The Camp Out - A Jabloo Adventure

I've just finished writing and illustrating a storybook using my Jabloo characters. The story is aimed at kids 3 to 6. You can read The Camp Out online.

I created the Jabloo gang back in 2006, and this was the first story I conceived for them. There's something about the camping out in the woods that's always evoked the idea of creativity for me - maybe it has something to do with telling stories around the campfire, though I don't think I've ever done that.

Since each of the Jabloo characters represents a different creative art (filmmaking, music, acting, writing, and visual art), The Camp Out is about them creating a piece of art - in this case, a monster movie. Yubi, with his video camera, is at the center of this creation, but each of the other characters contributes to the movie as well.

The story was designed as an "adventure" - meaning, it's not an introduction to the characters, so we jump right into their camping excursion. Kind of like an episode of a continuing television series rather than a one-shot, stand-alone show.

I worked backwards with the layout of the book, using Shutterfly's Photo Book sizes as the basis for my design. I went with a 7x9" book, so I opened up Freehand (the now-outdated piece of vector creation software that I used to create Jabloo - and still use daily) and set up a 7x9" document with a bleed area.

It's nice when the hard work is already done!

Much of Jabloo was already created - the characters with different hand and mouth positions, fonts, colors, even many of the backgrounds in The Camp Out (for the as-yet-to-launch online, interactive version of the story) so I was able to move into the book's creation quickly. I'd spent months analyzing the layouts of my son's books (which contained every imaginable style of layout) and decided on a full-page image every page (with a few exceptions - the first page and a two-page spread), and a limit of two sentences of text contained within a white arc at the bottom of each page.

Dig those crazy vectors!

I put the story together in a fairly haphazard way - writing a few pages, putting the illustrations together (which could take hours or days - even with many of the elements already created), adding a few more pages, changing the sequencing. The story itself is 24 pages, with a few additional non-story pages at the front and back.

I wrestled a bit with how much story detail to include - especially when it came to the movie the characters are putting together. I wound up showing only an indication of the story they were telling. The two-sentence limit on each page was a good natural limit, forcing me to only hint at the monster movie. The reader's imagination adds the details. I think that works nicely. It's a story about creating art, not about the creation itself.

Since Freehand is no longer a current program, and copying/pasting into Photoshop isn't viable (gradients get messed up, and there are other issues), I went through a tedious process of maximizing the Freehand pages on my 30" monitor, grabbing screenshots and shrinking them to get smaller, high-resolution images for printing. Of course, after doing this I found plenty of small things that needed revising or correcting, so I had to repeat the process for many pages. It was still a worthwhile compromise for being able to work with the beauty and elegance of Freehand.

I had a few hiccups when I began assembling the book in Shutterfly. When I was writing and laying out the book, I didn't set the pages up as two-pages spreads, so some of the images (especially the backgrounds) looked awkward when placed side-by-side. For example, some of the hills in the background seemed to run into each other, making the pages seem like they were meant as two-page spreads (that didn't quite align properly) - but with the same characters on each page. So adjustments had to be made to the backgrounds as well.

The next stage was assembling a readable version of the book online. I could have gone with a more straightforward gallery, but the effect of side-by-side pages would have been lost. I found a Picasa-based template online and, after plenty of technical issues, got the online version up and working.

The final printed book from Shutterfly looked great. The only minor drawbacks are a white area on the left of the cover (presumably the digital printing would flake off where it bends back) and the fact that you can't print a back cover (unless I missed that option), so the back of the book is plain white with a UPC code on it. But the printing itself looked great, as I expected from previous Shutterfly orders. And as much as I consider myself a digital kind of guy, I have to admit a piece like this feels different when you can hold it in your hands.

Read The Camp Out now - preferably with a kid or two.

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