Born 1964, in Shillington, PA; partner of J. D. Mc-Clatchy (a poet and editor). Education: Pennsylvania State University, graduated, 1986.
Graphic designer and author. Alfred E. Knopf (publisher), New York, NY, book designer, 1986—; Paris Review, consultant, 1995—; Pantheon (publisher), New York, NY, associate editor of comics division; Vertical, Inc. (independent publisher), book designer, 2003—. Taught at School of Visual Arts, New York, NY.
Alliance Graphique Internationalle.
Two Best-of-Category Packaging Awards, named among top forty designers in United States, and Design Distinction Award, all from ID, all for Batman Collected; award for use of photography in graphic design, International Center of Photography, 1997; two Eisner Awards, 1998, for Batman Animated.
Batman Collected, photographs by Geoff Spear, Bulfinch Press (Boston, MA), 1996, expanded edition, Watson-Guptill Publications (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Paul Dini) Batman Animated, HarperEntertainment (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Les Daniels) Superman, the Complete History, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
(With Les Daniels) Batman: The Complete History, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1999.
(With Les Daniels) Wonder Woman: The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2000.
(With Les Daniels) Wonder Woman: The Golden Age, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
(With Art Spiegelman) Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.
Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, photographs by Geoff Spear, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Les Daniels) The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days, photographs by Geoff Spear, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2004.
Work featured in Vanity Fair, New Republic, Time, New York Times, Graphis, New York, and ID; contributor of articles to periodicals, including Vogue, New York Times, New York Observer, Entertainment Weekly, Details, Arena, 2WICE, New York Post, ID, and Print.
Work in Progress
Two novels, one of which is a sequel to The Cheese Monkeys.
Dubbed a "graphic vampire" by January Online contributor Tony Buchsbaum, book designer, editor, and author Chip Kidd "isn't afraid to use anything at his disposal.… Nothing is sacred; that is, nothing but the design he has in mind." Working in the graphics department of New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf since 1986, Kidd has produced more than 1,500 covers for writers across the literary spectrum, from John Updike to Michael Crichton and Elmore Leonard. Publishers Weekly contributor Calvin Reid praised Kidd's "innovative, critically acclaimed work as a book-jacket designer," while also noting his ability to wear more than one creative hat. Appointed as an editor at Pantheon in 2003, Kidd, a lifelong fan of comics books, has also helped to shepherd into print graphic novels by cartoonists Chris Ware and Dan Clowes, among others. Working as editor and layout artist/archivist, Kidd has also published numerous retrospectives of classic comic-book and comic-strip art featuring the work of artists such as Charles Schultz, Alex Ross, and Jack Cole. And as if this were not enough to keep Kidd busy, he also ventured into the world of fiction with his debut novel, The Cheese Monkey, a "tart and funny novel about a young graphic designer's freshman year of college," according to Reid.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1964, Kidd graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1986 and went to work for Knopf right after college. His 1988 cover for Gabriel García Marquéz's Love in the Time of Cholera and his 1989 design for Katherine Dunn's Geek Love turned him into a hot commodity in New York City, with other publishers hiring Kidd to do freelance work for them. Other successes followed, including covers for Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, Donna Tart's The Secret History, and Thomas Glynn's Watching the Body Burn. Having found his niche, Kidd was given more and more freedom to come up with unique high-concept covers. As he explained to Reid, "The book cover became the last vestige for graphic designers to have a place to play." Kidd's covers utilize all sorts of artwork, from found objects to old photos, much of it gathered in flea markets. Jonathan Bing, writing in Publishers Weekly, called Kidd's jacket art "cheeky and urbane, … more MTV than mass market." For Entertainment Weekly contributor Gregory Kirschling, Kidd soon became "arguably the most famous book-jacket-designer ever." Wilda Williams, writing in Library Journal, called his jacket art "eye-catching [and] memorable," while Booklist reviewer John Green dubbed Kidd a "pioneer in book cover art." Keith Phipps noted in an online report for the Onion A. V. Club that "Kidd made his name with his unexpected combination of typography, photography, collage, associative imagery, and unexpected detail."
Kidd's 1990 cover for Crichton's blockbuster novel Jurassic Park was so powerful that its "iconographic T. rex," as Kirschling described the illustration, found its way onto the movie poster as well as becoming the theme-park logo in the movie. Phipps observed that the "tyrannosaurus rex on the cover [of Crichton's book] look so hungry that it takes a split second to recognize that it's just a skeleton. By mashing together the way most of us encounter dinosaurs—as collections of bones—with their past as living, breathing beings, the image instantly communicates what the novel is all about." Another Crichton cover, for the popular author's 1994 novel Disclosure, was surprisingly subtle and understated for a blockbuster thriller. Favorites of Kidd himself include his work for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, the horizontal artwork for Paul Golding's The Abomination, the reproductions of case studies as illustrative material for Oliver Sacks's Seeing Voices, and the edgy celebrity photos used for Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama. A case of role-reversal irony was part of Kidd's assignment to design the cover for John Updike's Memories of the Ford Administration: Updike and Kidd hail from the same small Pennsylvania town, and years before Updike had been a student in Kidd's father's math class.
In 1998 Kidd was tapped by agent Andrew Wylie to design reissue covers and new book jackets for novels by crime writer Elmore Leonard that were being issued in trade paperback and mass market formats for publishers Morrow and Dell. Bing wrote in Publishers Weekly that "in a marketplace dominated by superstores, in which brand identity depends on sophisticated visual packaging across multiple titles, it's not surprising that Wylie would enlist Kidd to design both series." The hope was that Kidd's art would draw in a younger audience to Leonard's work.
From Book Designer to Book Creator
In addition to designing covers for books by others, Kidd has also penned his own books, his writing career initially inspired by his lifelong love of comic-book art. The influence of the great illustrators of American comics is evidenced in Batman Collected, called "a virtual love letter to the Dark Knight Detective" by Jonathan Wilson in the London Observer. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Steve Daly explained that Kidd documents the marketing and promotional aspects of the caped crusader with "a curator's zeal and a social historian's insight." Geoff Spear provides the nearly 500 photographs of the stunning array of memorabilia bearing the image of the crime fighter who first appeared in 1939, with young Bruce Wayne witnessing the vicious murder of his parents. Included are photographs of wallpaper, bedding, lamps, toothpaste, towels, noodle soup, a bat-shaped tortilla chip, and more. "Batman Collected is easy to enjoy, an obvious labor of love by someone who has kept in close contact with his inner kid (pun not intended)," commented Michael Dooley in Print, the reviewer adding that Kidd "displays a genuine enchantment with, and enthusiasm for, his material."
In Batman Collected Kidd mentions the congressional investigation led in the 1950s by Senator Estes Kefauver on the relationship between comics and juvenile delinquency, "but," according to Dooley, "steers clear of psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, who gained notoriety at that time by claiming that the Batman books were 'psychologically homosexual.' Likewise, discussion of the current Batman films avoids any explicit reference to their overt fetishism." Dooley concluded that while "social analysis may be too much to expect from coffee-table garnish.… the fact remains that a gorgeous book about bat droppings is still a book about guano."
Kidd and Les Daniels collaborated on a series of tributes to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman published by Chronicle Books, and Kidd served as compiler and archivist on another volume honoring "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz. Jackie Gropman,
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writing in School Library Journal, called Kidd's Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz a "beautiful example of book production." With Pulitzer Prizewinning Maus author/illustrator Art Spiegelman, he collaborated on a biography of the creator of "Plastic Man" titled Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits. A colorful character, Cole bicycled 7,000 miles across the United States and wrote about the experience for Boys Life; he became a professional cartoonist after taking a mail-order course. While Cole created the types of horror and crime comics that resulted in the anti-comics sentiment of the 1950s, he also drew for Hugh Hefner's Playboy. He remains best known, however, for his creation of Plastic Man, a cartoon superhero able to stretch any part of his body necessary in order to reach the criminals he pursued. In 1958, with no warning, and for reasons that have never been explained, Cole shot and killed himself. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Kidd and Daniels' plastic-bound volume serves as "an excellent memorial to an innovative American cartoonist." Troy Patterson, writing in Entertainment Weekly, also praised Kidd's layout for the book, calling it not simply a "complement to the analysis but an extension of it."
With the 2003 work Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, Kidd profiles the work of Ross, a "hybrid of Normal Rockwell and Jack Kirby," as a critic for Publishers Weekly described him. Kidd worked his way through over 1,500 pieces of art to come up with the contents of Mythology. According to the Publishers Weekly contributor, Kidd's "text is laudatory but never cloying," and his blend of text and illustrations "deftly showcases" Ross's talent. Gordon Flagg, writing in Booklist, noted that Ross "is arguably comic books' only genuine superstar." For Flagg, however, Kidd "himself [is] a superstar in the world of book design, and he shows off Ross'
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grandiosity to full advantage." Likewise, Library Journal contributor Steve Raiteri called Mythology "marvelously designed."
Publishes Debut Novel
Kidd's The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters is set in the 1950s on a campus much like Pennsylvania State University, the author's alma mater. The story revolves around freshman art student Happy, his bold, whiskey-drinking, free-spirited female friend Himillsy Dodd, and Winter Sorbeck, their brilliant but abrasive design teacher. In reviewing the book for Flakmag.com, James Norton called it "a firestorm. The personalities of its three main characters collide, combine, clash, and tear each other apart, using graphic design as the fuel for their varied expressions of interpersonal passion, contempt for society, and artistic questioning.… It's also funny. Very funny."
By setting his novel in the 1950s, Kidd was able to write dialogue devoid of contemporary slang or curse words, "not because I'm a prude, but because they've become such a cliche," as he once explained. Norton further commented that The Cheese Monkeys "dodges cliches like oil companies dodge federal income taxes. What begins as a wacky-but-conventional coming-of-age struggle at a big, faceless university quickly becomes a book that rips into the source code of Kidd's fascinations: visual art, complicated human relationships, and the dastardly trade of teaching." Kidd in fact uses the teacher, Sorbeck, to get at the art of teaching itself. Thomas Hine wrote in the New York Times Book Review that The Cheese Monkeys is "the book on graphic design that people have probably been urging Kidd to write. Rather than discourse on theory, Kidd has embedded his belief in the old, universally appealing stories of maturity, finding your calling in life, and being inspired by, and loving, a demanding, serious, and highly eccentric teacher."
Kidd explained to Library Journal reviewer Wilda Williams that writing The Cheese Monkeys took six years, during which time he wrote evenings and weekends and often put the manuscript aside for weeks at a time. Admitting that the novel is somewhat autobiographical, he added that the character of Sorbeck is loosely based on Paul Rand, the designer who created the logo for IBM. Kidd also acknowledged the positive criticism and editing of his partner, poet J. D. McClatchy, who edits the Yale Review. Kidd told Williams he set the novel in 1957 because "the mid-1950s were ground zero for design education in America on a mass scale. Commercial or applied art, as it was called then, really started at Yale in the late 1940s and would have spread to the state school level by the mid-fifties. Because the novel is concerned with the fundamentals of graphic design, setting it in that period seemed to make sense."
Not all reviewers were filled with praise for The Cheese Monkey. Patterson, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the book a "tired bit of retro-kitsch," and "thoroughly undergraduate." But in the main, critics offered Kidd a warm reception to the world of published novelists. Booklist contributor Roland Green found the novel "fascinating, funny, and wonderfully written," while a Kirkus reviewer dubbed The Cheese Monkeys "sheer charm most of the way." In a Los Angeles Times review, Mark Rozzo found Kidd's writing to be "as meticulous and energized as his book jackets.… Like the provocative Sorbeck, Kidd, in this comic gem, teaches us a thing or two about how to look at the world."
If you enjoy the works of Chip Kidd
you may also want to check out the following books:
Jane Smiley, Moo, 1995.
Mike Conroy, 500 Great Comic Book Action Heroes, 2003.
Ron Goulart, Comic Book Encyclopedia, 2004.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Designers, 3rd edition, edited by Sara Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Advocate, September 17, 1996, Glen Helfand, review of Batman Collected, p. 55.
Austin Chronicle, September 8, 2000, Carl L. Roberts, "Judge Chip Kidd by His Covers."
Booklist, September 1, 2001, John Green, review of The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, p. 51; November 1, 2003, Gordon Flagg, review of Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, p. 472.
Entertainment Weekly, March 27, 1992, Kelli Pryor, "Designer Chip Kidd: Jacket Required," p. 68; November 1, 1996, Steve Daly, review of Batman Collected, p. 64; September 28, 2001, Troy Patterson, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, p. 68; November 2, 2001, Troy Patterson, review of The Cheese Monkeys, p. 70; September 12, 2003, Gregory Kirschling, "In This Kidd's House, Jackets Required," p. 158; October 31, 2003, Marc Bernardin, review of Mythology, p. 78.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of The Cheese Monkeys, p. 1053.
Library Journal, October 1, 2001, Wilda Williams, "Judging This Author by His Covers," p. 142; November 1, 2003, Steve Raiteri, review of Mythology, p. 62.
Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2001, Mark Rozzo, review of The Cheese Monkeys, p. 10; February 3, 2002, Adam Bresnick, review of Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, p. R12.
New York, September 17, 2001, Derek de Koff, "Captain Kidd," p. 42.
New York Times Book Review, October 14, 2001, Thomas Hine, review of The Cheese Monkeys, p. 7.
Observer (London, England), November 24, 1996, Jonathan Wilson, review of Batman Collected, p. 18.
Print, September-October, 1997, Michael Dooley, review of Batman Collected, p. 28; July-August, 2003, Maggie Kinser Hohle, "Reckless Kidd," p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, Jonathan Bing, "Elmore Kidds Around," p. 18; August 7, 2000, John F. Baker, "Kidd's Cover: First Novelist," p. 14; September 3, 2001, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man, p. 67; October 29, 2001, Calvin Reid, "Designer-Man Wields Pen!," p. 31; November 24, 2003, review of Mythology.
School Library Journal, June, 2003, Jackie Gropman, review of Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, p. 174.
USA Today, September 2, 2003, Bob Minzesheimer, "Chip Kidd, Book Cover Designer, Unmasked."
Village Voice Literary Supplement, winter, 1996, review of Batman Collected, p. 20.
Complete Review Online,http://www.completereview.com/ (July 13, 2002), review of The Cheese Monkeys.
DC Comics,http://www.dccomics.com/ (October 18, 2004), "About Chip Kidd."
Flakmag.com,http://www.flakmag.com/ (July 13, 2002), James Norton, review of The Cheese Monkeys.
IdentityTheory.com,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (December 17, 2003), Robert Birnbaum, interview with Kidd; (October 18, 2004) Robert Birnbaum, interview with Kidd.
January Online,http://www.janmag.com/ (November, 2003), Tony Buchsbaum, "Marrying Art & Commerce."
Onion A.V. Club,http://www.theonionavclub.com/ (June 2, 2004), Keith Phipps, "Chip Kidd."*