Interview: First Second Designer Andrew Arnold
Andrew Arnold has a dual career: He’s the new (since August) associate director of art and design for the graphic novel imprint First Second, and he’s also a comics creator himself—he is one of the co-authors of Adventures in Cartooning (together with James Sturm and Alexis Frederick-Frost) and its many sequels and spinoffs.
First Second, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has a reputation for quality in design as well as content, but Arnold isn’t coming to this job cold—he has been working for First Second’s parent company, Macmillan, since 2009, and he has worked on a number of children’s graphic novels already, including Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock’s Compass South and Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
We asked Andrew some questions about his new job, and about the challenges of designing graphic novels in general.
You are a comics creator as well as a designer. How much of your time do you spend on each?
I work in the office five days a week, so I spend that time designing for First Second. When it comes to my own work, I’m most productive in the early morning, before the sun comes out while my brain is still fresh. By the end of the day, I’m too gassed to work on anything.
What attracted you to a career as a book designer? Now that you have been doing it for a while, what do you like about it?
At first it was the idea of creating something other than comics. It’s nice to exercise different creative muscles… Over time, though, I’ve found that what I really love is the collaborative process.
The cover process! Until I started designing them, I never realized all the time, thought, and effort that goes into getting the image just right.
What’s the biggest challenge in your job? What’s your favorite part?
The biggest challenge for me is the balancing act. I’m constantly juggling several things at once. Not only am I working on books that come out within the year, but I’m also working on books that don’t come out for several years… It’s very important for me to balance my time wisely. As far as my favorite parts of the job… Hmmm…. There are a lot! Meeting our authors [in person!], going to conventions and seeing all of the new and amazing stuff out there, meeting our readers, holding that bound book in my hands when it first comes in… There are too many to pick just one!
How is designing a graphic novel different from a prose book or even an illustrated book?
Lately, when people ask me this, I find myself saying the same thing: Comics are like picture books on steroids. Most of them are as long as a novel but each page is full of art like a picture book. This isn’t to say that designing a picture book or novel is easy—they present their own unique set of challenges. But in my experience, I’ve found that comics take more hours in a day to layout, design, etc.
What do you think shaped your aesthetic? Do you remember when you first noticed the design of a book or a comic?
I think a good chunk of my aesthetic was shaped by my background as a fine artist. Drawing, painting, sculpting, printmaking… all of those things provided a good foundation for me as a designer. The first time I really noticed the design of a comic was in college, when I first picked up The Dark Knight. I also remember thinking how amazing the design of Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series was. To this day, it’s still one of my all-time favorites.
When you read a comic or graphic novel, do you notice the design? Are there things that bug you?
Of course! Other than the authors, the art and design is what draws me in most. One of my biggest pet peeves: A poorly lettered comic!
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor, a newspaper reporter, and assistant to the mayor of a small city. In addition to editing GC4K, she is a regular columnist for SLJ, a contributing editor at ICv2, an editor at Smash Pages, and a writer for Publishers Weekly. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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