How I mucked up Ickypedia
A blog post by Bruno Herfst about the making of Ickypedia.
Bruno won the Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book at the 2016 ABDA awards for this work.
WARNING: THIS IS A ONE-SIDED VIEW OF THE CREATION OF A BOOK. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, CAN YOU ASSUME THIS IS THE COMPLETE STORY. THERE WERE MANY IMPORTANT PEOPLE INVOLVED WHO COLLABORATED TO MAKE THIS BOOK THE WAY IT IS. SOME NOTABLE MENTIONS ARE PUBLISHER JANE GODWIN, EDITORS*, CLAIR HUME, KATRINA LEHMAN AND KATE O’DONNELL; AND THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT** THESE PEOPLE HAD MORE INFLUENCE ON THE DESIGN THAN I DID, SO THANKS!
I was given the opportunity to collaborate with Matthew Kelly and Richard Higgins AKA the Listies on the design of their creation Ickypedia; a dictionary of new and gross words. They wanted to make an uneducational book that could not be consumed in one chunk but instead had lots of weird little bits in nonlinear fashion.
I was told most of the content was still to be created and would ‘drip-in’ later, so I started a page design to set some prerequisites for art and manuscript delivery. With these DIY thoughts, I set myself a restriction to only use fonts that were already loaded on the machine. I copied some clip-art (from Google) and pasted some content together trying to do so in the style of the ‘zines’ of the 80s and 90s, but for a younger audience (a bit like MAD for youngsters). This book also needed page numbers, but they did not make a lot of sense to me in an alphabetised book. I wanted to remove them, but the team disagreed.
So, there was only one way forward for me; I added a dotted line as a cutting guide for the user, so they could cut the folios off later by themselves thereby creating the world’s smallest counting book. I quite liked this idea but no one else seemed to. In fact, no one liked the clip-art spread I had done. The team found it confusing. Are we using these images? Who put them there? Did the Listies supply these? Boom! I had the ball rolling…
Then, out of nowhere Matt and Rich surprised me when they performed a counting story in a meeting.
Matt: I bet you thought you were getting just
Matt: book today, but in fact, you got
Matt: included with Ickypedia you’ll get a counting book completely
Matt (Pointing at Rich): He means free
They were finishing each other’s sentences seamlessly which was quite a remarkable thing to experience. And yes, they managed to write this side-line for 200+ pages!
As you can imagine, working with the data/manuscript for a book like this had the potential to be a bit confusing. In response, we created a couple of distinct phases for every section of the book. I would take the Word document and convert it to XHTML, and then use an XSLT stylesheet to create a clean XML document to build the entries.
Working with XML in InDesign is seriously underwhelming. InDesign’s features seem only useful if the XML content is part of the same ‘story’. This would not work for this project; therefore I created a script that would run through the entries, duplicate the auto-sizing master template and build first pages***.
Then afterwards, when all the entries were on the page, I could move them manually into a (better) position whilst placing the hero images**** Rich had scanned straight out of his sketchbook*****.
After each section was proofread I would run some scripts****** to break the rigid structure of InDesign – adding some hand-made uniqueness to its geometric feel.
Then the pages would be printed for the creation of a so-called ‘Scribble Layer’: a thin piece of paper taped over the printout. After the crop marks were copied, the Listies would fill any holes in the layout. Finally with the scribbling done, our work experience student******* would scan the pages, and I would place them back over the layout.
The Cover Up
The cover was a hard nut to crack. It went from not gross enough to Stop! Too gross! After several proposals, the Listies came up with the concept of putting vomit and pictures of real flies on the cover which was instantly approved to go to final art. Win!
And because that went so well, they even sent me a mock-up for the back. The splodges of vomit did not make it to the final cut this time (not enough space) but the other concepts like the ‘baa-code’ and floating heads did. I tackled the back-cover content first by placing all the content on the page and moving from there.
It was always on my mind to keep a good relationship with the internals. I could predict the quality of printing on the cover would be a lot better than the pages on the inside. To close this quality gap, and to show some appreciation for the halftone screening process, I added these halftone screens to the drop-shadows on the cover and used slightly wobbly type that simulates this effect.
The final cover uses a fluorescent spot green. We also added a psychedelic spot layer of ultra coat to give the spew that extra moist slimy grossness.
You can buy the book here.
* Note that while Katrina gave birth, our heavily pregnant Clair Hume took over. Then, when she popped, we ran out of internal editors so we hired the amazing Kate O’Donnell (AKA drop-box extraordinaire) who took control and saved the day. My wife had a baby the same day this book was born. (Gross right!)
** This includes all gross kids that would consider buying such a disgusting book. Our thoughts were with you.
*** If anyone reading has experience with this, please contact me! Maybe we can trade some tools?
**** From the preliminary design, we could see 4-5 entries per page would fit. Every page needed a ‘hero’ illustration.
***** The binder of his sketch-book ended up in the book as well, have a look!
****** You can give me any InDesign file and my scripts can muck them up horribly.
******* You know who you are.