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8 posts from October 2010

October 29, 2010

A Steampunk Give-away


Tordotcom is having Steampunk Fortnight!  (Because fortnights are very steampunk things to have.  And also: who doesn't want to have a fortnight filled with gears and pipes and also some very excellent fiction?)

They're doing a library give-away that includes one of First Second's books, The Professor's Daughter.  And who doesn't want that?  Here's where you can enter to win. 

October 26, 2010

Book Spines

(not as good a post about book spines as our designer would do, but maybe she'll be encouraged to write a better one herself?)


I saw the paperback cover for Howard's End is on the Landing this morning, and it's lovely!  I thought for a moment that it actually was just a close-up of a bookshelf.  I haven't actually read this book or heard of it before ever, but yay it.

Which brings me to the thing I actually wanted to talk about: the spines of books. 

(Conversation Warning: being that I am in Marketing and not Design, this will be a lot of conversation about utility factors and not a lot about prettiness.)

Take a moment to look at your bookshelf.  If you're 99% of people, what you're going to see is a lot of spines. 


This is one of my bookshelves.  I think there's maybe one book that's face-out in it?  (Face out: the front of the book is facing out, rather than the spine.)  And I'm pretty sure that was accidental, because it's in the wrong place. 

If you think back to last time you were in a bookstore or a library, you will realize that most of the books you encountered at that point were shelved spine-out (ie, with the spine facing out, rather than the front or the side or whatever). 

The reason for this is just practicality: if you shelved all of your books with the covers facing forward, you would have a lot less room for books in your shelves!  But the one of the results of this shelving strategy is that the piece of books that most people encounter first is the spine. 


So take a look at these book spines.  They're totally pretty, right?  They're fun and colorful and all those things. 

Also they're not very useful on a marketing level. 

Optimally, every spine you come across should be telling you something like this: "Dear Reader, I Am So Awesome, You Just Must Pick Me Up or You'll Be Missing the Best Thing to Come Along in Books in Centuries, Sincerely Me, Most Awesomenest Book Ever!"

But they also have to convey some information whilst doing that. 

So the #1 most important thing to have on every spine is a title and author.  Because people looking for specific books should be able to find them by looking at a bookshelf, instead of picking up every single book and examining the front cover or the title page or whatnot.  Imagine if you were in a library and looking for a copy of Cake Pops so you could make delicious cup-cake-popsicle treats for your book club but had to find the book by actually picking up every single book in the library!  That seems like it would be less than optimal.  Even if you could limit your search to cupcake-colored books. 

Clash of Kings_Spine

Here's the spine of a book. 

(Please note that this is not actually the best possible example, just the nearest book I grabbed off of google imagesearch; clearly this edition normally has a jacket, and therefore this is not the spine that anyone is going to look at.)

It has on it both the title and the author. 

Now, you may know who George R. R. Martin is, because he is sort of famous.  But if you are one of the people who has not encountered him before, you may look at this spine and go, "?" because it is unclear from this spine if this is a non-fictional book about the War of the Roses or a space opera set in a distant Mongolian-derived empire or an Arthurian adventure for small children or a graphic novel about politics in present-day Europe. Or maybe the kings are metaphorical and it's some sort of yoga meditation piece?

(It is not actually any of the above options.)

So the #2 thing that it is useful to have on the spine is: something that makes the book look like the kind of book that it actually is inside. 

Misc. Book  Harris & Wilshire's Criminal Law spine

This book?  Definitely looks like it is a weighty tome about criminal law from the spine.  (And it turns out it is!  Amazing.)

But what about these books?  Can you tell what any of them might be about from their spines?

Book Spine Poems 123

Luckily, we have a very excellent sort of designer who works that sort of thing out for us here at First Second.  Mostly she works it out through putting fun art on the spine, but I understand that such things as fonts and color choices also come into play. 

#3 thing: we enjoy putting our logo on the spine.  Because we're proud of the books we publish!

In short (and in conclusion): spines = the first parts of books that most people see!  Making them pretty and also conveyances of useful information about your book can only help attract more readers. 

October 22, 2010

comics and spaces

(in which I actually talk about an upcoming book for once)

So I was rereading Nick Bertozzi's Lewis and Clark (February 2011) and was struck by how interestingly it conveyed a sense of place. 


(This book is a book about Lewis and Clark and their expedition to the Pacific Ocean, so the plot basically goes like this: Lewis and Clark try to get from the east coast to the Pacific Ocean.  And then they do.  In the middle [two years of middle], there is hardship.)

I don't personally have a lot of referents for walking across the United States.  Sometimes I walk a few blocks downtown?  And as a kid sometimes I did some hiking and we'd camp out in the woods?  But those things are all very structured and did not really include 'discovery of unknown lands!' or 'will we be able to get to the store because perhaps today someone will have put the Rocky Mountains between us and it as a well-meant suprise!' sort of excitement. 

But Lewis and Clark had to deal with that sort of thing all the time, it turns out.  And while I understood that intellectually, one of the things that's really great about Nick's book is that with pacing, panel layout, and just excellent use of art, he's able to depict how weird and puzzling and labor intensive it was for them -- and get a real, visceral sense of how they just didn't know what was ahead for them. 

Two sequences in particular I want to talk about. 

There's this one great scene where the expedition comes across a waterfall.  And Lewis is like, 'hah, I will climb up the side of this cliff and see what it up with this waterfall, it cannot be all that bad.'  Actually it turns out to be horrendous, and five waterfalls in a row, so that's pretty traumatizing for him (but then he is almost eaten by a bear, so his day is not wasted!).  But can you imagine how that would be depicted in a history book?  'On the day of June 13th, 1805, Lewis and Clark spent the entire day getting the expedition's canoes up five waterfalls before they were again in clear water."  Now in the comic, you see Lewis climbing up one waterfall . . . only to discover the next beyond it (he has a very dejected tilt of his head).  And then the next waterfall . . . only to discover yet another waterfall.  And so on. 

Nick's pacing is masterful, and it actually allows you as a reader to have some visual idea of what the process of the discovery of America was actually like. 

May 26th, 1805 was Lewis and Clark's first view of the Rocky Mountains.  So they're purposefully striding about in mid-America, and accidentally come upon them, and they look like the Rocky Mountains do, which is like this.


(I have ganked this photo from the US National Archives.)

Upon first coming across them, everyone's hoping against hope that they're actually just very small hills that are close by.  And Nick depicts this by having one of the characters find a stone and throw it at the mountains to gauge how close they are.

It turns out the Rocky Mountains are actually huge.  But in that moment before you know for sure, you have your heart in your mouth for the expeditionary team; maybe they can get to the Pacific in a few days and not have to endure another year of hardship! 

This isn't something I've really seen done in a lot of other nonfiction comics, and I've come to the conclusion that this is because most nonfiction in comics format is about people, rather than places.  But think what an interesting medium is comics is to talk about place, and depict the physical differences between places!  Maybe we should do it more. 

Adventures: A Supplement


So we have a book called Adventures in Cartooning, which you can see because it has a cover, displayed above.  And the point of it, and its sequel Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book, is that they show you how to make comics.  And then they do!  So that's pretty awesome, and also: truth in advertising.

Our adventuring authors, being extremely considerate fellows, have just sent me a cool thing that will be useful if you are a librarian.  They noticed that their books are somewhat heavy on the 'encouraging folks to draw' and if people choose to draw in the books, it turns out that doesn't work so well for the multiple-users of library copies.

The solution?  Bookplates!


There's one for the first book, and another for the second

Useful and cute!  It doesn't get much better than that. 

October 15, 2010

Notes for a War Story


(digital images of this cover are more purple than the real-life one; an important thing to know)

Gipi once told me an interesting thing about his inspiration for this book.  You can probably find it somewhere around the internet, but I thought I would recap it here.

So he lives in northern Italy, right near the western border.  When the whole Bosnia/Herzegovina mess was happening practically in his backyard, he realized that if there wasn't this artifically-created country border, that would be his town, his home, and his life.  

Because he is an author, then he wrote a book about it.  And it is this book.

What's interesting to me here is that I get to say, 'this is fascinating!' and then disassociate myself, because as much as I can intellectually understand something like that, it's hard to viscerally understand it, being an American.  I mean, I guess Canada could fall into anarchy and invade us?  Or maybe Mexico?  Either of those things seems highly unlikely; there isn't the same 'this could be here,' 'dystopian future that could be now' as Gipi's experienced. 

So that seems like a good thing, I guess?  But sometimes I think that more of a sense of impending future doom could spur us on to greater heights of creativity and scientific achievement and also hopefully goodwill. 

(That's when I'm thinking on the bright side.)

October 13, 2010

Derek Kirk Kim Art

You guys!

Derek is offering for sale some of the pages from the Eisner Award-winning story "Urgent Request" in The Eternal Smile


They're the watercolor ones!  And they're completely gorgeous.  I actually have one of them hanging up in my house, so you can stamp 'First Second Employee Approved' on this whole art sale thing.

Buy art!  It is pretty!  And also award-winning!

October 08, 2010

White Space

I'm just going to post this page from Three Shadows, becauseI feel it is particularly fascinating the way that Cyril uses white space here; where the first and the last panel on the page aren't in boxes, but just coming out of the picture to interact with you directly.

3Shadows_28 copy

You almost feel like that milk bucket is going to bounce out of the frame and end up at your feet instead of staying in fantastical pastoral pseudo-France/Portugal. 

Isn't that cool?  It's not a technique I see all that frequently in comics, and this makes me think that it'd be good if it was around more. 


October 01, 2010

C is for Cookie


Cookies are a major theme here in the First Second office.  It is mysterious to all of us why this is (it's not like they're particularly delicious or anything, right?), but nonetheless, here they are!  All the time!

Another place where you can find cookies is in one of our books, Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book.  And they are even chocolate chip!

The only problem is . . .

The cookies have ganged up to become a cookie monster!  It seems very worrying for our hero: how shall she overcome this monster of deliciousness?

(We recommend you read the book and find out.)

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