Chip Kidd's Graphic Design Guide for Kids


If you've ever read a graphic design book or taken the Intro class in college, there likely won't be much new for you to learn in Chip Kidd's "GO: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design." That's OK. This book isn't meant for you. As the title suggests, it's aimed at kids. They're specifically marketing it to ages ten and up, which feels about right to me. For that audience, it's a great introduction to the basics of graphic design. It goes wide to touch on a number of topics without ever going too deep on any one. Typography gets the longest chapter in the book, I think, and that's well-deserved and well-chosen.

For a 10-13 year old interested in why things look the way they look, this is a perfect introduction to the world of graphic design. Kidd touches on history, shows lots of examples, and explains the basics of several classic design theories. Some of it is the same stuff you'd learn in an early art class, but that's to be expected. There's an overlap there. If you haven't had an art class and aren't familiar with concepts like negative space or color temperature or juxtaposition and abstractness, this book will explain those to you with rapid fire visual examples. Kidd's own career provides plenty of material for the book, but he also reaches beyond that to incorporate other designers and industries beyond book publishing.

The book itself is strongly designed, from cover-to-cover. I've read a few small books on graphic design in the past, and they're often squeezed into the publisher's standard template for books. You get blocks of text, sample images to call out techniques interspersed alongside the stream of words, and the general feeling that you're reading a textbook.

Kidd goes way off in the opposite direction, creating a book that's as interesting as its topic. The hard covers are made out of superthick material. (Is it chipboard? Given the punny nature of the book's title, I wouldn't put it past them.) The cover is also the book's first page, and Kidd doesn't relent there. He's showing off design on the inside front cover and title page and even the copyright page. His text bounces across the pages, often changing font and color and size for effect. This is not a boring book. This is not a plain old textbook. The artwork doesn't illustrate the text; the artwork is part of the text and part of what Kidd is trying to teach. The two are inseparable. Kidd doesn't need to number each image as a "plate" and refer to those plate numbers in his text. I like that simplicity and that obviousness.

The book runs a breezy 150 pages long. An adult could easily read this in one sitting in less than an hour. It'll whet your appetite for more, but hopefully it'll spark the imagination of its intended younger audience to do something. Kidd ends the book with a series of challenges to help interested readers explore graphic design and create some of their own. He gives some scrapbooking ideas to help identify graphical elements, but also has challenges to create logos and new pieces that best exemplify some of the techniques mentioned in the book.

Published by Workman Publishing, the final product is a cheap (for the production values) $17.95 and is available today. Give it to the tweenie in your life who might be interested in this stuff. First, go ahead and read it yourself. They won't notice.

Graphic design is more important than ever, becoming omnipresent in a world where images rule and everyone is trying to stand out and catch your attention. That's especially true here on the web, but it's also gaining importance in the world of comics. With so many titles on the racks screaming for your attention, some stark design choices have been made in recent years to catch your eye. Book design has become more important in collected editions and special lines like the "Artist's Edition" books. But it's going deeper now, into even the monthly issues. The best example of that I see these days comes from Joe Casey's books, "Sex" and "The Bounce." Designed by Sonia Harris, those books with their wraparound covers, varying title designs, and opening two page title spreads stand out in a crowded field. Honestly, I don't like "The Bounce," but I still flip through it to see what they're doing with the design of it this month. Heck, even their ads stand out.

So, graphic design. It's something the comics industry needs more of. There's always a tension between designing something that looks good versus something that would sell well. Designing a cover where the title is anywhere other than the upper third is always dangerous, given the realities of racking practices in comic shops. But does the growing wave of digital comics give designers more latitude? Or just a new uncharted territory to figure out? Half the fun will be in finding that out.


From the folks at Papercutz comes the "Dance Class" series. Now at six volumes (with a seventh on the way), I started with the first ("So You Think You Can Hip-Hop"?) at New York Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago.

The series follows a format not seen in North America these days. Like "Melusine" (published by Cinebook) or "Les Femmes En Blanc" (a French album I bought one year in San Diego about nurses in Belgium), it's a gag-a-page in a specific niche. There's some very loose continuity (this book leads up to a production of 'Sleeping Beauty') and some recurring gags (like the cute hip-hop instructor in the studio next door), but otherwise the book is set up to give you a new gag at the bottom of every page. That kind of pacing makes the book easy to pick up and read in small doses, but doesn't get tiring in a longer sit-down session, either.

The humor from Beka -- a pseudonym for the writing team of Bertrand Escaich and Caroline Rogue -- isn't strong, to be honest. While I had one or two good laughs reading the book, most of the gags were too obvious, too predictable, or just not funny enough for the length the gag ran. With the characters being as shallow as they are, there's never the chance to get the good character-based reversals to work right.

I suspect a younger reader might enjoy it more, though. They'll quickly pick up on the archetypes and follow along easily. If you have a dancing fiend of a niece around age 10 or so, this might be right up her alley. Unstained by reading far too many comic books, the format and the gag progression might be fresher and more enjoyable.

What I did enjoy without exception was the art by Crip. Some might call it too commercial and too slick, but it's right up my alley. If you look at the style of books like "Lucky Luke", "Asterix", and "The Smurfs", you'll enjoy the style here. It's all thin lines, lushly illustrated with detail shown in all the backgrounds. The characters are realistic enough looking, but can act cartoonish when the moment calls for it. The coloring from Benoit Bekaert is bright and lively. Simple bright colors with minimal gradients and attention paid to the details like where to cut in a shadow and where to vary a shade to show it make for a good looking book.

Even when I feel like the gags fail, there's a partnership between artist and writer in the book. The gags are visual. This isn't a series of allegedly funny dialogues being illustrated by the assembly line. No, this is about Crip taking Beka's script and using all the visual cues he can muster to illustrate the gag. Characters are very expressive, in both their gestures and their faces. The storytelling choices are made to illustrate the joke at hand, and not just to get through the page with the expectation that the reader is only following the word balloons and barely looking at the art. This isn't like one of those comic strips where you could never look at the boring characters speaking their lines in front of empty backgrounds and still get the gag. It is not, as Chuck Jones described cheap television animation, "illustrated radio."

In fact, looking back at the book now, I see that most of the gags I did find funny were the ones that were more visual in nature. The ballerina writing on the chalkboard is accused of being antsy by her teacher, but the other girls recognize it as being basic dance moves. The ballerina cheats during a test by walking between desks quietly on pointe. The others work because the art sells them so hard.

The one awkwardness in the book deals with Lucie, the character who doesn't have the stereotypical ballerina's slim figure. She's the "heavy" one, and a series of jokes are made at her expense. In fact, the only two page sequence in the whole book is gag about making sure she doesn't see the new bakery that's opened up across the street from the dance studio. While none of these characters are more than two-dimensional and Lucie is never belittled or bullied directly for her weight, I do cringe on those gags. She's not exactly obese, yet all the gags about her are about her food fixation. Am I over-sensitive? Maybe. (If these gags were aimed at the fat guy, I wouldn't think twice about it, would I?) It's nice that they're portraying some diversity of girls, and maybe that's enough. There aren't that many of those gags in the book, but it does seem to be the only time she's used. Maybe it evens out in the following books? I hope so.

Based strictly on the first book, it's a series I'll be picking up more of to admire the art and the way it brings the most out of gags that are sometimes too simple for my taste. The four books in the series are $10.99 hardcovers at a 6.5 x 9 inch size. While I'm sure that's smaller than the original French editions, I don't think it hurts the look at all. More page space would be nice, but the book is perfectly readable as it is. Crip's art doesn't live and die on tiny lines and cross-hatching and the like. His precision works when shrunk.

One last thing I have to make room to note: Tom Orzechowski letters the book. Yes, he's working on a computer, but it's still cool to see him at work. Doing translated works like this is different. The balloons are already drawn on the page, and the letterer has to fit in whatever the translator comes up with. Orzechowski makes the balloons look good, like this book was written in English first. He spaces out everything inside the balloons perfectly. It makes reading the book that much more enjoyable when someone gets the lettering right. (I didn't like the font, but it didn't detract from it for me.

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