Wednesday, February 14, 2007

All on the Surfaces…

The blog Picture Book Illustration asks:

“Does it really have to be 29 pages?

I'm putting together a picture book dummy. It's 31 pages. I'm finding it very difficult to get it down to 29. Does it really have to be 29?”

If I may be bold enough to answer:

No and yes.

Pagination in picture books is quite simple when you ignore the convention of ‘pages’ (The 29 pages referred to are for a “32-page” picture book as the first title pages are excluded).

Picture Books have only one rule. They can be any size or shape, black and white or color, but the pages can only be published in multiples of eight.

Why? Well, it has to do with how books are produced in folios and cut before they are bound. The technique is as old as printing itself.

“Surely,” you ask while on the internet, “with all the cool technology today someone could produce a 31 page book.” Well, each page has a backside, so you’re stuck with even numbers I’m afraid.

“Okay,” you continue, slightly peeved, “then why not 30 pages. That must be technically possible!” I’m sure it is, but it’s also technically possible to send a bunny to Jupiter, but economics dictate that it’s not going to happen.

So multiples of eight it is.

But there’s something else you need to consider: a 32-page picture book has 40 surfaces.

Hubba wha?

32 ‘pages’ of ‘content’
+ 4 pages of ‘endpapers’
+ 2 title 'pages'
+ Front cover
+ Back cover


40 surfaces.

Whenever I make a book, I think purely in terms of surfaces. “Pages” imply that elements like the cover or the endpapers are irrelevant to the story. With surfaces they can be keys to the story (the Pigeon dreaming in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! for example). The same is the case with the title pages.

So, what if your book is too long? Let’s take the case of this fall’s Knuffle Bunny sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too: a Case of Mistaken Identity. As I doodled, I quickly discovered that the story was more complex than the original Knuffle Bunny, so I bumped it up from 40 to 48 surfaces. Confusingly enough, it will be listed as a 40-page book.

As far as I know, I’m the only person at my publishing house who works on a surface system, which can cause eccentric conversations (“On your surface 13, your page 9 can we move the text?”). It’s worth it for me because I’ve found that, once you ignore the conventions and go down to the physical construction of a book, possibilities for re-pagination (“re-surfacization”?) present themselves.

A book is a physical object and the illustrator is responsible for the entire sculpture (or he should be).

Now, I’m sure that this could be better explain printing techniques, pagination, and book construction, but a working knowledge of these elements is essential to producing the fullest experience for your readers.

Good luck on your story.