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Archive for January, 2012

And people in the kids book trade complain about celebrity books. At least they don’t have to face Adam Sandler making Candy Land the game into Candy Land the movie.

I’m not sure if this is worse news for Sandler or the game…

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OK. Totally misleading headline. But NASA is having a new conference about materials from beyond the solar system on Tuesday the 31st. Maybe they found something from Cosmos Academy!

What’s CosmosAcademy? Well, if you read Earthling! (due out in July from Chronicle Books) you’ll find out. But the NASA press conference should be interesting in any case. Keep up with it at LiveScience.com. And read the first chapter of Earthling! online at Chronicle Books! Then you too will know what Cosmos Academy is!

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I’m finishing up a new picture book by author David LaRochelle, as I mentioned in a post last week. It’s about bad green beans. Or is it green beans who are bad? They are definitely not the good, quiet green beans that grandma grows in her garden. Above is a quick sample of the kind of green beans to expect in the book. It’s almost like the cast from an AMC or FX show ala Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy. But not one of these beans has a heart of gold! They are ALL Bad Beans.

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There’s been a lot more coverage about the Apple initiated iBooks Author program. I’ll post a few links to interesting articles and discussions. There is definitely a prevailing feeling that a lot of the text book companies early attempts are lacking in interactive features. Which I expect. But I also expect that to change over the next 18 months. This article at Apple Insider looks at some of the issues. It warns the conventional book publishers that basically providing a PDF where you flip pages is NOT what the audience is looking for. That alone is not a step into a new form of textbook that encourages interactive, student directed learning.

This is also an interesting new tool that will let you build Flash like animations utilizing Css3, so the animations can easily be dropped into iBooks Author. It’s by web developer Sencha.

And here is a review of iBooks Author (The new Apple application) that lets you build ebooks for the iBookstore for playback on an iPad. This is by Steven Sande and Erica Sadun who are ebook publishers. They wrote the following conclusion on the new iBooks Author application:

Conclusion

Let me reiterate one key point: iBooks Author is designed for creating textbooks. If you’re thinking about using it for other types of books, you can — but understand that this app may not necessarily be the tool you’re looking for if you want to create and sell books on all ebook platforms.

iBooks Author does a great job at what it’s designed for, and I think we’ll see a lot of incredibly interactive books hitting the iBookstore in the near future. Is it perfect? No. But for a first release of a new app, it’s pretty darned close.

There is a great discussion after their post on TUAW.

I’m going to dig into the app in the next week and see what I can do with a picture book project I have sitting here. It will be interesting to see what kind of interactive elements I can add using my set of digital tools.

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An interesting article in the New York Times by James Gorman about research into disgust.

I had never contemplated disgust as a psychological reaction that has cultural and perhaps evolutionary underpinnings. And as I think about it, it’s amazing how greatly it effects our lives.

I am often inspired to write a picture book (or a short story, or a comic book) because I am suddenly inspired to see an issue from a new, unexpected point of view. That’s always an exciting experience. And thinking about the human emotion/reaction of digest and how it effects human behavior at a very profound level is fascinating.

As the article points out, disgust plays a big part in our life. Who we like, who we love, who are friends are, what things we stay away from and what we eat are often guided by what we find disgusting or not. It can even become the basis for some moral and ethical attitudes.

I can only imagine how disgusting a snail finds a human being! “Human’s are  so dry and loud and they move so fast.” “And they never look where they are stepping!”

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I’ve already spent a lot of time talking with friends about the new Apple iBook Author App, the updated iBooks app, the updated ePub format and of course Apple’s textbook and educational product direction.

Of course there’s been an uproar about the license issues, but there’s always someone to freak out about Apple stuff. By the way, you can watch the full presentation here if you missed it. It’s very interesting.

I haven’t had much time to look at the authoring tool in detail and I know there are serious questions about technical aspects of the software and about distribution. For instance, it only makes books for Apple’s electronic store. And the templates are fairly limited, though with a little HTML 5 and JAVA script you can do a lot more if you want.

But It seems to be a pretty powerful tool for a FREE, version 1.0 piece of software.

I mean, there was very little in the way of native Dev. tools before this. So it’s a good place to start. I have no doubt that it will allow people to make some junk but it will also let a few people make something truly original and exciting. Something that wouldn’t make it through the vagaries of the large, corporate publisher or media company.

As we get more and better tools, the interactive/ebook market will be less dominated by the need for expensive expertise to generate a worthwhile e-book experience and will allow for the best content to stand out. We’ll get to see what resonates with a broad audience and what doesn’t based on the material/story. Not just the ability to get through the technical hurdles.

It will continue to stoke the fires about what a book is becoming. There is no doubt that in a hundred years books will be digested on a screen much more often than in a stack of dead tree pages. I’m not saying this is good or bad. Heck, in a hundred years I’ll be gone anyway.

But it’s exciting to see what individuals can do with a tool that allows publication and national distribution with a click of a button. My hope is that we might see a renaissance of content not unlike the underground press of the 1960’s. And we can use all the renaissances we can get these days.

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I watched The Lion King over the weekend with my daughter. I hand’t seen it in perhaps 9 years. A few things struck me -

- I am still realllllly tired of the Disney, broadway-musical-animated-movie combo. Why they were so beholden to that form I will never quite get…Thank goodness for Toy Story. When it came out it made it OK to make an animated film that didn’t channel 1956.

- It’s an oddly disconcerting film for a young viewer. My daughter had no idea why Scar didn’t like Simba and his dad. I think she needs to understand either Shakespeare or the history of Royal blood feuds. I’m just saying that the antagonist/protagonist relationship isn’t really all that dynamic or logical. Especially to a 43 year old…or a five year old.

- Do we really need more song and dance numbers? A good time to get some chips from the kitchen.

- By pushing the Baboon-shaman character into creating art and crafting utensils ETC, it really mixes up the anthropomorphic aspects of the story. I’m surprised he doesn’t carve a saxaphone and play it during one the musical interludes…

- They break the fourth wall for gags a few times and it’s just, really odd…funny asides in the middle of the film’s narrative feel really dated. It’s as if they didn’t trust the movie to truly entertain, so they keep winking, letting us know THEY know it’s JUST a silly animated film. They must have studied the On The Road films of Bob and Bing. But in those films breaking the fourth wall is is fine as they make little effort to construct a all encompassing world – they are just trying to entertain and they did it in 1940.

It was a touching, beautifully animated film that made clear the art form has come a longgg way since this was originally released.

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Jaron Lanier has a very good piece in the New York Times (go read it!) about what the internet has turned into. He looks at the SOPA protests and compares it against – reality. Which is that the Internet has turned into a giant, traveling salesman now. The unintended side effect of ‘information must be free’ on the internet, is that your information is given away for free and is collected and turned into money by the companies that collect it.

Lanier makes some great points about how this freedom issue has lead to everything being ad supported online. And that has lead to our lives being a commodity in the great virtual sales matrix. Places like Facebook will build a tidy profit in hosting your life, in ways we can’t imagine. And none of the monies will be shared with you, the content creator. And he warns, maybe it’s all well intentioned social outreach now, but are people really prepared to have their entire life sitting on Facebook servers for the next…well, forever? What kind of business plan will the people who run Facebook in 30 years have for everything you’ve given them?

At the end of Lanier’s essay he writes:

“This belief in “free” information is blocking future potential paths for the Internet. What if ordinary users routinely earned micropayments for their contributions? If all content were valued instead of only mogul content, perhaps an information economy would elevate success for all. But under the current terms of debate that idea can barely be whispered.”

That sums up part of the issue for me. We are gladly giving up so much of ourselves, just to be liked (literally) that we are gladly handing over our actual life to companies who will sell it in ways yet unimagined. Most of us are the proletariat of the internet economy.

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I did some animation for a game that has recently gone live on Facebook. Not that I even know how to install a game on Facebook…or how to find it. I THINK it lives here and if you have a Facebook account you can play it, though it requires Flash. So don’t try it on an iOS device. Maybe we’ll have news on that front soon!?

Anyway, I designed and animated jumping pigs, parachuting trolls and flipping coins. Yup, you guessed it! It’s a retirement savings game! (As if the trolls didn’t give THAT away!) It’s called, Stash and Dash – a Retirement Savings Game. Actually, my retirement savings is more like a joke than a game, but that’s another story.

Find it, play it, practice saving retirement money with it. I guess while you play you could consider the time well spent as you would theoretically be earning say point 3 or point 5 on your real retirement savings. In my case, if I spend an hour playing the game I’ll earn about a third of a cent in my real retirement savings. So when I retire in 30 years I will have about thirty eight bucks in actual savings. But in the Stash and Dash game I’ll have saved the $1.2 million the game says you need when you retire. So then I can virtually retire with some virtual comfort. Ugh. This is depressing. Just play the game and have fun!

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A quick bit about what’s up next for me. I’m feeling lucky that I have a busy 12 or 14 months ahead of me. One of the odd things about working on books is the time it takes from when you sign a contract to when the book comes out. As I hammer away at projects, I have to remind myself that SOMEDAY other people will get to see it. SOMEDAY it will be a real, live, finished book. So looking ahead to these projects helps me make it through the months of toiling.

I will shortly be finishing a new picture book I am Illustrating (as long as Jury Duty doesn’t get crazy-out-of-control). I may have mentioned it in passing before, but this will be the official announcement.

I’m working on a book by David LaRochelle (a fellow Minnesotan!) and it’s one of the funniest picture book manuscripts I read in the past year or so. I am thrilled to be getting the opportunity to bring this story to visual life.

After that I have another wonderful picture book to illustrate and this one has all kinds of witches in it! I’m excited to tackle another scary book. I’ll include more about this book and the author (he is situated not that far away in the Pacific Northwest) once I start final art.

And at some point down the road I will be finishing my first picture book that I wrote and will draw. I’m really excited to jump into this project and I’m thrilled to be working with one of my favorite publishers and an editor who took the time to help me develop this story and get it in shape.

There are a few other projects bubbling away but I don’t want to mention them yet. I’ll include more details about all this as the projects are closer to being completed. I feel that if I write too much about them before I am working on final art that I will jinx them. This makes no sense, but we all cling to some kind of belief system. This is part of mine. That and talking frogs. Anyway, it will be a busy 2012 and for that I am grateful.

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