the graphic novel by Danica Novgorodoff. They've been infected, I think, by a similar energy in making the story their own -- and I'm hopeful that this will carry over into  new audiences who will be as impressed as I am by the power of Danica's vision and artwork. 

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