Posts tagged ‘Tiger’s Curse’
“Content creator” and “content container” seem to be the Publishing Industry’s buzz phrases lately. There’s plenty to read online, and hear in conversation. I found Craig Mod’s understanding of content being independent from its container, and the changing role of books in the iPad age especially interesting: http://craigmod.com/journal/ipad_and_books/.
About content containers: For centuries the book form was unquestionably the most efficient way to package and distribute written and illustrated works. It’s seems like such a basic object, but it’s actually pretty ingenious when you consider the other options that were available—can you imagine trying to read War and Peace in scroll form?! When you take the romance out of it, viewing the book as a content container seems intuitive. In its most basic state, it is simply a means of packaging and delivering content—and no longer guaranteed to be the best means of doing so.
It’s easy to romanticize books (even the blah-looking ones) if you’ve spent your life loving them and making them. It’s also easy to fall into a print vs. digital mindset (“Save the book! Save the book!”) But the reality is that both formats—print and digital—are valid and enjoyable. Readers have a choice. And so do Publishers. If we’ve chosen to place content in a book rather than an e-reader or tablet (ahem, along with the budget required to do it well ☺), how do we turn that book into an object of desire for the consumer? How do we romanticize it for a new population of readers?
To achieve this, I believe the container itself—not just the content—needs to emotionally embrace the reader. This is where books can top e-readers and tablets. This is where design rules! My ah-ha moment came kind of randomly in 2007 at the Metropolitan Museum’s “Barcelona and Modernity” show. I was totally captivated by an unassuming comparison of Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s “Casa Amatller”, and Antoni Gaudi’s “Casa Batllo”, shown side-by-side in photos. The explanation brilliantly analyzed the inspiration for both houses (the legend of “St. George and The Dragon”), and the differences in execution.
Casa Amatller’s exterior is decorated with detailed carvings showing scenes from St. George and The Dragon.
Casa Batllo, on the other hand, interprets the story conceptually; turning the tiled roof into the scaly back of a dragon, the chimney into the hilt of a sword driven into the dragon’s back, balconies into victims’ skulls, and it’s inner halls into a ribcage and twisting turning stomach.
I visited Casa Batllo in 2009, and felt the space around me first-hand. Rather than passively view scenes from a story at a distance, Casa Batllo’s design allows you to experience events from the story happening all around you. You really become part of the story.
The concept I took away from the Met’s exhibit—telling a story through surface decoration alone vs. infusing every physical element of your medium with it—can be directly translated to book design. There’s pure graphic design, or there’s a blend of graphic and physical design.
Some inspiring examples of books that achieve this blend of great graphic design and conceptual physical design follow (no doubt made possible by a strong and early collaboration between Design, Editorial, and Production Departments.)
1.The Invention of Hugo Cabret; Scholastic Press, designed by David Saylor, Charles Kreloff, and Brian Selznick. The book’s thickness and smallish trim size give it a pleasing bulk—making it feel like a secret box, waiting to be opened. The case design is reminiscent of an old movie screen—perfect for the theme of the story inside. Red head/foot bands and endpapers make you feel like you’re entering a movie theater, velvet seats and all! That feeling is continued through the interior with the elegant black frames on all of the spreads. Hugo’s storytelling really begins the moment you pick up the book. The concept that a story can be conveyed clearly through visual means is proven through the innovative transitioning between text, and black & white art inside the book.
2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Quirk Books, designed by Doogie Horner, Production management by John J. McGurk (I love that Production got a shout out here!) This book feels so deliciously spooky! I haven’t even read it yet, but have a sense of what to expect thanks to the great design and production. The jacket looks to be printed with silver ink, reminiscent of an old daguerreotype. Under the jacket is a red case with the scratchy gold signature of “Alma LeFay Peregrine” (Miss Peregrine). So we know we’re going into her territory by opening the book. It’s almost like opening her front door! The flap copy tells us that the book is set in an abandoned orphanage. The dirty wallpaper-patterned endpapers create a sort of entryway, followed by a ‘decaying’ page of wallpaper and a seriously creepy title page—like someone has just jumped out of a doorway into your path. The entire interior is littered with four color flourishes and old photos, enhancing the feeling of being contained within a crumbling old house. The only thing I miss is head and foot bands. The raw edge of the book block doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the design.
3. The Arrival: Arthur A. Levine Books, I can’t locate a design credit—perhaps the artist, Shaun Tan? Apart from the stunningly illustrated (and wordless) interior, this book makes smart use of a large trim size to convey the scope of a confusing new world, and an immigrant’s perception of this world. There’s some subtle debossing on the front cover, giving the book an album feel. Illustrated endpapers in the style of a passport photo collection start the viewer off with some perspective of the scale of newcomers arriving in this new world.
It was fun for me to try to reflect some of the inspiration I’ve drawn from these books, and from the Met’s show, in a Sterling/Splinter title I recently worked on—Tiger’s Curse. The story is dominated by romance, and fantasy elements. The main character journeys from America to India. The jacket is printed on metalized paper to create a shimmery, magical feel. The India-inspired arch is embossed on the jacket and case to encourage the feeling of passing through an architectural element into the world of the story. The endpaper map is printed with metallic ink to “begin” the journey of the story, and maintain the sense of magic created by the shimmery jacket. I also need to note that experimenting with different treatments for this book couldn’t have happened without an amazing Production Manager, and the support of the rest of the book’s in-house “team”.
Not every work lends itself to a physical design concept, but it’s certainly worth trying. If content doesn’t lend itself to physical design at all, it may be a better candidate for digital platforms.
Like buildings, hardcover books have structural elements that cannot be substantially altered. As book Designers we have a choice in how we treat those physical elements. We can decorate a book’s jacket with beautiful type designs and complimentary finishing effects that reflect the story and mood inside the book. With collaboration and support, we can also take our design concepts further and infuse every single physical part of the book with the story and mood, converting container into content. For the reader, it may just mean the difference between merely looking at a dragon carving, or passing through a dragon’s jaws to stand inside its belly.
More about the Met’s exhibit: http://www.metmuseum.org/en/exhibitions/listings/2007/barcelona-and-modernity/architecture-and-design
More about Casa Batllo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Batlló