the Magic of Discworld Hardbacks

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I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but if I had the chance to meet one person in the entire world -dead or undead- I would definitely choose to meet Terry Pratchett. His books are the stuff of magic, without actually containing an ounce of esoteric-ness. As many, much more articulate people, have expressed before- Terry Pratchett’s books are not just fantasy books. Far from it. They are a humorous, touching descriptions of the human condition. It makes fun of being human, yes, but it also shows our resilience and peculiarity as a species- the sort of things that make us who we are. It’s satirical and it’s thoughtful and even when it becomes deep, it does so in a natural, unobtrusive way that, much like the music played on the harp by the protagonist of Soul Music, resonates with something already in us.

That being said, his books are being reprinted in a hardcover edition that just makes me leap with joy and cry at the same time because they are unbelievably beautiful. I mean just look at them!! They are playful, colourful, soulful, and exciting.

They’re a few quid over the normal paperback copies, but they are much more durable and, in my humble opinion, a collecting opportunity. It also makes me wish there were some fully illustrated editions out there, either by Paul Kidby (who does the equally fun and visually entertaining paperbacks) or by someone new. I just want the Jim Kay treatment that Harry Potter received for the Discworld collection. Is that too much to ask for?

Also… if anyone out there knows of any illustrated editions out there, please let me know.

Also no.2: here is a link containing an interview with Joe McLaren, the brilliant illustrator behind the hardback covers.

On pretty books… and great marketing (?)

I went into a Waterstones the other day to buy the sequel to a book I am currently reading (sort of post-dissertation therapy), and had a look around at what is out there at the moment, and noticed something which kind of annoyed me. Silly books have beautifully printed editions, while the ones that make your soul throb with delight and thought are left with cheap paperbacks.

Why?

Probably because of a very clever marketing team, who realized that, just like a live person, if they are not intelligent or special, they should at least be pretty to look at. And so it happens that we pick up books because they have brilliant blue edged pages, patterned covers that make you want to stare at them until the bookshop closes, or you end up buying them. And it annoys me beyond belief.

Because it tricks you. And yes, if you are the sort of person who judges a book by its cover, then you are the sort who will either not mind the poor plot or writing technique, or someone who, at least deserves to be fooled. But I am a visual person. I love books and I want to illustrate them, and I think that by illustrating a book you compliment it, you give it a spark that it deserves to have. You are telling the book how much you appreciate its words. Terrible books look pretty only so that they would be bought by the gullible. They don’t deserve that blue-edged page. They don’t deserve the vibrant colours that sign to you across the bookshop.

Alas… this is all a pointless rant because, to be honest, we live in the sort of world where value is judged by the buck. This world doesn’t care about content, it cares about the figures and the sales. And that is a bit sad.

The thing about being an anxious perfectionist

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This is the problem: I am an anxious being. More importantly, I am an anxious perfectionist. I don’t know why- it might have something to do with maybe being partially OCD, or trying to control the uncontrollable, or just having the need for that one good thing. All in all, this is who I am.

The thing is, this knowledge does not make my life any easier when illustrating. Because I don’t know if I am being realistic in my self-criticism, or delusional and controlled by the self-deprecating realisation that perfection, by definition, cannot be achieved. So as I look at the illustrations I have done so far for “Howl’s Moving Castle”, part of me wants to say is pleased and happy for some weird reason. Another part, and a bigger one at that, is mortified by this complacency and utter blindness when it comes to the work produced. Surely, there are so many things to be improved. I mean, even looking at the illustration above, I can see where shadows are missing, where more contrast was needed, where I relied too much on the ink itself to cover my own insufficiency. And yet, this image remains my favourite from the series so far. I think it’s because of the emotion I managed to capture on Sophie’s face. I put a bit of me in there. And it sort of lives, I think.

But then there are other, less successful images in my project. There is a scene where Old Sophie sees the castle on the moors for the first time. And it’s meant to be dark, bluish, and menacing. It is supposed to be an awe-inspiring scene. But all I can think of when looking at that illustration is how much I relied on Photoshop to edit on top of my incompetence. I was so afraid of using watercolour on a landscape, that I forgot to feel, and I forgot to play. And I think that is visible there. It’s a bit… amateurish.

There are other illustrations where I can find something to complain about. I feel like I am constantly a few steps back from where I should be, from a technical perspective. I am not good enough. Never. And it’s infuriating.

And then again, there are images which if I were to describe their shortcomings, would make the whole thing sound like nit-picking. There are some illustrations in the project (so far), with which I am actually almost pleased. Almost. I can’t actually be pleased because they are not good enough. And they are not perfect. And if you somehow have a doubt in your mind that I don’t have any logical grounds to sustain the above mentioned opinion, oh, believe you me, I can find plenty of plausible arguments to sustain it. It’s the problem with art. It is so damn subjective, you can see a gem in any pile of rubbish, but you can also nit-pick at a masterpiece. Apart from the greats from Art History (I mean anything before Modernism, of course). We do not touch the greats.

Nevertheless, the strange thing is… I don’t (and I am trying very hard not to) want to nit-pick at “Howl’s Moving Castle”. Yes, there is, as always room for improvement. But considering the fact that I am not good enough, it does kind of work. The images feel like the book to me. It has that weird, kooky atmosphere. It feels…like Diana Wynne Jones’ world. It also has a lot of me in it.

So I can only try to be better in the future…

 

Indesign…or that teacher who beats you half to death to show you the importance of life.

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I have been working in Indesign more than any same person aged 22 should ever do, all in the span of a month. Now, it has to be mentioned that I have developed a love/hate relationship with this software.

It is truly, amazingly useful when putting together a book, but also as capricious as a famed mistress in a book which cannot possibly exist because who on earth could be that capricious -except, of course, the software called Indesign.

If anyone has ever wondered how they can learn the mysterious ways of the above mentioned, I have the answer. Just try putting together a book. Any book. But give yourself lots of time and patience, and, above all, pints of hot steamy tea. You will need it. Because most of the times, using Indesign is a very frustrating, grueling experience, that leaves you panting after a fit of rage, pointing your fists at the gods, right before the penny drops and you realise that you’ve learnt something and nevermind you gods, this is really quite fun.

As I beavered away on putting together the illustrations and text for Howl’s Moving Castle, I have learned a great many things. For example, wrap text is a really cool trick when you want the text to play around, or interact with your images. But I’ve also learned about the thousands of questions and decisions someone assembling a book has to consider. How many inches for the gutter? Should I leave more space at the bottom or the top? Am I going to write down the name of the author on every page? What about the book title or the chapter name? Do people genuinely get lost in books to the extent that they need the title/chapter written as a footer/header on every damn page? Also…what on earth is a Master page and how can I actually use it?

That last question remains unanswered, despite the multiple attempts to google it.

I also have to admit, I am a bit of a fan of all the lines and grids that help a perfectionist like me align everything.

To be fair, I haven’t discovered even a tenth of what Indesign can do, which is probably why I still have moments of rage and hatred for it. But I am sure that once I do get more fluent in using it, I will appreciate it more.

P.S. If anyone wants to baby-talk me through the whole Master page thing, I would be very grateful.

MIVC600.1 (for my tutors)

To my tutors,

I do realise that this is somewhat unconventional, however, after submitting my final PDF, I felt the need to explain an error with two of my final spreads.

For some unknown reason, when I exported the Indesign file into a PDF, two of the illustrations which had a text wrap application on them changed into…well, illustrations without the text wrap. I know for a fact that it was a weird technological freak failure, as after I noticed the error on the submission page, I went back to the original Indesign file, and the anomaly was not present. So something has happened while exporting it.

In case it hasn’t yet been noticed, I am referring to the illustration on page 13, and on page 20. I have attached to this post a link for the 2 pages as they appear in the original file.

I am so sorry for the inconvenience of this post, but I would hate to appear as stupid as to have the illustrations on those pages as they appear in the final PDF.

 

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Riddell Who?

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In my mind, that was a funny title. Sort of like a failed pun.

Obviously, everyone interested in illustration knows who Chris Riddell is. But for those of you out there less interested in the scribbles which are not words, found in books sometimes (aka illustrations), he is the current Children’s Laureate, as well as a brilliant artist, writer of children’s books, and political cartoonist.

I’ve been meaning to excitedly write about his illustrations for a while now. Because I’ve always thought that illustrations and final art, in general, is meant to have colour, or lots of cool shading that makes an art student gasp and drool (obviously, whilst rolling in envy and crippling self doubt).

However, his illustrations are not made of palettes of colour and envy-inducing shading.

No.

His illustrations are made of strong, self-assured, awe-inspiring lines. His is a world of lines that swish and roll, rising into new skies and carving new worlds from the white of paper. It seems simple. After all, it’s just lines. But the patterns are not simple. The characters are not simple. The worlds are not simple.It is a simple way which nonetheless enchants the eye and mind, giving you something so much more intricate than a collection of lines.

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And what I love the most, is his frequent partnership with Neil Gaiman. I cannot think of the Graveyard Book, without visualising Riddell’s fascinating illustrations.

As long as there are books written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell, I feel the world will be ok. It’s my safety blanket.

Chris Riddell’s facebook

Let’s talk about type

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Has anyone picked up a book recently with the sole purpose of checking out the fonts?

No?

Just me then… Although, to my defense, this was not done as an eccentric spur of the moment thing. I was doing research. And let me tell you- staring at books, comparing font sizes and serifs, is not fun. To be honest, after the first half hour it sort of becomes a maddening attempt to grasp the ungraspable. The craziest bit still, is that it does make sense in a very Alice in Wonderland sort of way.

The font they pick in books not only has to carry the personality (or lack thereof) of the book, but if you have pictures/ illustrations, it also has to work and compliment them. Busy illustrations mean you need a quieter font to balance it out. If you don’t have any sort of visual aids there, then perhaps you need a font with a bit more oomph to it. However, even that depends on the personality of the book. And did I mention the whole serif/sans-serif thing? Apparently serif fonts are most used in published, physical books, especially in the body text, because they help the eye register the word faster. Choose a sans-serif font when you have a sentence stretching from page one to page 21, and you might as well beg your readers to stop right there and give up on the whole thing. But sans-serif is also considered to be more modern and therefore a lot of people might want to use them on the web. Am I going down the rabbit hole here? I am sorry. I haven’t even began on font sizes. But try staring at 5 serif fonts for 2 hours trying to decide which one you should use for your book and you might as well book yourself a permanent table at the nearest pancake house because you will need the cake to combat that mental breakdown you’re causing yourself.

At least that’s how I felt yesterday when I turned each font into a story and tried to pair it with my university project.

There are some pretty good articles out there talking about fonts and what you should use depending on the book. Really, very, terribly helpful! I’ll leave the links here because they are so much better than I at explaining the whole process. I still have no idea what I am doing. I did my best yesterday, but in the end, I think you have to go a bit with your gut as well. Especially when your eyes refuse to register defined shapes and forms.

I might expand more on the topic with examples from my uni project, but right now I am at work and I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t lose these articles. I know.. I lead the most exciting of lives.

A list of great types

Picking your fonts when you are self-publishing

Understanding fonts and typography