Pen & Oink interviews Jon Chad, part II: format format format

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Remember this guy? All images courtesy Jon Chad.

Last week, I interviewed Jon Chad about his amazing geology adventure comic, Leo Geo and His…man, that’s a long title. Just go look at it, okay? Anyway, Jon had a lot of interesting things to say about books with interesting formats, which I thought would make a great post all on its own. So here it is.

Make sure to scroll to the end for the best alter-ego self-portrait EVER.

What could the children’s book world learn from the indie comics world?

Format format format. I think that too often, children’s books adhere to a really traditional format, whether it be through construction or narrative delivery. There’s a literal glut of abstractly constructed minicomics that really celebrate the “book” as a precious object. This might be a consequence of most minicomics being self-published. When the size of the print run is so small, and you are intimately involved in a book’s creation, you have more liberties as to what the final product will look like.

Yeah, I really admire the richness of the comics self-publishing scene. Why can’t we do that with picture books? Self-published picture books certainly exist, but they’re usually pretty dull.

I think we just need some cross contamination. I don’t know if the sort of formal innovations and weirdness you see in self-published comics is on the radar of people self-publishing picture books. It goes both ways, though. None of my students knew who won the Caldecott last month, or some of the eye-opening things being done with picture books (I teach Publication Workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies). Illustration and storytelling isn’t this insular little community. It’s nearly impossible to track all of the amazing things that are happening. I also think that there’s a format that has come to be expected of picture books. Self-publishing a hardcover is expensive, but I get the idea that’s what people expect to see.

Any favorite children’s books or comics with interesting formats?

Everything that Brian McMullen is doing over at McMullens (an imprint of McSweeney’s) is really blowing me out of the water. Heat sensitive ink (Keep our Secrets), Dos-a-dos books (Hang Glider & Mud Mask), and fold-out posters (Benny’s Brigade)? Are you kidding me!? Those books are out of control and I love them!

There are way too many inventive comics out there to count, but here are a few of my favorite artists that are clearly passionate about book-making: Eleanor Davis, Pranas Naujokaitis, Shawn Chen, Jason Shiga (watch this video:, and Jeff Zwirek. Zwirek’s self-published Burning Building Comix is a real book-making triumph, and not getting the traction it deserves.

That’s a great video! (Oinkers, check it out and go make a comic!) Besides Leo Geo, have you tried other experiments in form?

I’ve played around with different forms in a lot of my minicomics before I started on my longer graphic novel project.


In 2008 I made a minicomic called Whaletowne, a one-sheet unfolding comic about a sailor who creates an ever-growing city inside of a whale. As you unfold the comic the comic, the image area gets bigger and bigger. This echoes the theme of expansion. In the above image, you can also see that the comic comes in an envelope that resembles the whale. To read the book, you have to go INTO the whale. See what I’m doing 😉


In this Leo Geo minicomic, I played around with the idea of non-constant reading direction (even more so that the bi-directionality of LG). In this book, you have to keep on unfolding the pages in a meandering way that mirrors Leo’s exploration of a castle.


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Here’s the whole thing, unfolded. You end up having to read in every direction: up, down, left, and right. It’s fun. Both this and Whaletowne play around with the idea of a “one-sheet” comic, where you try and make a book using one sheet of paper with as little cutting/adhering, as possible. It’s pretty staggering how many different books types you can get out of a single sheet of paper. The idea that you could make a comic on a single sheet, go to your local copy shop, print it with zero fuss, and almost instantaneously have a book is so romantic, and really empowering.

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In college, I played around with the idea of merging narrative with a game, and came up with this fictional diary comic about an astronaut that you had to rearrange to make a story. I hadn’t heard of “Five Card Nancy” at the time, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s interesting to watch people read this one, as their own personalities tend to precipitate in the comic narratives that they put together. This one is a pain to assemble, and I’m actually pretty pumped that I have a complete deck! The book was called Shortstack, and you can actually find an entry for it on Board Game Geek!?


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This book is called Naughty Nice, and it’s really hard to show in just a couple pictures. I had been inspired by seeing artist books that used a binding that I’ve heard referred to as a Magic Wallet Binding or a Jacob’s Ladder (here’s a YouTube video so you can see the binding in action). Using this binding, I adhered two complete, dueling stories in the two sides of the binding. The two sides play off each other well, and getting to see people turn this book over and over in their hands is really rewarding. I only made 44 copies of this, though, and only have 6 left to my name. I’ll never reprint it. The rubber cement fumes almost killed me.

When I started working on my longer graphic novel, and redrawing Leo Geo, I moved away from the short, formal experiments that had enthralled me for years. Last summer, though, I was approached by BOOM! Studios, the comics publisher doing the Adventure Time books, wondering if I would do a run of handmade books for San Diego Comic Con. They wanted me to pull out all the stops, so I got to design a couple different idea with fold-outs, screen-prints, etc.


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This is what ultimately came from that. I printed up 700 of these by hand, which was easily the largest print run I’ve ever done. The center of the book has a fold out, where, much like the Whaletowne unfolding method, you open up the page several times, increasing the area of the page while never repeating an image. Taking this sort of work that presents something different to the reading experience to a place like Comic Con was unforgettable. Seeing that interaction, and explaining to the uninitiated what a minicomic even was awesomer.


As a comics superhero (who doesn’t draw superhero comics), what’s your name and superpower?

In some masked vigillante circles I’m known as the CMYKontroller.  I suck up the process colors into my tattoo, then release them later to help in my fight against baddies.  I could hit them with an icy ray of Cyan, a hot ray of Magenta, an uncomfortable ray of Yellow, etc.




  1. I totally agree with Jon’s comment about format. I’m trying to get a unique re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood published but am having very little luck. It’s in a format that has never been published before and no-one seems to want to know.


  2. I love the concept of format! I’m working on a board book with die cut flaps and book turns (horizontal to vertical), nothing as intricate as Jon’s mini comics though. It’s fun to think of the possibilities. Also loving CMYKontroller 🙂


  3. Pingback: Rounding up posts at the old Pen & Oink ranch |

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