06 March 2014

Happy Birthday!

It's Guy Kibbee's birthday today.

08 April 2013

06 April 2013

Two (or more) Words

I like to write. And I like to think I can usually find a way to put more than two words together without making a complete fool of myself. But I don't do it often, (not as often as I'd like anyway), and it does not necessarily come easy. I can feel myself laboring over what I write, fine-tuning each turn of phrase, and I wonder if the spirit isn't lost when I do that, as though the expression is being drawn too far away from the impulse to express it.

I spent most of the afternoon writing, re-writing, and then re-re-writing the cover letter for a job I'm applying for. It's a position I'm qualified for (I think), though I don't necessarily have the set of experience that might be expected from someone applying, so the challange is in demonstrating (in Human Resources terms) my "equivalent experience," but carefully, without drawing too much attention to the fact.

Now I wait. I wait and I hope and I remain uncertain that I've managed to attract anyone's attention with my somewhat unusual approach to a cover letter. And that's the worst part, because you never really know if you've been passed over based on your qualifications, or if it was that cover letter. That doesn't do much to encourage me as a writer.

05 April 2013

Don't Press Your Luck.

I do business with a publisher that does a great deal of business with Lightning Source (the print-on-demand division of Ingram Content Group, the very large book distributor). I don't compain about Lightning Source (much), mostly because, by now, I'm well-versed in what they're capable of, and I try to play to their strengths by avoiding their weaknesses.

I understand that Lightning Source works in volume (not so much quantities of books, as quantities of titles), and that they want everything to fall within a narrow set of worry-free parameters so it can all be processed with a minimum of effort. I try to work within those parameters, but there are times I think they get a bit too nit-pickety.

As an example: I've just had a cover rejected because an element was 0.025 inches outside of the designated safe area on either side. (That's the area in pink, set against the blue backgound. The shaded areas are guides that can be turned off and on, and won't appear on the printed cover.) That's 1/40th of an inch — 1/40th of an inch! — on either side.

17 December 2012

Elementary School

My son is in Fifth Grade this year, in the same elementary school he's attended since he started Kindergarten. (That might as well be forever ago).

His school is a small (relatively speaking) square brick building, built in the mid-1950s. (I've no idea how many students.) Walls of cinder block, with thick layers of yellow and blue paint. Those are the school colors, and a fresh coat of each is applied each August before the school year starts. And each year, those walls are quickly filled with writing and drawing and essays and classwork and art projects — seeing that stuff is my favorite part of going to the school.

My son attends an after school program most days, and by the time I come to fetch him in the late afternoon, the school is mostly empty, and as I'm making my way to a playground at the other end of the building, if I stop to linger and look at the Fourth Graders' interpretations of The Starry Night, that doesn't arouse any particular concern.

As my son and I were wandering the halls in the late afternoon, we passed his First Grade classroom. It's empty now — he had been part of a small class that was part of a Special Ed program, but all of the students in that program have been consolidated in another school in the district, and the classroom was left unused.

I remember visiting that classroom with him, to meet his new teacher, a few weeks before school started. He was excited to be starting First Grade, and more eager to explore the new classroom than to meet the teacher. I hadn't expected to see it empty — you don't expect to see a completely empty classroom in a school this time of year.

I've often wished to find a way to keep my son six-years-old for just a bit longer — but that never did work out. He's now ten, plays an instrument in his school band, he hasn't seen Star Wars yet, but he's a voracious watcher of documentary television — no, really — and is a constant source of surprise. I forget not to take that for granted.

The thoughts of the parents whose children are now forever six-years-old, trapped in amber, and of empty classrooms in an elementary school are profoundly, unspeakably sad.

My wife and I had to explain — to struggle to explain — everything that had happened, in a school very much like his, to my ten-year-old. We were concerned that he'd hear about it from classmates, or idle schoolyard chatter, and we just wanted him to know enough not to be afraid.

21 November 2012

Sketches: Burlesque: A Collection of Comedy Blackouts

This cover came together so quickly that I really don't have all that much to say about it! But it sure was fun.

I enjoy the challenge of designing a "period piece," though I'll usually try for something that evokes the impression left by that something else, rather than trying to duplicate it down to the smallest detail. I'll keep clear of typography that seems too anachronistic (even if only to a few people well-versed enough to spot such inconsistency), but I won't hesitate to use something that I think conveys the spirit of that something else. (In this case, a poster might have been largely hand-lettered, which wasn't an option, anyway.)
What I hoped to do here was bring to mind the spirit of an old theatre poster, to kinda get people into the spirit of the material. (The book is a collection of comedy sketches from the Burlesque stage.)

I spent time trying a few different methods to "age" the paper, or make it look a bit beat-up — not because the paper would have looked so old or so beat-up back in the day, but because that's the lens we would see that kind of object through now. In any event, though, I never did find a subtle way to make that work as well as I'd have hoped, so instead I just used some slightly darker patches to take the edge off of the yellow (which is a bit more bright than it appears here).

(That Cooper Black on the bottom is sort of the odd-man-out — but I had already used that in the bookblock (before I'd even considered the cover) and I felt it would be better to tie everything together.)

Not much to the sketch, but hey, here it is:

09 October 2012

Sketches: Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices

I am surprised to discover that I had been asked to start on this over two years ago. (It's taken that long for the book to be finished.)
These were my earliest concept sketches. Version A. would have had the characters sort of emanating from the open top of Mel Blanc's head, though in thinking about it after-the-fact, that's probably not an apt metaphor for having created the voices for the characters, rather than creating the characters themselves (but hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time).

I had also been thinking it might either be difficult or damn near impossible to get good, useful character art, and I was trying to design around that limitation — so the other concepts could have used tiny photographs of Mel Blanc's head (perhaps each with a different expression) or character art. (The photos would have been in several different colors, rather than just black-and-white.) There could be a few (Version C.) or quite a few (Version D.), depending on what became available.

In retrospect, there wouldn't have been as many photos of his face in different expressions to support this design (but hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time).

A year later — literally, a year later! — we had an actual photo (and a really good one) for the cover, and the design was refined a bit...
The idea (mostly in my head, and not at all well demonstrated here) was that all the cartoon character art or photos — at this point I think it was more likely to be character art — could be contained by a series of circles in the background. (Those grid lines in the sketch were for my own reference.) That'd make it easier to put the cover together, easier to incorporate the different shapes of the different characters, et cetera et cetera, and allow for a degree of flexibility, depending on how much or how little became available.

And another year after that, the manuscript had been finished (mostly), and I started thinking about the design of the bookblock. (During this time, arrangements were also made for an artist to provide a selection of cartoon character heads, with the idea that they'd be used in a form more or less like the sketch above.)

Here's where I digress a bit (and I apologize in advance). A few weeks before I started work on the Mel Blanc book (again), I put together the cover for a different book...
...And as you can see, I ended up using a modified version of the basic structure I'd had in mind for the Mel Blanc cover there, instead (but hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time).

I still could have used it again, anyway — I'm not averse to repeating myself, not by any means, and I could easily have made the covers look very different, despite the similar structure — but in the back of my head I'd been thinking of something else, anyway. By this point we had decided on character art, and I was thinking it might be much easier — practically speaking — to incorporate that stuff into a series of square shapes, rather than into a series of round shapes.

That was the way I began to approach the design of the bookblock, with the idea that the square shapes (with the character art) could be used as design elements with the chapter breaks (as seen in this somewhat sketchier-than-usual series of sketches)...
It was during that process that I stumbled across the idea of using word balloons, instead. What better design metaphor for a voice artist?

That very quickly led to the question of how can I use this idea for the cover? Two very quick thumbnail sketches later — one of a series of series of word balloons in a grid, the other a more chaotic arrangement — and I had an answer I thought might work...
...Which I elaborated on just a bit to get an idea of relative sizes, type placement, and so on. (Those notes off to either side are about the measurements for the hardcover case wrap, which will need to be slightly more wide.)
And so, more than two years later, in a somewhat unexpected, roundabout way, we arrive here:
I wanted to use a combination of well-known and less-well-known characters on the cover — hence, the less-recognizable Woody Woodpecker, and the somewhat-controversial (though by now forgotten) The Frito Bandito. Everything had to fit together more or less like a puzzle, and I ended up modifying a few of the illustrations to make them better fit the space I had, making the occasional color adjustment here and there.

There's an ol' Warner Bros. cartoon from 1949 called "Curtain Razor," essentially a series of blackout gags as Porky Pig auditions a series of vaudeville acts. One of the performers (voiced by Mel Blanc, of course) is known as "The Man of a Thousand Voices," and he performs a rapid-fire series of voice impressions. (Sorry, I tried to find a link to the cartoon, but they've all been taken down.) That was more or less the inspiration for this cover — a chaotic series of different cartoon voices that seem to bombard you all at once.

(In the cartoon, Porky responds that he only counted 999 voices. The performer is puzzled, trying to remember what that other voice was — the gag, of course, is that it's his normal speaking voice — and he wanders off, hoping that he might think of it later.)