Friday, June 19, 2009

Designer of the Month: Chip Kidd

Part 3: Kidd and comics

Chip Kidd loves comics. In particular, he loves Batman. Kidd says the first cover he ever noticed was "no doubt for some sort of Batman comic I saw when I was about 3, enough said. Or maybe not enough said: the colors, the forms, the design. Batman himself is such a brilliant design solution."[1] But really, he also just loves comics. In addition to the amazing design work he's done for book covers, Kidd has also done work for DC Comics, and is an editorial director for the comics division at Pantheon. As his Pantheon biography reads:
Mr. Kidd has also written about graphic design and popular culture for Vogue, The New York Observer, Entertainment Weekly, Details, 2WICE, The New York Post, ID and Print. His first book, Batman Collected (Bulfinch, 1996), was awarded the Design Distinction award from ID magazine. He is the co-author and designer of the two-time Eisner award-winning Batman Animated (HarperCollins, Fall 1998). As an editor, Kidd has overseen the publication of Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, and Dan Clowes's David Boring at Pantheon Books, and the definitive book of the art of Charles Schulz.[2]

Quite the distinctive biography, especially considering that Kidd’s full-time work is in graphic design for Knopf.

Peanuts: the Art of Charles M. Schulz, edited by Chip Kidd, with an introduction by Jean Schulz. Designed, edited and with commentary by Chip Kidd. Courtesy of

This book, Peanuts: the Art of Charles Schulz, is an amazing endeavor, so who to better discuss it than Kidd himself:

PEANUTS: THE ART OF CHARLES SCHULZ...attempts to present the work of Charles M. Schulz in the way I felt it should be seen. And, to be honest, it's also a way I can avoid saying goodbye to it. To them.

For all of us who ate our school lunches alone and didn't have any hope of sitting anywhere near the little red-haired girl and never got any valentines and struck out every single time we were shoved to the plate for Little League, we had Peanuts and Charlie Brown to take the sting out of it. I find when you look closer than you're supposed to at something you think you're familiar with, you're introduced to it all over again.

And you say hello.[3]

How nice of a tribute is that? As you can tell from this quote, and really, as always seems to come across when he talks about the genre, comics are something that Chip Kidd is passionate about. In particular, Kidd is interested in comics and graphic novels in relation to popular culture: how people are affected by them, the ways in which they transcend the genre and how in which they speak to a wide audience. This is especially true of Kidd's love of Batman. He explains:
There's just some kind of primal connection to the form, to the story, to the many ways the character is adaptable. He can be goofy, he can be cool, he can be fascist, or he can be totally rebellious. It's a brilliantly adaptable character. The way DC Comics has, through the years, added to this whole mythology of the character, starting with a very solid premise and then building on it so smartly with the great villains and sidekicks and stuff-I find it endlessly intriguing. I'm not sick of it. [4]
One of my personal favorite Chip Kidd projects having to do with Batman is the book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, which Kidd worked on for Pantheon.

Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, Limited-edition hardcover jacket design by Chip Kidd. Courtesy of

Kidd's fascination for Japanese Batman material from the 1960s is endless, but until stumbling upon a fellow Batman collector on Ebay in 2001 (you can read the full story in the introduction as, naturally, an origin tale), he hadn't thought that it extended past the form of toys and ephemera.[5] With stories commissioned based on the 1960s Batman TV show from the U.S. and rendered by an artist named Jiro Kuwata, a former manga child prodigy, the comics are a strange mix of American and Japanese aesthetic that Kidd calls "a fluid cross-cultural blend of the all-American Dynamic Duo viewed through a delicious manga lens of velocity, atomic-age streamlining, and a healthy dose of robots and dinosaurs." [6] So really, what could there possibly be to not like? In addition to the story that's presented through the comics, some pages also have triva and notes that have been included in the margins, such as "Star Trivia: The North Star supposedly doesn't movie, but in fact, it moves slightly, so in twelve thousand years, Vega will replace it as a north star," and "Starting this week: Go-Go The Magician! Let's all read about Batman's showdown with Go-Go!." [7] In addition to the comics themselves, this book also presents images of Japanese Batman memorabilia. Really though, this is an amazing book that anyone with even a passing interest in both Batamn and Japanese culture should take a look at.

Kidd's interest and work with comics does, of course, extend beyond Batman, and below are some images of other comic and graphic novel designs that Kidd has worked on.

Buddha, by Osamu Tezuka. Jackets and casewraps by Chip Kidd. Courtesy of

Watching the Watchmen, by Dave Gibbons, Chip Kidd and Mike Essl. Jackets and casewraps by Chip Kidd. Courtesy of

All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, by DC Comics, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams. Logo by Chip Kidd. Courtesy of

All-Star Superman #1, by DC Comics. Cover by Chip Kidd. Courtesy of

And there you have it! Up next week is Chip Kidd: Author.

[1] Bob Minzesheimer, “Chip Kidd, book cover designer, unmasked,” USA TODAY website, (accessed June 18, 2009).

[2] Chip Kidd, "Editor's Statement Concerning Pantheon 'Comics'," From the Pantheon website, (accessed June 18, 2009).

[3] Chip Kidd, "Chip Kidd on Peanuts: The Art of Charles Schultz," From the Pantheon website, (accessed June 18, 2009).

[4] Keith Phipps, "Artist Interview: Chip Kidd," Seeing & Writing 3 Website. (accessed June 3, 2009).

[5] Chip Kidd, "Introduction," from Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, ed. Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear and Saul Ferris (New York: Pantheon Books, 2008).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear and Saul Ferris, eds., Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan (New York: Pantheon Books, 2008).

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