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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.
three panels from Manga Math #3: The Secret Ghost

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.
Graphic Myths and Legends: 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.

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The ElseWhere Chronicles Book 2: The Shadow SpiesThe first three books in the nine-book series The ElseWhere Chronicles were published in English by Graphic Universe early this spring. The story, created by the team of Bannister and Nykko (warning: links en français!), was originally published in French by Dupuis. Along with the expected complications of translating the language and making sure the vernacular works for both a US and a UK readership, we also had to translate some images. We have to be especially careful if there are any hints of nudity, drinking, or, as in the case of this series, smoking, when one of our young heroes, Max, decides he’s going to try to light up a cigarette (and is promptly chastised by his friend Rebecca). In the English-language version, Max doesn’t actually light the thing, though he talks about it (and is promptly chastised by his friend Rebecca).

And then there were the covers. The cover of Book 2: The Shadow Spies (see above right) was terrific: a ruined city in another world, our heroes boldly looking out from a promontory, a dragon winging through the background.

But Book 1, the introduction for the whole series, was problematic. The original cover of the French-language edition is on the left, and the English-language edition is on the right.
cover comparison: The ElseWhere Chronicles Book 1

The diferences are pretty obvious. Conventional wisdom says the US market wouldn’t find the French cover compelling. First, it features a great big ol’ girl, which—according to conventional wisdom—will turn off boy readers (at least, until they’re ready for girls in bikinis lying on muscle cars, which I hear actually does attract male readers). Second, that cover is all about setting and mood and thought. The sun is turning the clouds to orange, hinting that stories (and troubles) begin after sundown. A patient examination will show that the library is that of an explorer, someone who has brought back home peculiar objects that may not be from any place on this earth. And, finally, a hand is reaching from the other side of the mirror—a barely seen being, reaching across to our world . . . spooky! The book promises a journey into Another Place.

For the US market, we asked the artist, Bannister, to rethink the cover in typical “American” style. He and colourist Corentin Jaffré came up with a breathless piece based on what happens next in that mysterious library. The US cover hits at a more visceral level: Monster! Danger! Action! Read me! It can make a quick impression in whatever nonosecond of time it has the attention of a potential reader.

The artist and author had themselves considered a more action-filled cover. Here is one of their ideas. It’s a shame not to use the same cover on both versions, considering the artist can go through several, many, or an enormous number of ideas to find the right one. . . .

As we move on to book 4 in this great series, once again we’re asking for a more “jazzed up” cover. This time, lucky for us, Bannister has already created one that works. Our slightly-older heroes are seen this time after they’ve passed through the mirror. They stand facing the barely-seen being on the other side, a chilling silhouette. Spooky. And promising an exciting journey into Another World.

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