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The Book of Heroes: How To Make a Flipbook

Hello! Today we have a special guest post from book designer extraordinaire, Courtney Utt! Not much else to say except to remind you all that when you see a copy of The Book of Heroes in the store tomorrow (and of course you’re all going to the store tomorrow) remember to actually flip through it!

How To Make a Flipbook by Courtney Utt

When we first started contemplating a design for the interiors of The Book of Heroes in relation to Brave Story the editor, Nick Mamatas, suggested making a flipbook of flying books to match the cover illustration. Brave Story has illustrations in the margin showing when the main character finds a magical gem for his sword, and we wanted to make something fun for this book too. I said yes immediately. What a great idea! Little did I know what I was actually getting myself into…

Making a flipbook looked simple when I watched how-to videos on YouTube. But I think in the end it took a lot more work than anybody expected. I first started by outlining one of the books from the cover illustration in Illustrator. Dan May, the same illustrator that created the cover art for Brave Story, created another great illustration for this book which includes a lot of flying books. This process was taking so long, so I took a break from it for the day.

When I got home from work that night I told my boyfriend and favorite illustrator Roderick Constance about trying to create this flying book flipbook. He immediately suggested finding a video on YouTube of something flying so that we could see what wing movement actually looks like, to model the book after. A bird? Too complex, not stiff enough. A butterfly? Yes, but… We ended up finding a slow motion video of a moth beating its wings.

Perfect! That’s what i want the book to look like in the margin! But now, how should I draw those wings, make them look like a book, and how many frames should I make?

Luckily, Roderick offered to help. “When do you need this done by?” he asked. “Uh, I need this in two weeks!!” A few days later I received via email a short Flash video of a roughly illustrated flying book. Wow. I was impressed. Thirty-six frames of a book imitating a flying moth. The cover is red and the pages are blue so that I could see the two elements moving together.

“The Book of Heroes” flash animation pencil test from Roderick Constance on Vimeo.

From there we cut a few frames so that we could have the flipbook repeat exactly eight times, according to the final page count. We were now at thirty frames. Then I brought each frame into Illustrator and vectorized each element. After creating thirty Illustrator frames of the flying book I went back in and created a light source, shading each book to give them more of a three-dimensional feel because the outline was too flat. After finalizing the thirty frames I placed the flying book into the layout 170 times—once for each page—but only on the recto. [That’s the right-hand side for you landlubbers out there. —NM] I then copied the recto placement and flipped it for the verso.[Verso=left—NM] So that if you were to flip through the book you can see the flying book if you flip both front-to-back and back-to-front.

Two weeks later we were done. It looked great on screen, was fun to play with out of the laser jet, but it really needed to be perfect once it came back from the printer!

“The Book of Heroes” margin flipbook animation from Roderick Constance on Vimeo.


Finally, here is a slide show of our local San Francisco inspiration for flying books. Check out this public art installation on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, on the border between Chinatown and North Beach called The Language of Birds.

Click here for slide show.

able limo jupiter

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2009, best of!

Why did I wait until 2010 to make my best-of 2009 list? Well, partially to avoid the traffic of everyone else’s list, and partially because great new material was coming out as recently as yesterday! I mean, J-Lo’s dress at Times Square…

I’ll recuse Haikasoru titles and other books I edited myself from this list for the same reason mothers tell their children “I love you all the same.” It’s because I do.

Anyway, moving on. My picks for 2009:

Best Science Fictionish Novel: The City and the City by China Mieville. Maybe it’s because I live on a border between towns—my landlord even recently reminded all his tenants to call 911 in an emergency, unless the emergency takes place across the street…then we had a ten-digit number to dial—but I loved this fantastical mystery of two cities that occupy the same geography, and the hints of a third city that goes unseen between the two. Whether in Besz or Ul Qoma, residents are trained since birth to “unsee” the others and even the local geography. And when a young archeologist is killed in one city and her body dumped in the other, well… Check it out.

Best Manga: The Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It’s the history of postwar Japan and the rise of manga and its more serious-minded offshoot gekiga through the eyes of one of its greatest practitioners. I’m a sucker for literary biography, and this is one of the better ones. Tatsumi, only mildly disguised under a slightly different name, tells his own story without blinking. The flaws of his family, his own traumas and failures, the passion for creation and the agony of rejection…it’s all here in a surprisingly effective “cartoony” visual idiom.

Best VIZ Manga: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka. A re-imagining of a classic Astro Boy storyline, I spent much of the year calling this series “the Watchmen of manga.” And it is, both structurally (“Who is killing the world’s greatest robots? One of their own number must find out…”) and thematically. One needn’t be familiar with the antecedents to really enjoy this manga, which is ably translated and wonderfully rendered. I spent a number of afternoons reading office copies of the issues at my desk as they’ve come out. Luckily, it looks like I’m working when I do!

Best VIZ Product: Missin’ by Novala Takemoto. A short novel in two volumes about punk and ennui among young Japanese. Sometimes the best looks at a culture come from its outliers, and Takemoto has what seems to be direct entree into the minds of young, obsessed women who find solace in music, fashion, and one another. Highly recommended.

Best Movie: Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino. Spoiler alert: Hitler dies! A testament to the power of filmmaking and mythmaking, and one with surprisingly little violence for a war pic and a Tarantino flick. I mean, there’s still plenty, but the film is ultimately contemplative and suspensful, not a bloodbath. If this doesn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, expect a sudden explosion from behind the screen… The last line of the film sums it up: “I think this is my greatest masterpiece yet.” It is.

We’ll be back at work Monday, bringing you the best in science fiction and fantasy for the rest of the year! I hope you all keep an eye out for our January titles, Yukikaze and The Book of Heroes. Both just eighteen days away? Don’t mess yourselves waiting!

A Misanthrope’s Reading List: 2010

Everybody’s posting their year-end best-of lists, and I’m tempted to do so too. But instead of looking back, I’d like to look toward the future. Hey grandpa, 2009 is done. Here’s a quick list of books I’m looking forward to reading in 2010.

Sleepless: A Novel by Charlie Huston (January). Huston takes a dip into near-future speculative territory. Added bonus: dialog with quotation marks!

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson (January). I’m already tired thinking about this book.

Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi (January). What is the relationship between man and the machines he builds?

The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe (January). I’ve read all of Miyabe’s books that are available in English. Why stop now?

Heavy Metal Pulp: Pleasure Model: Netherworld Book One by Christopher Rowley (February). A new series of novels based on characters and stories from Heavy Metal magazine. Target audience: Me.

The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu (March). File this one under science fiction fairy tales from France.

Backing Into Forward: A Memoir by Jules Feiffer (March). Artist and culture wit Feiffer finally delivers his autobiography.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 8 by Naoki Urasawa (March). The conclusion of Urasawa’s brilliant remake of Tetsuwan Atomu.

The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto (March). In the future machines will rule the world. Call me a misanthrope, but I can’t wait for that to happen.

Slum Online by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (March). My early vote for best book title of 2010. From the author of All You Need is Kill (the best book title of 2009).

The Creeper by Steve Ditko (March). There’s already a place on my bookshelf reserved for this compilation.

Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard (April). Science Fiction Fantasy with a Mictlantecuhtli twist (btw: that’s the Aztec god of the dead).

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann (April). Based solely on the cover, this is going to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska, Christian Berntsen, and Erik Matthews (Spring). A novel that revisits the first Apes movie. Added bonus: cover painting by Jim Steranko.

Loups-garous by Natsuhiko Kyogoku (May). Werewolves and teenage girls collide in Tokyo. Bite me!

The Next Continent by Issui Ogawa (May). Want to get married on the moon? No problem! Otaba General Construction will build a wedding chapel anywhere you want.

Children No More by Mark L. Van Name (August). Jon Moore is a man with a little bit of nanojunk in the trunk. Lobo is a military assault vehicle with a big dollop of A.I. attitude. Their adventure continues.

Even MOAR New Hawtness

It’s not every day one gets to edit a novel by a best-selling Japanese author that is

a. both fantasy and anti-fantasy,

b. in dialogue with one of my favorite short stories, The Repairer of Reputations by Robert W. Chambers, which means that of course it features

c. the King in Yellow, while also

d. referencing everything from the horrors of apartheid to Jean Gabin, despite the fact that it was

e. originally serialized in a Japanese newspaper, but that doesn’t stop the English-language edition from

f. also having some fun flipbook animation on the margins.

Not every day, no, but some days last this year I got to edit The Book of Heroes.


That’s editor and cubiclemate Jann “The Martian Manhuntress” Jones holding up the fresh new copy that just came back from the printer. Note the revised cover with the glowly gold ink on the title.

Have I mentioned that the The Book of Heroes is for young adults? (Of all ages?)

Well, it is. Keep it in mind next month when you hit the bookstores with your holiday gift cards firmly in hand!

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