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Bitter Medicine

I decided to post this as a response to the many skeptical looks I’ve received after stating that I design books for a living.


This is what a book looks like pre-design. Basically, a massive pile of paper containing:
– Multiple versions of the manuscript typed up by the author in Microsoft word
– An editorial “road map” designating what might go where
– Lists with spelling, grammar, and stylistic corrections that need to be inserted from 3 or 4 rounds of editing
– Loose drawings torn from sketchbooks
– A reference guide labeling illustrations (in this case, 240 of them)
– Handwritten notes from all involved on $30 worth of post-its


This is what it looks like post-design and printing.

I designed a 6 x 10″ horizontal landscape format with 5″ wide jacket flaps that hold the author portrait drawings and bios. Olivier Martini is on the front flap and Clem Martini on the back.

The interior layout follows a 3-column grid system, running the illustrations on the verso pages and the text on the recto pages. I broke this rule occasionally to strengthen the dialogue between Clem and Olivier, when one brother’s story needed to take the spotlight.

Over the years, the various treatments Olivier experimented with affected his composure and the steadiness of his hands. So his mark-making changes throughout the book, reflecting side effects of medication like Stelazine.

On the back of the jacket:
“In 1976, Ben Martini was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, his brother Olivier was told he had the same disease. For the past thirty years the Martini family has struggled to comprehend and cope with a devastating illness, frustrated by a health care system lacking in resources and empathy, the imperfect science of medication, and the strain of mental illness on familial relationships.

Throughout it all, Olivier, an accomplished visual artist, drew. His sketches, comic strips, and portraits document his experience with, and capture the essence of, this all too frequently misunderstood disease. In Bitter Medicine, Olivier’s poignant graphic narrative runs alongside and communicates with a written account of the past three decades by his younger brother, award-winning author and playwright Clem Martini. The result is a layered family memoir that faces head-on the stigma attached to mental illness.

Shot through with wry humour and unapologetic in its politics, Bitter Medicine is the story of the Martini family, a polemical and poetic portrait of illness, and a vital and timely call for action.”