Marginal Activity

The last couple of weeks have seen me fiddling with another important task for the book: rethinking the page dimensions. This gets me into things like crop points, safe areas, bleeds, and so forth. It is sort of crucial that I worry about this now and not later because for the kind of book I am working on, every single page is a unique self contained entity that must be designed individually, while at the same time each page still depends on all the other pages to be just right. So a change in page dimensions is a huge deal in the process. This is not like writing large blocks of prose in the form of chapters and paragraphs, where the page dimensions are less crucial since your words will just flow and re-flow automatically to adjust to the new shape of container (the page), newly spilling over to the next page if need be. Instead, graphic elements -the drawings- all must work together on a number of different levels on the page, their relative positioning being crucial, and any text that is present must also respect that layout… In fact, text is really just another graphic element on the page, and is not as malleable as it is in a prose book.

sample_exp_iv (Random sample from a story I’ve just completed the roughs for in the new dimensions. You can see the red guide lines I work to in order to make sure that the page comes out fine at the printer, the inner being the “safe area” beyond which you don’t put any crucial elements like text in case they are cut off. The outer is the line where the page should end. Some of my pages have “bleeds” which means the art will flow all the way past that outer line so that when cropped that part of the page is covered entirely with art instead of it stopping due to a panel border…)

I say all this because it is an issue close to my heart right now. Back when I did all the art for the prototype story (some years ago now), and right up to last year, I did not yet have a publisher for the book, so therefore of course no idea what the final page dimensions might be. Different publishers have different favourites, print capabilities, and so forth. So I made the best decision available – use the most well known dimensions for a graphic book, the so-called U.S. Graphic Novel size. (6 5/8 x 10 1/4 inches, roughly.)

Now that I have a publisher, I’m working to a size that best fits the kinds of print setups (or sets-up?) that they work in. Since they’ve never done graphic books before, US graphic novel size is not among the options, for sure. Instead, I’ll be working to a format with a similar height, but almost a whole inch wider! It turns out that this makes a huge difference, not the least because I have to rework my already completed pages to make them work in this new format, so it is an extra investment in time.

But there’s a bonus to all of this too – it turns out that the extra width is just plain nicer to work with, in my view. Things fit a lot better this way, and in many cases, the pages converted to the new format just look more nicely balanced. So this is a rather enjoyable process in terms of appreciating the final product. (For those who care about the details, I still wanted to work with the same standard art boards that I use of course (both real ones – 11×17 in Bristol traditionally used in the comics world – and virtual ones: also 11×17). These normally get marked up with oversized guide regions showing the page size, safe areas, crop marks, and so forth, and then scaled down by about 2/3. Since simply adding the extra inch took one off the edges of the art-board, I had to recompute everything to produce new guides that fit onto the same art boards, and then compute a new rescaling factor that produced the desired final page. Crucially, one must then re-work out what size my text fonts have to be in order to end up being the same final size after the new rescaling… and so on and so forth… All good fun, and all completed now.)

The part that is less fun to deal with in all this is colour. I have enough trouble fighting with my printers situated just under the desk, dithering between RGB and CMYK and embedding or not embedding monitor profiles, printer profiles, and so forth… printing, tweaking, and printing again to see if what I intended really reproduces well or not. Imagine having to do this with a print operation at the publisher, thousands of miles away…


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