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by Julie Harman, Production Editor
aka, The Scrambler
Let me just come right out and say it: I did not grow up reading comic books. Working on Graphic Universe books, I’ve had the challenge of retraining my brain to read books differently, and to see art differently.
Here are a couple of tips for beginning comic book/graphic novel readers that I’ve found helpful. Even if these are old news for comic book veterans, it’s still fascinating to see the different ways authors and artists use these tools.
1. Pay attention to the way in which your mind assumes motion between panels. Scott McCloud has a great discussion about this in his book Understanding Comics, which I recommend for anyone interested in this genre. It’s amazing what the mind fills in—and the author and artist depend on this when they create their story and art. A simple example is in this series of panels from The Secret Ghost: the mind sees just three still shots of a bucket in a well, but it understands that motion is happening between the panel borders.
2. Here’s a secret for the graphic novel reader: The author, the illustrator, and the letterer (often three different people who have never met!) all go to great lengths to tease your eyes into following the path they want your eyes to follow. Take this page from The Hero Twins.
At first glance, the nontraditional arrangement of panels doesn’t appear to lend itself well to reading sequentially. But note how the caption in the upper left corner leads down through the action and into the right side panel, then over to the left side panel and down to the bottom. The hands and limbs popping out over the panel borders, the motion lines of the ball, and even the positions of the bodies guide the eyes to read the panels in this order.
When I started to read graphic novels as an adult, my eyes would frantically search for all the words on the page. I had to train my eyes to read the art with the words—a skill that tends to come more naturally to kids than to adults. Now, when I think back to the hours of my childhood spent cutting out serial Sunday comics and pasting them into a notebook or drawing characters and making up stories for each interesting name in my mother’s baby names book, I wish I had been exposed then to the kinds of graphic novels kids have now. I would have loved them.
(posted on behalf of Greg Hunter, assistant editor)
I vividly remember my first comic book, as most comic nerds probably do. It was Spectacular Spider-Man #197, and I was in second grade. The issue isn’t very good in hindsight, but it didn’t matter—I was hooked on the color, the characters, the whole new way of reading it demanded. In spite of the fact that few friends of mine were regular comic readers—or maybe because I liked having the hobby to myself—I stuck with the medium, and eventually moved from Spidey books to artier fare like Asterios Polyp (a recent, massive graphic novel by artist David Mazzucchelli, acclaimed for its experiments with style and form). Okay, I also kept up with Spider-Man.
After reading comic books more or less in a vacuum throughout childhood, it’s interesting to see the places where this means of storytelling is gaining traction. At 22, I’m not sure I’ve earned the right to start sentences with “When I was a kid . . .” but when I was a kid, there were no graphic novels in my school library. Consequently, it’s been exciting to help out with a couple of Lerner’s Graphic Universe titles since starting as an assistant editor—they’re the kind of books I would have seized upon as an elementary-age reader.
The Twisted Journeys series, under the GU umbrella, is a perfect example. A TJ book “lets you control the story”—they’re part comic, part prose, with multiple plotlines for readers to choose from. Two new Twisted Journeys titles are arriving next year, and I’ve recently had the chance to see different moments in the production cycle for these titles, from concerns about word balloon placement to decisions about what color to make a giant insect. It’s almost a relief that I get to see pieces of these books ahead of time—otherwise, I think I’d start feeling a little envious of the kids who will be taking them off library shelves.
(posted on behalf of Julie Harman, production editor, occasional Scrambler)
One of the most unusual roles in the Graphic Universe imprint is that of The Scrambler.
In GU’s Twisted Journeys series, the reader decides his or her path through the journey and reaches a different ending each time. Twisted Journeys authors write each storyline in linear sequence. When the book is ready for layout, The Scrambler scrambles the manuscript. This mixes up the story to allow readers to make choices at each junction without knowing what comes next. Hand-scrambling each book ensures that no two books will follow the same pattern.
The rules of scrambling read like a logic game: Each text page must face an art page. The reader shouldn’t have to flip back and forth more than necessary. The facing page must not give anything away. The Scrambler maps the layout (see photo of recent scrambling worksheets below), using some of the tricks of solving logic puzzles: diagrams, charts, and color-coding.
After making sure the map follows all the rules, The Scrambler rearranges the manuscript to match the new order of pages. Then the story goes into a Twisted Journeys layout, with choice pages leading to each plot turn, surprise ending, and shady (or heroic) character.
So, if Agent Topaz never sits next to Robin Goodfellow, Dr. Nimbleton must face Fa May, and pirates always sit to the immediate left of the good guys, where is Agent Mongoose? That’s for The Scrambler to know, and the reader to find out. Choose wisely.