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Reflections of a Solitary Hamster

25 Jul

This is another one of the books Vida Kelly worked on and brought in to show us when she spoke to our class. It’s also one of the Gecko Press books that Julia Marshall spoke about.

I’ve included it here because I found it really interesting when Vida talked about the aspects of fitting the translated text into the speech bubbles. It was originally written in French so obviously had to be translated into English and, once this was done, the new text had to be fitted into the existing speech bubbles. As Julia pointed out, Gecko preserve the original look and feel of the books they publish, changing only endpaper colour and other small details to ensure that the books are high-quality productions. This means that the illustrations need to be kept as are … but with translated text, the translation can often be a lot longer than the original, posing a spacing issue in a book like this.

So, even though Vida had a very specific model to work on (the original book), it didn’t necessarily make the job any easier. She said that it was a really time-consuming process hand-writing out all the new sentences and fitting them into to the speech bubbles in an unobtrusive way.

I think the evidence that this was a success lies in the fact that when you read the book, you don’t notice the text as being ‘out-of-place’. In fact, you don’t notice it at all. Which I think is really something that so many people have pointed out with book design: you don’t necessarily notice good design, because it should fit seamlessly in with the book as a whole.



5 Jul

I’ve included this book for pretty much the same reasons as I included Maus. As a graphic novel, it’s a great example of the interaction between type, illustration and layout in telling a story. Like Maus, it’s dealing with a serious (and quite upsetting) subject in a form that’s traditionally not serious at all.

Palestine offers some great examples of how type and image can be used to contribute to meaning: I think the ‘hijab’ page is a great example of this. It’s bold and striking and there’s a lot of movement going on that pulls you in.

One issue I have with this book is the cover. I think it would have been a really effective cover if the designers hadn’t included that little yellow box in the bottom left corner with praise for Palestine. I know including praise is a great marketing tool, but why could they not have just put it on the back cover? I really don’t think there’s any point in including it on the front cover because, to me, the purpose of a front cover is to catch a passerby’s eye. Sure, include an image of a medal of some kind, but I really don’t think including tiny type that no one can read as they pass the book on the shelf anyway is going to help. And especially not if it’s placed in an awkward box that detracts from an otherwise great cover.


4 Jul

Watch an interview with Art Spiegelman in which he talks about “writing with a picture”.
Read more about Art Spiegelman on the Pantheon Graphic Novels website.

The more that I think about book design, the more I begin to consider what it is to actually ‘read’ a book. One thing that I’ve learnt this year is that there’s certainly more to it than just reading words on a page: the interplay between the design, typography and content (both the story, and the illustrations) of a book contributes to how we experience that book without us even being aware of it.

I think that graphic novels highlight the importance of achieving harmony between all the elements of a book. Even though the illustration is the attraction of a graphic novel, it needs good writing and design to tell the story. Maus is one of my favourite books because the illustration and design of the book directly relate to the story. As you read it, you can almost feel yourself falling into its world. The pictures and the words actually kind of disappear so that you feel like you’re ‘watching’ the story and I think that’s thanks to the design. The layout of the sequences is simple and clear but also varied: for most of the time it’s from box to box (these vary in size and shape) and occasionally you’ll stumble across a full-page image which will reinforce the importance of that aspect of the story.

I also think that Maus is a good example of not having to do anything particularly fancy or revolutionary with design to make a very strong point. There’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before in terms of design in this book, and even the base metaphor (Nazis are cats and Jews mice) isn’t revolutionary, but it all comes together seamlessly into what is a very affecting book.