A Brief Design History of ‘The Invisible War: A Tale on Two Scales’
A post by ABDA member Briony Barr
What do you get when you cross a graphic-novel with an encyclopaedia, a WWI story with a work of science communication, the human scale with the microscopic … ?
SOMETIMES TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION
The Invisible War began as an idea to tell the story of a very unusual (but scientifically accurate!) symbiosis between animals and bacterial viruses. It was inspired by the research of contemporary Australian microbiologist Jeremy Barr as well as the work of French-Canadian microbiologist Felix D’Herelle in the early twentieth century. Using stool samples from dysentery-ridden WWI soldiers, D’Herelle is credited with discovering the bacteriophage; the viruses that can help us fight infections from disease-causing bacteria and … the unlikely heroes of The Invisible War.
Set in 1916 during WWI, the story takes place partially in the muddy trenches of the Western Front and partly in the gut of a fictional Australian nurse, where a cast of trillions engage in an epic battle for the survival of their host …
TWO FINAL OUTCOMES
The final printed book comprises 64 pages of graphic novel and an 18-page appendix – which explains and further explores the science and history behind the story. A digital pdf version was also created for use on tablet and laptops, comprising 64 pages of graphic novel and a 34-page appendix.
EARLY RESEARCH AND BROAD DESIGN INFLUENCES
As co-creator and publisher of The Invisible War (with Gregory Crocetti), I wore many hats throughout the process, as did every member of our small team. However, as the official art director, my first responsibility during the research phase was finding the primary design influences for this strange and unusual story.
I remember one of our earliest research trips to an RSL club in Coburg, Melbourne. For hours, we (Gregory, myself and writer Ailsa Wild) poured over their large collection of war bulletins printed between 1914–1919 – news and propaganda-filled magazines featuring hand-drawn illustrations, black and white photographs, bold headlines and graphic borders.
Through an examination of bulletins such as The War Pictorial and other examples of printed matter from the same period, a clear design influence began to emerge, one which felt unexpectedly complimentary to the form and layout of a graphic novel (a format we had already decided on for the story). We’ll call this the ‘war bulletin theme’.
FURTHER RESEARCH AND STYLE CHOICES
Our research process took us (myself, Gregory and Ailsa) from RSLs and the State Library in in Melbourne to war museums, former battle sites and cemeteries in Northern France, the Pasteur Institute and Museum in Paris and the Wellcome Trust Library in London. From these experiences came a selection of core inspirational images (some of which are pictured below) which were ultimately handed over to our graphic designer, Jaye Carcary. While the script was being still being finalised, Jaye’s initial task was to translate these influences into design of the appendix, and he did this through the choice of two main fonts (Knockout for bold headlines and Adobe Garamond Pro for body copy) and the arrangement of information to reference our war bulletin theme. Later, these choices were integrated more broadly to create a unified design across the whole book.
CONTEMPORARY GRAPHIC NOVEL MEETS EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY WAR BULLETIN
For the print version of The Invisible War we decided that a natural-white, recycled paper stock (Cyclus) would also fit with our war-bulletin theme, mostly for its ye-olde newspaper quality. It would also offer a subtle texture for the black and white illustrations and we felt that a slightly off-white background would soften the more contemporary-looking scientific illustrations within the story and help to unify the diverse range of physical scales represented in the narrative.
MEANWHILE … BACK TO THE STORY SCRIPT
In response to Ailsa’s script, Gregory and I had spent several months creating pages and pages of storyboards and collating gigabytes-worth of scientific and historic reference material for illustrator Ben Hutchings. Over four months, Ben then transformed these into 64 incredibly dynamic illustrated pages. He also created a handwritten font especially for the book, which gave the storytelling (especially our human protagonist, Annie) a more personal voice and differentiated it from the formal typefaces used in the appendix.
CONNECTING THE STORY TO THE APPENDIX
To connect readers to the information contained in the appendix, we wanted to create a simple method that would not distract from the narrative experience. We tackled this challenge by placing small numbered circles within key illustrations and moments in the story, each of which correspond to a relevant question (and answer) in the appendix. In the digital pdf, each numbered circle within the story is hyperlinked to a separate page in the appendix.
We chose an informal voice and a Q&A format for the appendix in order to make the extensive body of multi-disciplinary information feel less intimidating and closer in tone to a comic book. For example: #12: Are flies really that dirty? #20: What’s happening in Annie’s mouth? #40: Why is the epithelium cell self-destructing?
WOULD WE DO THIS AGAIN?
Yes! The team have already talked about working together again and challenging ourselves with new combinations of micro and macro scales, history, science communication, literature and the graphic novel form. We’ve even got a working title for the series – Planet Human. Stay tuned!
We were thrilled when our work on The Invisible War was recognised by the Australian Book Designers Association as the 2017 ‘Best Designed Educational Book (Primary/Secondary)’. But it didn’t stop there because we also won ‘Best Secondary Reference Resource’ and ‘Most Outstanding Resource of the Year’ at the 2017 Australian Educational Publishing Awards, were named as a ‘Notable of 2017’ by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, shortlisted for a Ledger Award for Excellence in Australian Comics and took out the 2017 Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award. What an honour.
Scale Free Network (SFN) is a Melbourne-based art-science collaborative and publisher who create books, interdisciplinary workshops, exhibitions and installations which draw on the microscopic world. After all, ninety-nine per cent of biodiversity on Earth is invisible to the naked eye, so there’s a lot to work with.