Grafik Takeover: My ‘Zine’

The other part of the Grafik takeover was to create a ‘zine’ using content from Grafik’s website. Being obtuse when it comes to graphic design and what it has to do with me, the majority of my time working on this zine was spent being conceited. I spent years telling people that I had no interest in doing a graphic design degree, just like I had no interest in animation (more like no interest in doing the animation) and now, here I was doing an editorial task where I was effectively relegated to layout design. As an illustrator on an illustration course, I felt more than entitled to drag my feet with this, especially since this was my first visit to Adobe Indesign since the book I made last year.

I decided to pick several letterform articles to use for the content of my zine, half because looking at the letter at such a scale that it ceased being a grain of sand on the beach and instead became a skyscraper, made me consider how much effort can actually go into designing a typeface, and half because it was the first suggestion on the brief.

I went looking for the most bizarre looking letters I could find, to really emphasise the letter as the focal point of each spread. It’s funny how little I know about design (and funnier how little I bother to pick up). There are no doubt conventions that are routinely applied in the production of graphic design, but being unaware of any that aren’t strictly speaking, common sense, I decided to pursue a minimalist approach to the layout. (Also, from quotes I’ve heard, but can never remember properly, the ‘best designs do the most work with the least elements’ or something to that effect.) Every letterform would be massive and accompanied by only the title of the article and the body copy. No other elements. I didn’t want to play it too safe, so I went with white font on a black background. Using solid colour as the background hasn’t worked out well for me in the past, but I wasn’t convinced that it was an entirely futile endeavour. I spent some time trying to pick an appropriate font, and settled on Futura. It has a weight to it which helps it stand out in white on a coloured background. I also like the relative scale and density of the letters. 

One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.
One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.

Honestly, the only thing I felt enthused about doing was the cover page, since I was effectively naming and marketing the zine. I showed my work in progress to our resident designer Sarah Boris and Angharad and they gave me some feedback on font types, colour schemes and other considerations.

Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.
Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.

Sarah really helped me bring together the cover. It should be interesting to see how the publication is taken as a whole, should I ever witness anyone flicking through it. I looked at some random magazine layouts online, to get a sense of where my design was in the grand scheme of things. While I had been particular about my placement of elements in relation to each other, I can’t claim to have used an extensive grid system. Nor could I, with so few elements. My colour pallet is unorthodox to be sure, but if now is not the time to experiment with such things, when is? I have the rest of my life to be boxed in by clients saying ‘I want this’ (pointing at someone else’s work), ‘but in red.’ I tried to keep an eye out for orphans and widows and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. (Of course I’m talking about one word lines of text at the top or bottom of paragraphs, not people, but I wanted you to be unsure about that for just a little while.) The extreme prejudice part I should redact as well. It was more like mild disinterest. I did actually alter at least one column of text to remove a widow though, so yay me.

Another spread
Another spread

The back cover was intended to be reserved for the local printers who had offered to print all of our studio’s zines in exchange for free advertisement. While the initial conversation I had with them as one of the studio’s representatives went very well, and most students did end up getting their zines printed, my sporadic attendance resulted in me missing out. As a result, my back page is slightly different and you will either think it very clever or utterly asinine depending on whether you are me or not.

The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you're not me.
The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you’re not me.

The process of readying the indesign document for print has not been an enjoyable one and I do wonder what I would do If the internet wasn’t full of people who’ve already gone through the disasters that confront me. A prime example would be the alarming amount of difficulty it took to even produce a PDF where the black I had used throughout my entire zine would actually show as the same colour it was in the Indesign file. And we’re not talking about CMYK vs RGB or anything, we’re talking about black. There’s a sketch from an old TV show called the Fast Show that comes to mind, so it’s time to move on.

Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone's contact details off of it. It's like all my Christmas's have come at once...
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone’s contact details off of it. It’s like all my Christmas’s have come at once… because redacting is awesome. Take that Freedom of Information Act!

Graphic design is a school of study in it’s own right. It has it’s own principles, sensibilities, history and purpose. It always bothers me when I’m supposed to learn about another school of study than the one I signed up for. Especially due to my woeful lack of knowledge when it comes to the school of study I did sign up for. I understand the course is helping ground all its students with a solid knowledge-base in all sorts of things, but I can’t help but feel being a jack-of-all-trades will simply leave me a master of none. Being just as good as the next guy, or 10,000 other people applying for the same position, doesn’t help me stand out, now does it?

An unfair claim to lay at the door, when the course made no secrets about its content and delivery? Perhaps, but It’s almost time to have that awesome portfolio that knocks people off their chairs while looking at it, and I’m not seeing it happen.

The irony of all this is that editorial work is effectively just taking stuff that already exists and repackaging it; the hard work has already been done. This was not a time or effort heavy project that required months to compile and present. Honestly, I like what I ended up with and I did get to play around with the cover quite a bit.

The technical difficulties of creating hi-res images from the tiny files on the website was an issue for me as well. This is the problem with relying on the internet all the time. Not every solution some random guy puts on a forum is the right one for you.

I also had to reprint the finished zine twice, since the purple printed considerably darker than it appeared on my computer screen. And that is the most important lesson to be gleaned from the whole experience: never expect it to all go right the first time. Give yourself time to account for unforeseen difficulties, technical hiccups and have some wiggle-room in your budget to get past all that stuff.

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Grafik Takeover: Take 5

After completing our manifestos, we were to prepare for our ‘takeover’ of the design website Grafik. Angharad Lewis, one of the core staff in our studio who also, conveniently enough, works on the website, had intended the students to create two end goals: an editorial ‘zine’ using existing articles on the website and also pitch ideas and then create our own articles for the website.

Since I stalled with the first project while I did the second, let’s talk about that one first. We were asked to pitch three ideas for articles to Angharad based on the pre-existing article categories on the website. We could try to commission a designer to write a short piece on a letterform, logo, cover-shot or something along those lines that interested them, or personally write an article about an up and coming talent .

My three suggestions went in order of safety, safest first. I started with the obvious, suggesting contacting any of the professional designers assisting our studio to write a letterform, logo or whatever, article. Then I suggested writing an article on an up-and-coming illustrator who goes by the name of Certain Streeks. (Who lives here)

A screen-grab of Certain Streek's website.
A screen-grab of Certain Streek’s website.

I was aware that his style might be an odd fit for Grafik but looked at it as an opportunity for them to diversify. Thirdly, I suggested some sort of list of ‘graphic novels everyone must read’. As I explained this idea , Angharad suggested using the ‘Take 5’  format already on the site, where writers, you guessed it, talk about five things with a common theme, however specific or vague that may be. I thought this idea to be the least likely to gain traction, since comic books are rarely talked about as actual graphic design, you know, in the same sentence as the Bauhaus, or even in the same book.

Angharad decided to go with the ‘five graphic novels for everyone’ suggestion. I think I had already made a presentation on Maus and possibly Persepolis at that point, so it might have been obvious I wasn’t just going to list a bunch of Batman comics (and don’t get me wrong, from Arkham Asylum to Year One, there’s plenty of Batman that I recommend, just not to everyone). I wrote some rough copy using a phrase somewhere along the lines of ‘ for those who don’t want to get bogged down in capes and spandex’ which I think helped my case immeasurably.

The entire point of the article was to bring attention to the medium and its potential for involving narratives (which there is clearly no shortage of a market for, looking at how TV series are doing right now). The combination of image and text is simple to understand, can be visually striking, but you can also have subject matter as complex as you like. Just because there’s that dude with the pointy ears and that other one who can fly, doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all of the medium. The fact that most of the books I put on the list were actually available to borrow from the design library of the university shows that at least someone else out there shares my belief that these comics have worth as a reference point to professional designers, or designers in training, at least.

After the words came the pictures, so I contacted Gosh Comics in Soho to see if they would be amenable to me photographing their versions of the graphic novels in question. They were, so I did. Unfortunately, the lighting in the store and the stiffness of some of the book’s spines made high quality photography a little too difficult for someone who photographs as intermittently as me. I bought all the graphic novels that I didn’t already own and finally picked up the full set of Transmetropolitan, my favourite comic book series ever, and went on my way.

Persepolis's spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.
Persepolis’s spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.

The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.
The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.

It was at this time where my attendance was, let’s just say, a little choppy, so I emailed what I had to Angharad, she agreed with my concerns that the photography needed to be redone, so I redid it at home, with natural lighting (and a little less concern about getting in the way of paying customers), sent the new photos and resent the copy for the article, which apparently didn’t get there the first time, and, er, went about fighting crime in my underwear instead of attending university for a while.

Luckily for me (and you), Angharad published what I sent her and now you can check to see if your favourite non superhero graphic novel is on the list here. Hopefully we can all agree that the images in the article are a little more polished than my first attempts.  

In a year full of missed deadlines for me, at least I managed on several occasions here to say ‘I’ll have it to you on Wednesday’ and actually get it done and delivered on Wednesday.

Despite my lacklustre attendance towards the end, this was a very enjoyable experience for me (and not just ‘cos I got to buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books). I picked the Press Pass studio to ‘unlock my inner wordsmith’, as the studio selection presentation advertised, and while you’ve no-doubt noticed from the average length of my blogposts, it could afford a little more time behind bars, writing is something I enjoy doing, probably more than art, actually. In this project I got to write about something I have a genuine interest and passion for, hopefully share that interest and passion with others, fight for a cause and buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books. And also dubiously claim to be a published writer.

The opportunity to do some photography is always welcome. It helps me appreciate the length professionals go to, to ensure they get the best lighting, composition, subject material and clarity in their work. You know, I can’t help but think that, one day, someone might run an educational course on that. Wouldn’t that be something?  On top of all that, this might have been the first time in my life I actually imported photographs into photoshop to like, y’know, edit them? To use them later as photographs?. I’ve had photoshop for years. It’s my core illustration tool and here I am, messing around with colour saturation and contrast and whatnot. I know, right? Madness.

Also, go check out Gosh Comics. They sell comics. And, oh boy, will you go ‘Gosh!’ when you see how many. Once you’ve read my list, you’ll have at least five books to pick up, so on your bike, I say! And yes, sigh, they do sell Batman…