CCS Summer Workshops

I’ve been a busy bee (and a bad blogger!)  Last week I was up in Vermont teaching part of their Cartooning Studio Workshop. The summer workshops were always the highlight of my year at CCS. I structured most of the summer programming we use–it was my first really involved curriculum building assignment. It’s bitter-sweet to hand the torch to Jon Chad, and to watch him wield it so expertly. But I have no regrets. New York City is where I MUST be, without a doubt.

One of my favorite subjects to lecture on as the summer workshops is book design for comic self publisher. Jon Chad and I have a few philosophies about book design, and we’re trying to turn our students into true believers. I blogged the following mini lesson at Lerner and CCS, I hope you won’t mind me recycling it again.

Design is Content

Most cartoonists consider their comic pages to be the content of their book, while book design is just the wrapping paper they slap on at the end. I believe design is content. Book design affects how a reader experiences the story. Before your reader ever sets eyes on a panel, they interact with the book as an object. If cartoonists make thoughtful and appropriate design choices, they can use book design as a narrative device.

My go-to example of appropriate book design is Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth, a self published comic that was created by Jon Chad when he was a summer workshop intern. Our protagonist, Le Geo, burrows deep into the earth for educational adventures. Because the book is about digging down, Jon Chad made a clever design choice. His book reads vertically, top to bottom like a calendar, rather than left to right. It’s the perfect design for this book, and it significantly contributes to the reading experience.

These photos show the first printing of the comic, as a self-published booklet with a screen printed cover. Next March the book will emerge as a hard cover graphic novel from Roaring Brook Press, a “real” book! It’s a true self publishing success story. And a big part of that success is due to book design.

I find it helpful to break down book design into six categories. Consider each one, and make appropriate choices:

Paper (Cover and Interior Stock)

What color, texture, or weight should your paper be?

Book Size

Letter, legal, and tabloid are the standard paper sizes that can be photocopied. You can trim these to a non-standard size after printing.

Book Shape

Why have a rectangular book? Die cut or hand trimmed for a custom shape.


Most minicomics are photocopied or printed on a laser printer, usually in black and white. Consider using these other printing techniques: screen printing, Gocco, linoleum block, spray paint stencils, stickers, or stamps.


Saddle stitch (a staple down the center of the spine) is standard. Consider using needle and thread, a sewing machine, or a rubber band.


Slip cases, bags, and belly band are popular finishing touches.

Keep these in mind the next time you publish, and remember: design is content!

One response to “CCS Summer Workshops”

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