Design Lessons at Comic Book Camp

Cartooning Studio is an annual summer workshop offered at The Center for Cartoon Studies. I’ve been teaching at the workshops for the past 6 years. This Sunday I headed up to White River Junction, Vermont for two days of intensive teaching.

Jon Chad and I lecture on the importance of book design.

One of my favorite subjects to lecture on is book design for comic self publisher. I have a few philosophies about book design, and I’m trying to turn my 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 your story. Before your reader ever sets eyes on a panel, they interact with you book as an object. If you make thoughtful and appropriate design choices, you 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 at CCS by cartoonist and teacher Jon Chad. 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, a “real” book! It’s a true self publishing success story. And a big part of that success is due to book design. Remember, design is content!