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When Rhys Darby’s ‘top secret’ manuscript landed on our desks, we were curious to see what the comedian-turned-actor-turned-writer had to offer to the world of children’s books. We went behind the scenes with Buttons McGinty’s book designer, Erin Nicol, and asked her some questions about the making of “The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty.”

What was unique about Rhys’s book?

Rhys’s manuscript came to us as pages of hand-drawn illustrations. All done by him! Each page was unique, which is very unusual. I had so much fun breaking all the rules of book design. Everything (from the font sizes, to the line spacings) had to be altered to allow the right amount of negative space. The scary thing was we only had a week to turn the whole thing into a fully designed book!

How did you recreate the illustrations?

All of Rhys’s illustrations had to be digitally traced to make them into vector versions, and then converted into greyscale. There were 190 pages of illustrations!

On the left is Rhys’s original hand-drawn illustration, and on the right is the digital version created by Erin.

Laying out the text and illustrations was challenging. I wanted to capture the look and feel of a diary, but I also had to make sure all the pages looked visually balanced. So there was a bit of tweaking to make the text and illustrations work together.

This was by far the hardest page to lay out. Look at how all the blocks of text are arranged differently on the page. A lot of twiddling around here:

The font choice:

Rhys had originally hand-written the story on a tablet, so Scholastic had the fun job of typing it all up. They wanted to go with a font that matched Rhys’s handwriting, so in the end they chose Gloria Hallelujah.

Font: Gloria Hallelujah

You got to meet Rhys for his book signing. What was that like?

Exactly as you’d expect, including the voice! He has such a unique sense of humour, which you get to see in his book. Definitely can’t wait to work on the next book with Rhys.

Erin and Rhys at the book signing

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