From Idea to Printed Page

Editor’s note: The very first copies of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change arrived at our office today and they look great. To celebrate, we asked coauthors Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman to tell us about their writing process.

The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change is our third cartoon collaboration, and for the most part we’ve settled into a nice rhythm, punctuated by occasional outbursts of frustration or pique. (Perhaps that means we’ve reached the old-married-couple stage of collaboration?)

In any case, our work in producing a book follows a three-step process of scripting, layout, and artwork. As an example, here’s part of the initial script (the very first one, dated March 31, 2012!) for Chapter 2, “A Brief History of Planet Earth”:

p1: Introduction

p1: The earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago… [see this clock; another option is a timeline, with 4.6 billion years ago on the LHS and “today” or “Lady Gaga” or something on the RHS. But I think the clock or stopwatch motif is more cool, and can be presented in a simple and compact way.]

p2-3: Formation and photosynthesis

p2: …and the first life forms—single-celled organisms—appeared in the oceans about 3.5 billion years ago. [according to Vega]

After millions of years of evolution some of these organisms figured out photosynthesis… [“Man, I have been working on this forever.” Or maybe a “Eureka” moment with a “naked” amoeba or plankton?]

…which is the chemical reaction that allows green plants to grow. [Something about using sunlight and water and carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce sugars and oxygen. (or maybe just “to produce… plankton!”) Maybe have a scientist or the little kid saying this? Maybe the scientist says that “Photosynthesis turns sunlight and water and CO2 into trees and plankton and broccoli” and the kid says “Oh great.”]

From the very beginning we have to pay attention to layout because the fundamental unit of a cartoon book is the two-page spread, i.e., what you see when you open up the book. So we write scripts accordingly, focusing on the two-page spreads that make up the guts of each chapter. (The exceptions are the opening and closing pages of each chapter, which share a two-page spread with the closing and opening pages of the surrounding chapters.) There are other special cartoon book features, too; for example, all the chapters in our books have 10, 12, or 14 pages.

After tossing the script for Chapter 2 back and forth for the better part of a year, we finally ended up with a version we were both happy with. As shown in this final script—from February 25, 2013—we decided the layout worked better if we had a gag on the opening page and waited until the first spread (pages 2-3) to start in on the substantive content:

p1: Introduction

p1: [Murder/fire/disaster scene with detective] “Tell me everything that’s happened so far.” “Well, first the earth cooled, and then the dinosaurs came…” [Note: This is from Airplane II, except that in the movie the first line is apparently “I want to know absolutely everything that's happened up 'til now.”]

p2-3: Formation and photosynthesis

p2: The earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago… [see this clock; another option is a timeline, with 4.6 billion years ago on the LHS and “today” or “Lady Gaga” or something on the RHS. But I think the clock or stopwatch motif is more cool, and can be presented in a simple and compact way.

...and the first life forms—single-celled organisms—appeared in the oceans about 3.5 billion years ago. [according to Vega’s book]

p3: After hundreds of millions of years of evolution some of these organisms figured out photosynthesis… [“Man, I have been working on this forever.” Or maybe a “Eureka” moment with a “naked” amoeba or plankton? And another one says “Eek! Harold, come back here!” (See call-back on p6.)]

…which is the chemical reaction that allows green plants to grow. [Maybe the scientist says that “Photosynthesis turns sunlight and water and CO2 into things like broccoli and bean sprouts” and the kid says “Oh great.”]

The next stage is layout: Grady takes the script and puts it in his drawing program, along with whatever additional thoughts he has. (In this case he added some “Bob joke” ideas that came from his son, Liam.) Here’s the initial layout of pages 2-3 from March 1, 2013:

Layout part one, click for full size. Image credit Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman.

We decided that the Bob jokes were brilliant (!) and they quickly became a running joke through the whole book. Other things took a lot longer to figure out, like the idea of a timeline to show the history of Planet Earth. After a million iterations we ended up with the timelines that you see under some of the narrator boxes in the final layout, from July 11, 2013:

Layout part two, click for full size. Image credit Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman.

Working hard on the script and the layout makes for a smoother time with the final stage: artwork. Drawing is extremely time-intensive for Grady, so we try hard to have everything in good shape before he makes that investment. On this spread we did a good job, and the transition to preliminary art (from July 30, 2013) and then final art (from February 20, 2014) went off without a hitch:

Artwork part one, click for full size. Image credit Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman.

The final product. Click for full size. Image credit Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman.

Yoram Bauman

About Yoram Bauman

Yoram Bauman, co-author of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change and “the world’s first and only stand-up economist,” performs regularly at colleges and corporate events, sharing the stage with everyone from Robin Williams to Paul Krugman. He has appeared in Time Magazine and on PBS and NPR, and his previous collaboration with Grady Klein resulted in the two-volume Cartoon Introduction to Economics. He is a carbon tax fellow at Sightline Institute and has taught economics and environmental studies classes at the University of Washington (where he received his PhD in economics) and at Lakeside High School.