Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More to Say - Weaving Stones with Skulls

There is more to say about If Stones -- which I will weave in as this week I shift to The Skull in the Rock. To add a step of complexity up from If Stones, there are four themes in the book: the story of a single discovery which was initially made by nine-year-old Matthew Berger; the story of his father Dr. Lee Berger and how he and Matthew came to be in the spot to make -- and recognize - the discovery; an introduction to some of the science (processes, terminology, and current understanding) of human evolution; the process of "seeing the anomaly" which Lee and his discovery exemplify.

The title page has a background photo. In If Stones we used Stonehenge. Here we chose a panning shot of the area where the discovery was made. We are taking you into the scene, the setting. Step one goes wide, the area. Page 6 is a full page shot of Matthew with the stone and a fossil, taken moments after the discovery -- so from wide scene we narrow down to the moment, the discovery, a person. In If Stones, the designer chose to echo the count of chapter numbers with three trilithons; thus nine chapters come into view as one, then, two, three, etc. stones are shaded; in Skull this visual echo (not a counter, since the words "chapter X" are also written out) with finger from two fossil hands. Decisions like this have a subtle influence -- many readers many not notice them at all. But they contribute to the feeling of a made, crafted, designed book and page. They are a little extra to give you a touch of pleasure, wit, fun -- immersion. This is a matter of budget -- since these "extras" have to be designed -- and aesthetics -- these "extras" have to fit cohesively into the chapter openings. Originally, for example, we planned to have a little visual icon on the opening page of each chapter of The Griffin and the Dinosaur -- echoing the sketches Adrienne made in her notebook, with the icons collectively adding up to a kind of rebus, the puzzle pieces, which finally yielded the solution. But we could not make that good idea work throughout the book.

8-9 Shows us a detail -- Matthew pointing to the clavicle which was the crucial discovery -- and, silhouetted out on the facing page, the entire bone. So we have gone wide, specific, detail -- in a movie of Graphic Novel you could imagine the camera panning down.

10-11 Is the first of three related spreads which accomplish two things: they let the reader experience the sequence from field to lab, and they are examples of Lee's concept of "seeing the anomaly." We sent Lee out with a camera to find a fossil to create this first spread, and so he did.

I should add here that those of us who write and work in design have another advantage: as we write, we have a sense of the beats of the story: the length of each part (chapter or subhead) within the whole. Chapter one in Skull was necessarily short. For, having set up the discovery, we move into Theme 2, Lee's life.

Skull has the great advantage that it was a 9 year old who made the initial find. But of course his father is the key scientist. In chapter two, we now create another possible connection to the reader -- Lee as a young person. The idea is to see how his interest in nature, his approach to noticing, seeing, acting, led him to investigate human evolution. So page 10 are pages from Lee's childhood scrapbook, facing a photo of himat 7.

16 On this page we have a reconstruction of what the famous hominyn Lucy may have looked like when she was alive 3.2 million years ago. This again serves to purposes -- it is our entry into the beat in Lee's story that led him to become a paleoanthropologist, and it will parallel the reconstruction of Karabo on 42. Visuals in a book can speak to other visuals just as much as text can foreshadow or echo text.

20-21 This spread is an example of what I just wrote. In the first "fossil finding" spread we took you into the field. Now here we show the process of how fossils are gathered and then brought into the lab. This spread links back to the one on 10-11 and ahead to one on 48-49 where Lee takes the Skull to a special super-high-tech-lab in Grenoble. So just as the book begin wide to narrow to narrower; the three linked spreads go from field, field to lab, lab to specialized examination. There was another key point in this spread -- most of the scientists and technicians shown here are Africans -- we have a key role in studying and preserving the fossils found in South Africa. That is not stated, but it is there to be seen in the visuals.

The last visual I'd like to call your attention to is on 60. We needed to locate Sediba, the species Matthew and Lee found, within what is known or thought about human evolution. But where? How? Lee made the wonderful argument that the images we usually use -- ladder, tree -- still assume that one species replaced another on the way "up" to us. He thinks evolution may have been more like a braided stream -- with species mixing, blurring, having children together, some surviving, some not -- and that is the image we used. I am pleased to say that since Lee made that case, I have seen other scientists agree.

So that is Skull -- again, hope this is helpful.

1 comment:

  1. This post is very, very helpful. It makes reading more informative and interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about design. I hope other authors and designers will do so too.