Poul Lange and his wife, Kayoko Suzuki-Lange, founded Chocolate Factory Publications (named after their loft in a former chocolate factory in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York) last year to publish the app for his children’s book, “The Book of Holes,” which is out now for the iPad (see it operate here). Originally published in Denmark with collage based illustrations and a hole in the middle, Lange has enjoyed rethinking it for the digital medium. They have since moved to Los Angeles, where Kayoko got a job as tablet art director of The Hollywood Reporter. I recently asked him about making the project and its hoped for impact.
Did you do this book in a print version?
Yes, it was published in Denmark in 2006, printed on heavy cardboard with a hole going all the way through the middle of the book. At that time people were starting to talk about digital books, and I remember thinking I wanted to make a book that could do things digital books would never be able to (like having a hole in the middle). That of course came back to haunt me when we started planning the iPad version.
The book has never been printed in an English language version, but I’m hoping there will be enough interest in the app to justify a new print version. It would be great to bring “The Book of Holes” full circle like that.
Is there something unique to the app that you’d never attempted as an illustrator?
I have been making collage-based illustrations for almost 20 years, and the biggest boost in the app creation was the animation of my collages. I found that this style of illustration is very well suited for movement, and it was a lot of fun to animate the pages. It was also great to rethink the text and create little games where the app format made it possible. For example on the face page, where the print version was about discovering and counting the holes in your head. In the app, this process becomes a game where you have to place the holes in their correct position.
What issues were important for you in doing the digital version and how does it differ from print?
There were things in the printed book that could not be duplicated directly in the app. The obvious one of course being the stamped-out hole. The solution we found is in the transition from page to page, where you get sucked through the digital hole onto the next page.
The “good holes” page in the print version has a full size hand wearing a ring and the hole is where ring finger would be. By sticking your finger through the hole you become part of the illustration and can animate it in the simplest way possible. I had to rethink this page for the app, and it became a game where you have to place holes on items (such as a shower head and an ukulele) to make them work.
A big revelation was how much greater the iPad resolution is compared to print. We made the scans for the retina display, and it is amazing how much you gain in the digital version. My collages have a lot of delicate details and they really reproduce wonderfully on the iPad.
Another big difference from the book is the possibilities the addition of sound gave us. To match the hand-made feeling of the illustrations we decided that we wanted to stay away from electronic sound effects. We found a “voice acrobat”, Zero Boy, who made amazing sounds with nothing more than his mouth and vocal cords. We feel that this helps our app find its own identity, and to separate it from the slick “super-digital” apps that are so plentiful.
I love the wit of the book. What do you want the users to take away from the experience?
The subject matter is so obvious and so elusive at the same time. As it says on the first page: “A hole is nothing, with something around it.” It didn’t occur to me when I wrote the book, but I realized later, that this could be the children’s book version of The Seinfeld Show. It is really about nothing, and what makes it interesting is all the stuff that is right next to the subject; not the subject itself.
The other thing that quickly became clear was that when you start talking about holes, you can’t just stop when you reach an inconvenient one. Kids are way too smart to accept that. So there are pages about both the mysteries of life and the digestive system. It was important for me not to spell it all out, but to leave enough elements on the pages, so children and their parents can have conversations about these important matters.
This has been called a European approach (or even worse; Scandinavian), but I’m convinced that there are scores of American parents that have been waiting for such an app. What I’m really trying to do is to bring the children’s app back to its Picture Book roots, and make it a tool to bring parents and children together to discuss the important things in life. That kids can also keep themselves entertained on the back seat of the car with “The Book of Holes” is just an added bonus.
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