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.

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.

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

 

 

the struggle for inspiration

There is nothing – NOTHING! – worse than that period of time between the excitement of finding a new project and actually beginning the first draft. Why? Because in between you have the dreaded research stage, not to mention the inspiration block stage. And did I mention the crippling self doubt stage? No?! Oh, it must have slipped my mind.

It doesn’t matter how many mind maps I draw, how many plans and timetables I put up on the wall, I always bring myself close to tears trying to find the courage for those first drawings.

Right now.. I am at the above mentioned stages. I am doing as much research as I can, but somehow it just doesn’t seem substantial enough. I have googled away my nerves by trying to find out different ways people have been illustrating books these past decades, and I am not sure how much I am achieving with this. All I get is a sense of dread. Because none of those illustrations feel like me. Which, I suppose, should be good because you don’t want to copy someone else’s style and work. I think the best thing for me to do is to go to my happy place (Foyles in Tottenham Court Road) and from morning to sundown just flick through all their books. If nothing else is achieved through this technique, at least I will have spent my day in my happy place.

In the meantime however, I did come across some interesting illustrators. So in case you thought this was all going to be a long, paragraphed meltdown, rest assured. I have included some actual information in here. You know.. just in case you are interested in discovering some actual illustrators.

Benji Davies

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Benji Davies’ illustrations have a particularly warm and lovely feeling about them, even though his style is one I will never go close to. I like it, but it’s miles away from what I try to do.

His blog

Philip Bannister

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Then there is Philip Bannister. The way he uses watercolours is pure magic. It’s a style and technique I will always admire, but not one I think I would use in my coming illustration project. Still, going through his portfolio is a kind of an education.

His website

Madalina Andronic

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There is another illustrator I have admired for a long time now (ever since my private tutor pointed her to me): Madalina Andronic. I think her illustrations resonate so much with me because we come from the same cultural background. I love seeing the modern twist she puts on Romanian folklore. For me, going through her images is a visual feast. And it is undeniable that she has her own, well defined style, an identity so strong, I have to admit I am a little bit (more than a bit) jealous.

Her Behance

 

I also managed to find a buzzfeed post on a few 1920s fairytale illustrations. It was quite interesting to see how this has evolved over time, because if you go into a bookstore now and flick through a fairytale book, you will find a completely different style in illustration.

Buzzfeed – 15 Fairytale Illustrations from the 1920s

 

Of course, there are many more illustrators I find inspiring and jaw-droppingly good, but I’ll save them for a bit later. I have an appointment with my pillow; I plan to cry on it until I magically turn into a good artist.

 

Neil Gaiman and the struggle of a bookaholic

Neil Gaiman and his new books covers

Stardust Cover Design Process

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Now here’s the problem.

Every time I mention to someone that I intend to be a book illustrator, I am met with the same answer: “But aren’t books a thing of the past?”. And every time I angrily, and somewhat obsessedly, reply with a definite and desperate: NO!

I believe this is something which only regular readers will understand. And by regular reader I mean someone who loves to read. Yes, there are audiobooks and e-books out there now. Yes, they are cheaper and more environment-friendly than the traditional paper book. But that doesn’t mean people who love reading will stop buying the books. It might be nostalgia for our lost childhoods. It might be sheer stubbornness. I can’t put my finger on one particular reason for this, but the fact of the matter is this: you cannot replace the feel of a book. You don’t buy a book just for its content. You buy it for its weight, its physicality. You buy it for the smell. You buy it for the feeling you get when one side of the book becomes heavier than the other as you plow through the words and pages. You buy it for the artwork. You buy it for your potential, future children. You buy it so that one day you can hand over a bookcase of books picked and loved by you, which will tell the word the kind of reader you were and the kind of person you chose to become.

Sure, you can pass on a kindle. But will it have that old smell about it? Will it have the little hand-written notes and scribbles; your footprints through that printed, wonderful world?

And because to us readers, books are so much more than the sum total of their words, we care about editions. It’s why we get stupidly, unapologetically excited when a favourite author announces a new edition, with a new cover and a new design. Books are an investment.

So when Neil Gaiman shows us the little gems he will publish again through Harper Collins, with book covers featuring Robert E. McGinnis’ paintings, we start counting our pocket money.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and people. His books are not just stories I have read. His books are part of who I am. His characters have whispered into my ear and then slithered into my heart, making a nest of half imagined worlds. His books are the companions I want on a dark and stormy night…

So yes. I am excited and I will spend my money on these editions. Because the covers are a befitting face to his stories, and the art is amazing. They also appeal to my nostalgic side with their retro design, even though I had not yet been born when this style was considered modern, fresh, and fashionable.

… I got carried away. And I rambled a bit. The point of this post was a note to my future self on how the whole process of choosing a type for a cover and then tweaking the design works. Oh well. At least the link will not get lost somewhere between the dozens of bookmarks already saved on my browser.