Fonts in Storybook Apps

I’ve heard that serif fonts exist to help the reader’s eyes move across words, gently guiding us from one letter to the next without us even realising.

I’ve also heard that sans serif fonts are more easily read on a screen, which may explain how Comic Sans ever took off. (I have to remind myself that it did used to be awesome, that font.)

Most storybook apps I’ve seen make use of a form of serif font, regardless of the fact that the reader is reading from a screen. While it may be the case that sans serif fonts are adequate for iPads, if not downright better, there’s an atmosphere conveyed by serif fonts that can’t be achieved with sans: the feeling of paper books and tradition and memories of our childhood favourites. Font choice influences the mood of a piece of work. This is why I have chosen a serif font.

I love fonts, and can easily spend a week finding new ones and seeing how they look. In the end, though, I decided to use an open source font for The Artifacts. It’s from the Dejavu font family. After experimenting with all of them, the condensed bold version looked the best.

What about all those other cool fonts, though, the ones with REAL personality? There are numerous font sites online and I’d love to have made use of one of those.

The problem I have is that someone, somewhere designed those fonts and they rightly expect to be paid. When I look at the end user licence agreements for some of my favourite ‘free’ fonts, they are indeed free for personal use, and sometimes the print run licence is reasonably priced, but once you want to make use of a font in a piece of software, sold internationally, the licence gets really difficult to understand (I understand ‘expensive’) so without a copyright lawyer to advise us, I figured I’d just stick to open source.

Since it took me a good while to find Dejavu, I’ve decided to use it again in Midnight Feast. This time, though, I’m wanting a sketchy, handwritten version of a font. I considered making my own font. There’s an iPad app for that.  (But I can’t remember what it’s called, and I haven’t found an adequate stylus yet.)

So I made my own handwriting font. You can do this online for free at MyScriptFont.com. (There are also plenty of sites that’ll charge about $15 for the same thing, e.g. Your Fonts, but they don’t tell you that until the very end.)

I called my new font Midnight Feast, of course. I used a pen preset that I’d already made in Artrage. I didn’t bother printing out the template, mainly because our printer’s not working, instead making use of the Wacom. (When, exactly, is the Printers’ Strike ending, again?) My font is pretty rough and ready. I wouldn’t want to attempt anything other than a handwriting font without making use of something far more time consuming and powerful like FontStruct (where I technically have an account.) Tutorial on FontStruct can be found at MacLife.

We’ll probably be using our Midnight Feast font only to generate numbers at Dan’s end. But now I have a font called MidnightFeast on my computer! And it was super simple to do.

Experienced and qualified font designers will be turning in their graves.

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Pros and Cons of Universal Apps

Most of you are probably already aware of what Universal apps are, but for those who aren’t let me give a brief description:

On the App Store, there are two device categories. iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. Each device category has its own App Store, with its own list of apps.

Universal apps are configured to run in both categories, and should work on all supported devices. Now this is a great deal for consumers buying apps, because you basically get 2 for 1. Buy an app on the iPad, and it is linked to your iTunes account, so that you can then download and use it on your iPhone or iPod Touch at no extra cost. Our first app, The Artifacts, is a Universal app. You can tell a Universal app, by the little ‘+’ plus sign next to it in the App Store.

Ok now that I’ve explained it, lets go through a few pros and cons of this system;

 

Pros

  • Savings: Consumers can use an app on any device that is linked to their account, and they only have to purchase once. Obviously a pro for the consumer, and generally speaking, a happy consumer makes a happy developer.
  • Convenience: You might hear about a great app from someone you know.. but you only have your iPhone on you. You can buy the app on iPhone, and then later download it on the iPad, because it’s linked to your account.

Cons

  • Development time: It takes quite a lot of extra work to be able to support all device types in the one app (different screen resolutions, memory requirements, etc).
  • App size: Because you need to support different device resolutions, you need to have all the device graphics in the one app. This makes for a much larger app, especially for the smaller devices. The Artifacts for example is around 92 MB. It would be reduced to about 40 MB if it only worked on the iPhone/iPod touch. Our next app, Midnight Feast, supports iPad Retina images (2048 x 1536), which are 4 times larger than iPad images. Apple could provide some support in this area. If we could make “custom” versions of universal apps, it would fix this problem. It would work in a similar way to having different device versions of the same app for sale (so you’d have to buy two copies. One for iPhone/iPod touch, and one copy for iPad), but just make it universal instead so you only have to buy one.
  • App Store ranking: Now this is a biggie. Any developer knows that it’s important to get a high ranking in the App Store. The problem is, if the app is universal, it’s effectively ranked by each device. This means that if someone buys an app with the iPhone, it only affects the ranking for the iPhone store. This is clearly a poor solution, because it puts universal apps at a disadvantage. I’d like to see Apple give rankings for Universal apps based on the total downloads, not on downloads from each individual store.

It’s really hard to tell, because Apple do not provide the stats, but from the store rankings alone, we notice that we’ve had quite a few downloads on the iPhone/iPod Touch side of things.

We’ll continue to make universal apps, but I really hope Apple starts to support them in a way that helps the publisher AND consumer.

 

Designing Roya in Midnight Feast

I read a new picturebook to our daughter last night. The artwork was amazing. But one thing bothered me: the boy looked like a different person in every picture.

Now that I’ve illustrated a story for myself, I can totally see how this happens.

1. It’s difficult to draw people. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this, even among people who draw regularly. I think that’s why so many picture books feature animals as characters!

2. It takes months to illustrate a children’s book (even if, unlike me, you don’t dawdle about it!). Over the course of months, your child model grows up. I’ve already noticed that the reference photographs I took of our three year old look different, mainly because she’s since turned four.

But of all the things to get right in an illustrated book, it must be the child protagonists. I’ve noticed our resident preschooler looks intently at the facial expressions of the characters in storybooks. When language skills are in early development, facial clues provide most of the story.

I thought I could use myself as a model for Roya, to avoid imposing on randoms, asking them to get into my bed and whatnot, but when I first drew her, she looked about fourteen. The lazy bastard in me thought, oh well, fourteen she is, then. I can’t be bothered creating her again.

But the story doesn’t fit a fourteen year old. She has to be younger than that — I wrote the story about an eight year old. So even though I quite like this character (who looks not much like me, by the way) I had to kill her. (Along with the initial colour scheme, which was easier to let go. No one’s ever been incarcerated for killing a colour scheme, I don’t imagine.)

By the way, here’s an even earlier version of Roya. When Dan walked into my computer room he actually screamed. “Yar! What the hell is that?”

That’s when I knew I was making the story TOO scary. No one would expose their kiddies to a story with this thing as a main character, right?

Anyway, that’s what you get when you use a Blythe Doll as inspiration. (She did actually have eye-balls, but when Dan walked in I hadn’t done them yet. It’s true, without eyeballs, anyone looks freaky.)

Children’s Literature: How scary is TOO scary?

Writing scary tales for children is difficult, because it has to be interesting without being too scary. How is it done? Where’s the line? What have storytelling experts said on the subject?

I’ve always believed that children, even at a very young age, know their limits, and if a story is too frightening and overwhelms them in some way, they will either fall asleep or walk away.  If you read to your child on a regular basis, it’s easy to navigate this terrain with conversations about each story that help you instinctively calibrate what is appropriate for bedtime reading.  Reading fairy tales may expose children to the dark side, but it also introduces them to survival skills, teaching them to use their heads to outsmart predators.  Shoving the witch into the oven may be a bridge too far, but no reason to be reverent about the words on the page, especially for the younger crowd.

Maria Tatar

People say, ‘Your book keeps giving me chills,’ but I don’t know what that feeling is. Horror always makes me laugh. Normal adult things scare me, but not things from a book or a movie.

– R.L. Stine, from an interview with Village Voice

“There’s no formula. I think you have to create a very close point of view. You have to be in the eyes of the narrator. Everything that happens, all the smells, all the sounds; then your reader starts to identify with that character and that’s what makes something really scary.”

– R.L. Stine from an interview with mediabistro

 

What’s the difference between a monster movie and a dark fairy tale?

It’s a very, very, very thin difference. I think that horror stories come from fairy tales, in a way. They share a lot of similarities. I think the difference is tonal. You know, the fairy tale contains a lot more elements of magic and whimsy and the the horror story contains a lot more, sort of, almost existential feelings — sort of dread, and ultimately they are similar melodies, played at a very different key.

– Guillermo del Toro

Over time, supernatural and horror fiction that has been targeted to children and young adults has become darker. If we look at books from the early 20th century through to the 1950s or 60s, we see books similar to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in their mild handling of frightening characters and scenarios. As we move into the 1970s we start to find horror novels targeted towards young adults. Stephen King’s works Salem’s Lot and Firestarter won the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award in 1978 and 1981 respectively, showing that children and young adults have been quite willing to read scary literature for some time. Neil Gaiman’s books Coraline and The Graveyard Book are also targeted for the tween audience, and could easily be considered scarier than even these specifically labelled horror books from authors such as King and Dean Koontz. In recent years, it appears clear that more and scarier books are being targeted to the child and young adult audience, and as a result, children are reading scarier books than in the past.

Thomas Pynchon

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