14 November 2011

Meta stuff

I thought I'd pause in the donkey work I've taken upon myself to give you some insights into what I've been doing for Malaak this week, aside from getting a new page up. This will probably interest comic makers more than the average reader!

First I have to explain the situation I was having to deal with. For each volume of the comic, all the original .psd files were kept, that is A3 pages with all the layers preserved. There was also a flattened version, sized down to A4, that was used in the inDesign document where the book was laid out, for printing purposes, as it would be quite insane to work with and send the fully layered ones to the printer. Of these there was a French version, and an Arabic version (even though these are not published, I've been working on them for some time.)
That's 4 versions of each page for each of the 4-eventually-to-be-7 volumes of Malaak. Simply mental, as I realized when I needed to retouch old pages and found the task was multiplied by 4. My retouching, then, turned into a monumental rehaul akin to the widening of the Victorian sewage system, but one that will make things vastly simpler (and less memory-consuming) for me in the future:

- First, the retouching proper. In the first 3 volumes I treated night scenes in a way that was turning out too dark. In vol. 4 I figured out a much better treatment, so I had to go back and apply it to all past night scenes.

- In vol. 1 and the first few pages of vol. 2, I miscalculated the margins, so that they were much too narrow in print. Also, because I fixed that in subsequent pages, I now had an inconsistency across the series. I had to go and reformat those first 35 pages so their margins would be the same as what I'm working with now. This meant completing all their bleeds, because the inside of the page would shrink, leaving white areas past the old bleed. This was particularly difficult with the first 15 pages: due to a hard drive failure back in 2007, I lost their layered versions and only had the flattened pages to work with. Urgh!
This retouching was done on the originals. For some of them I saved the older version as well, just in case.

- Each page was then flattened except for the text and sound effects, resized to A4 and 350 dpi (the way the printer takes them) and saved in a different folder. The originals are now sacred and untouchable while it's not a problem if something happens to the smaller ones. To save myself having to open a file to check its specs in the future, the folder name says everything I need to know: "final 350 A4 flat RGB"

What I'm now doing is recreating all the text in the InDesign documents, before stripping it from the Photoshop pages. I had to come to terms with the fact this is the only way I can use the same image, most of the time, for all 3 languages I work with. It'll also make translation much easier in the future. The reason I had stayed away from that before was because it presented some problems, which I had to solve first:

- French takes up more space than English, so there was the occasional need to increase the size of the speech bubble, and the font I'm using didn't have any accented characters, so I had to add them with a brush in Photoshop. Solutions: An extra effort to be more concise in French!! Also, reducing leading when needed is hardly noticeable, but helps fit more lines in. As for the font, I did what I should have done long ago: opened the bloody thing in Font Lab and created the missing characters myself before exporting it as my own version of it. I couldn't treat most sound effects in InDesign because they're often inserted between layers of artwork, but translating them is really optional, so I let them be.

- Arabic needs a lot more work. Here I have to translate the sound effects, but I also have to flip the pages so that the reading direction is correct. A lot of the time it's not straightforward flipping: I have to go back into the page to flip back any written details, such as shop signs or graffiti, so they still look right. Also, some well-known locations, such as the Corniche in vol.1, just can't be flipped without looking wrong. I can't help people driving on the left side and Malaak's "tattoo" moving to the right side, those are things Arabic readers will have to deal with, but it's far better than having to force yourself to read in an unnatural direction, as happens with cheaply published manga in the West.
Anyway, I realized that I don't have that many pages that need reworking. Most of them can be simply flipped in InDesign itself. Those that need reworking and sound effects can be saved as a different file: it's still much better than to have all the pages duplicated.

There remains one "detail" to sort out for the Arabic: I'm not satisfied with any of the fonts around, none of which are suitable for a comic book (the couple of handwritten Arabic fonts out there were seemingly made by monkeys), so I'm developing my own. I have the most qualified adviser anyone can ask for, but this will probably take forever. So that's holding up any release of the Arabic.  In the meanwhile, I'm nearly done reformatting the English and French.

Finally, another reason why I'm fixing everything up is to release these volumes as ebooks in all 3 languages. What's the point of ebooks when they can be read online for free, you may ask? Mostly, it's for people who want to support the comic but can't afford ordering physical copies (those darn shipping costs.) But there is a tremendous advantage to them: bonus contents. Vol. 1 alone, which is already done, has about 20 pages of sketches. I have a lot more in mind for the rest. I can't include such material in print due to cost, but there's no limit to what I can add to an ebook.

End of verbosity and back to the grind!