Cartoon Studio is an annual summer workshop offered at The Center for Cartoon Studies. This workshop replicates the CCS thesis year in five short days. Students have full access to the production lab, studio space, and Schulz Library. They work on independent projects that are critiqued daily. In short, they’re treated like full-time college students.
I’ve been teaching at our summer workshops for the past 6 years. I now live in New York City and my visits to White River Junction are more rare than I’d like. I knew I had to carve out some time for Cartoon Studio, so last week I headed up north for two days of intensive teaching.
One of my favorite subjects to lecture on is book design for comic self publisher. Jon Chad and I have a few philosophies about book design, and we’re trying to turn our students into true believers.
Design is Content
Most cartoonists consider their comic pages to be the content of their book, while book design is just the wrapping paper they slap on at the end. I believe design is content. Book design affects how a reader experiences the story. Before your reader ever sets eyes on a panel, they interact with the book as an object. If cartoonists make thoughtful and appropriate design choices, they can use book design as a narrative device.
My go-to example of appropriate book design is Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth, a self published comic that was created by Jon Chad when he was a summer workshop intern. Our protagonist, Le Geo, burrows deep into the earth for educational adventures. Because the book is about digging down, Jon Chad made a clever design choice. His book reads vertically, top to bottom like a calendar, rather than left to right. It’s the perfect design for this book, and it significantly contributes to the reading experience.
These photos show the first printing of the comic, as a self-published booklet with a screen printed cover. Next March the book will emerge as a hard cover graphic novel from Roaring Brook Press, a “real” book! It’s a true self publishing success story. And a big part of that success is due to book design.
• Paper (Cover and Interior Stock)
What color, texture, or weight should your paper be?
• Book Size
Letter, legal, and tabloid are the standard paper sizes that can be photocopied. You can trim these to a non-standard size after printing.
• Book Shape
Why have a rectangular book? Die cut or hand trimmed for a custom shape.
Most minicomics are photocopied or printed on a laser printer, usually in black and white. Consider using these other printing techniques: screen printing, Gocco, linoleum block, spray paint stencils, stickers, or stamps.
Saddle stitch (a staple down the center of the spine) is standard. Consider using needle and thread, a sewing machine, or a rubber band.
Slip cases, bags, and belly band are popular finishing touches.
Keep these in mind the next time you publish, and remember: design is content!
Next, go to Day 2 of Cartooning Studio: a lesson in page composition.