Designing Your Book…

WA_headers - Book DesigningBook image credit: www.freeimages.com and zdelia

A helpful way to start…

Alright, so this past weekend, I finished putting the final touches on the fourth Capes & Babes book and thought it might be useful to talk a little bit about everything that went in to putting this book together.

As many listeners to our podcast know, I have been struggling with this book for quite some time as I was stuck in a bit of “paralysis by analysis” kind of thing. If people aren’t familiar with that saying, it’s a bit of a sports analogy where an athlete simply over-thinks everything and, in essence, freezes or lacks confidence in throwing that fastball, kicking that ball or shooting that free throw because they are internalizing every motion they are going through instead of just trusting their physical gifts and just “going for it” so to speak.

Well, that’s exactly what I was doing with this fourth book. At least in terms of what to include as “extra content”. You see, for my first three books, I had put so much effort into coming up with lots of cool, interesting stuff, when it came time to seriously think about the fourth book, I froze. I was afraid that I had ran out of ideas as well as material to put in the fourth book. Anything that I came up with just seemed to pale in comparison to what I had done before. One of the hardest and most intimidating things an artist (as well as an athlete) can sometimes face is topping what they had done in the past.

And that’s exactly where I was with this fourth book.

It was a little bit like writer’s block… I had ideas but they all seemed to be crappy ideas. None of the ideas I was coming up with really seemed to excite me, so I kept putting the book off hoping that “inspiration” would suddenly hit and would fill me with a bunch of cool ideas but it never did.

The cover was the hardest part to get started…

What did help me was talking about this very issue on the podcast and getting lots of different feedback from Byron, Drezz, Robin and Dawn. In fact, it was a suggestion by Dawn that inspired the idea for the cover. Very early in the process, I had made a decision that I wasn’t going to use my last name as any part of the title for any new books, but that meant trying to come up with a new cover concept. That problem was also holding me back. I couldn’t really get enthusiastic about starting a new book unless I had a title and a cover I was really excited about.

And I had nothing until I took up Dawn’s suggestion of going through the strips that would be in the book and see if there was a panel from one of those strips that could be tied into the cover. That piece of advice really helped jumpstart the whole process. Going through all the strips, I found three potential candidates that I thought might work for a cover: Roy painting a grill red, white and blue for a Fourth of July strip, Roy dressed as a Roller Derby Queen or Roy dressed in a really bad DC Comic’s Atom costume. I ultimately decided to go with the painted grill as it seemed to offer the most potential. And, as soon as I made that decision, the title “This Fur Don’t Burn!” just seemed to come out of the blue. I liked the idea of both so that’s where the cover idea came from.

So, if you’re struggling with a cover concept, maybe you can follow the same advice Dawn gave me and fins a panel in your strips that might represent your cover. I had to make some small modifications for the cover in comparison to the strip I based it on but the grill is exactly the same. Only Roy was tweaked for the cover.

Here is the full book cover design (click the image to see a larger view):

Capes & Babes Vol 4 - Front & Back

Here is a larger view of the front cover (you can click on it for an even bigger view):

Large Front

And here is a larger view of the back cover (again, click the image for an even bigger view):

Let’s talk about the back cover…

Although I decided very early on to change the title concept for this fourth book, I knew from the very beginning that I would keep the concept of the back cover intact. I liked what I had already established for the second and third books so I decided to stay with the same elements. Those same elements are:

  1. An image of the strip mall Capes & Babes takes place
  2. Three sample strips that are included in the book
  3. A bullet list of things that are included in the book
  4. The suggested retail price of the book
  5. A small paragraph of information about me, the strip and the website

The image at the top acts as a logo for the back of the book and I just really dig that line art I did.
The three strips help sell the book at conventions. When people don’t want to look through an entire book, it’s very easy for them to flip the book over and get a quick sampling of your humor and art style.
At 8.25×8.25” though, three strips are about the maximum number of strips you can fit on the back cover though.
I like the idea of a bullet list because it gives people a quick view of what’s inside. Maybe this comes from my newspaper design background, I don’t know.
The price is printed on the back because this helps retailers when they are displaying your book on their shelves. I got this advice from a comic book shop owner once and I have found that advice to be quite useful when selling the book to other comic book shops. They don’t have to think or worry about what to price the book – the suggested retail price is right there. And people need to know something about you – or your strip.
They also need to find out where to find your strip as well. That’s why I feel a very brief paragraph about you and your strip is very important.

What goes into designing the interior of the book?

Being a graphic designer, I am always thinking about the design of the interior. For that, I set up a few rules for myself whenever I am creating a book. Some of these are basic design principles so there’s no reason to think I’m setting the world on fire with these rules. The only “text” that doesn’t change throughout the book is the text within the strip. All of my comic strips are hand-lettered so all of the strips remain untouched. With that being said, here are the interior book design principles I live by for all the Capes & Babes books:

  1. Use no more than three fonts for the interior. Actually, the cover follows the same principles but I choose different fonts for the cover than I do the interior page. For the inside of the book, I primarily use two fonts: Meta Bold and Palatino. Palatino uses different weights throughout the book but it is still the same font. The third font I use very, very sparingly and only for styling. That font is Showcase Gothic. It’s a fun looking font but can be overpowering if used too much.
  2. Page numbers are all in the lower right-hand corner and set in the Meta Bold font
  3. Headers are all consistent using Meta Bold
  4. Sub-headers are Palatino Black Italic
  5. Description and paragraph text is Palatino medium set at 12 points with 14 point leading. That makes the font easy to read and is soft on the eyes.
  6. Each chapter, in the upper left-hand corner has descriptive text that repeats the header and sub-header so the book is easy to follow and you know exactly what section you’re reading.

Any and all paragraph text usually has a smaller header above it. That header is bold and in italics to help it stand out from the descriptive text below it. This descriptive header and text will placed anywhere on a particular page – depending on the artwork – but usually it is always flush left unless space dictates otherwise.

A breakdown of one of my pages:

Page 36

A close-up of the descriptive text:

Text Sample

An example of how I use Showcase Gothic:
Showcase Gothic example

Here is the top left corner header for the “Extras” section.
The italic text indicates what section it is:
Page 131 Page header
Here is a breakdown of one of my “Guest Strip” pages featuring

a guest strip I did for Dawn:

Guest Strip - Page 131

Why do I have such rigid typography rules for a “cartoon book”?

Again, it is mainly due to my graphic design background. I have been designing for so long now, it almost goes against my nature to simply go through my font list and choose whatever fonts I want wherever I want.

I chose Meta Bold and Palatino Medium because I always felt those were two very classy looking fonts. Meta Bold adds a bit of extra flare from a typical headline font like Helvetica or Arial Bold. Palatino offers a slightly different look than the typical Times New Roman. The combination of these two fonts offer something that has the feeling of being familiar but are both slightly unique.

Showcase Gothic is simply a fun looking font and, when used sparingly, can give your headlines a completely different look – which is sometimes needed when you want to give the reader a rest from the heavy Meta Bold font you’ve been using for the last 50 or so pages.

Also, as a graphic designer, I am always concerned about how consistent and clean a book looks. When you use too many fonts, you’ll end up confusing the reader’s eye. They are there to read your strips. If you decide to use a large number of fonts in any of your layouts, the fonts will end up being the thing that stands out instead of your strips. The use of multiple fonts ends up causing distraction and confusion to a reader. Remember, just because your computer contains thousands of fonts, that doesn’t mean you should use all of them in one project, design or book.

Remember the KISS philosophy. No, not “rock and roll all night and party every day”. I’m talking about a different KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly. If you go that route, chances are, you’ll end up designing a nice, friendly and easy to read book.

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me_at_va_comiconChris Flick just figured out how to put his photo and bio information at the end of these Webcomic Alliance articles. When he’s not wracking his brain on how to do that, he’s busy being a full time web and graphic designer working in the Washington DC area. When he’s not doing that, he’s working on his Capes & Babes webcomic which he created back in 2007. When he’s not doing ANY of those things, he’s usually at a convention on the east coast of the United States.

Chris just recently published his 1,000th Capes & Babes strips. You can read them all by going to his website, Capes & Babes. You can also visit his woefully outdated portfolio web site at  CSF Graphics. And if you’re interested in seeing some of the wild Minion Mash-ups Chris has become known for, you should visit his Pinterest Minion Mash-Up Board. You can also find Chris on Facebook and Twitter by doing a search for “Capesnbabes”.

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Posted in Business, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Tutorials.

4 Comments

  1. heyyyyy, glad my advice helped you! Just the rule I use for my own books, and I picked up from comic collections like Fox Trot and C&H. Not that it works for longform/graphic novels, but for strips like ours that have mini-stories and gag-a-days thrown in…. works well!

    Step 1: figure out if there’s a big storyline that could represent that volume. Or a fan-favorite one. Something memorable.
    Step 2: Select a comic from that storyline that could stand on it’s own– draw the reader in about a particular subject. Use it for the back cover. (it doesn’t HAVE to be form that story, but the back comic should relate to the front somehow, I think)
    Step 3: Elaborate on that comic, or the story, in a way that maybe wasn’t done in the book itself. Give the reader something NEW entirely to look at for the cover, but still have it relate.

    That’s my system, anyhoo.

    • Yeah… that still stands as good advice. I had always looked at Dave Kellett’s covers as a great inspiration… trying to make something stand out on its own but was drawing a blank. Plus, I just didn’t think I had anything “cover worthy” until I had looked through all the strips that were going to go into this book. Once I had the idea for the cover, everything else fell into place.

      So yup, good all around advice for people planning their covers. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jande. Glad you found some of my information helpful and useful.

      I’m going to be adding a small update to this article – specifically about how to prepare your InDesign files for Createspace – the place I get my books printed. They had slightly changed some of their online uploading methods since I published Volume 3 so you might find that information helpful as well.

      Also, Dawn’s help just proves that each of us at Webcomic Alliance rely on each other to brainstorm or help solve particular problems we’re having. So yeah, Dawn was a big help in helping me to jump start this book. 🙂

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