Kidd, Chip 1964-
KIDD, Chip 1964-
PERSONAL: Born 1964, in Shillington, PA; partner of J. D. McClatchy (a poet and editor of the Yale Review). Education: Graduate of Pennsylvania State University, 1986.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Design Dept., Alfred E. Knopf, 201 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Graphic designer and writer. Alfred E. Knopf, New York, NY, book designer, 1986—; Paris Review, consultant, 1995—; Pantheon, New York, NY, associate editor of comics division. Taught at the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY.
MEMBER: Alliance Graphique Internationalle.
AWARDS, HONORS: Two Best-of-Category Packaging Awards, named one of the top forty designers in the United States, and Design Distinction Award, all from ID, 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.
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 a sequel to The Cheese Monkeys.
SIDELIGHTS: Chip Kidd has been creating designs to enhance the books of a long list of popular authors since he began working for Alfred E. Knopf after graduation from Pennsylvania State University in 1986. Kidd was born in the small town of Shillington, Pennsylvania, also the hometown of John Updike, where Updike's father taught Kidd's father math. Several years into his career, Kidd was designing an Updike novel.
The influence of the great masters of comic-book art is evidenced by Kidd's own books, beginning with Batman Collected, were called "a virtual love letter to the Dark Knight Detective" by Jonathan Wilson in the London Observer. Entertainment Weekly's Steve Daly said 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 author displays a genuine enchantment with, and enthusiasm for, his material."
In Batman Collected, Kidd mentions the 1950s congressional investigation led by Senator Estes Kefauver on the relationship between comics and juvenile delinquency, "but," wrote 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. Considering Bulfinch Press and DC Comics are both subsidiaries of Time Warner, it's surprising to see even a few hints at the kinkier subtext of the Batman mythology."
In 1998 Kidd was tapped by agent Andrew Wylie to design the reissues and new books of crime writer Elmore Leonard in trade paperback and mass market formats for two publishers, Morrow and Dell. Jonathan 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. His often cheeky and urbane jacket art, more MTV than mass market, is more in line with Leonard's developing hipster image, recently enhanced by Quentin Tarantino's adaptation of Leonard's 1992 movie Rum Punch for his film Jackie Brown." Wylie felt Kidd's designs would appeal to a younger reader.
Kidd and Les Daniels collaborated on a series of tributes to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman published by Chronicle Books, and Kidd worked on another honoring Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts. With Art Spiegelman, he collaborated on a biography of the creator of "Plastic Man," Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits. Cole led a colorful life. He cycled 7,000 miles across the United States and wrote about it for Boys Life, and he became a professional cartoonist after taking a mail-order course. Cole created the types of horror and crime comics that resulted in the anti-comics sentiment of the 1950s, but he also drew for Hugh Hefner's Playboy. Cole is most well known, however, for his creation of Plastic Man, the cartoon figure who could stretch every part of his body 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 said this plastic-bound volume "is an excellent memorial to an innovative American cartoonist."
Calvin Reid, who interviewed Kidd for Publishers Weekly, noted that Kidd credits the increasing interest in book-jacket art to the record industry's shift from vinyl to CDs. Kidd told Reid, "The book cover became the last vestige for graphic designers to have a place to play." Reid wrote that "most of us would be happy to succeed at just one of the many creative areas of art and publishing in which Chip Kidd seems to thrive. . . . A lifelong fan and serious student of American comics, he is also an editor at Pantheon, acquiring and overseeing a series of graphic novels by the likes of such previously underground comix artists as Chris Ware and Dan Clowes. He's designer about town, with a high-profile agent . . . hobnobs with the best and the brightest . . . and he's as much in demand as a party guest, raconteur, and genial wit as he is as designer and editor. And as if that weren't enough, the ebullient Kidd is now also a novelist."
Kidd's debut novel is The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters. It is set in the 1950s on a campus much like Pennsylvania State University, the author's alma mater, and 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 Flakmagazine online, 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 the novel in the 1950s, Kidd was able to write the dialogue without using the words fuck or cool, which he favored doing, "not because I'm a prude, but because they've become such a cliché." Norton commented that The Cheese Monkeys "dodges clichés like oil companies dodge federal income taxes. What begins as a wacky-but-conventional coming-ofage 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. Throughout the book, Sorbeck takes teaching both more lightly and more seriously than any fictional instructor since Professor Henry Higgins. Kidd's fascination with the mechanics of teaching—and the sublime art of teaching well—springs from experience."
Thomas Hine wrote in the New York Times Book Review that this 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."
"Sorbeck is a demanding pedagogue," said a writer for Complete Review online. "Unconventional teaching methods are immediately put to use to winnow out those that are unfit. . . . And he challenges those students that remain with the tasks he assigns (and the generally devastating critiques he then unleashes). When something knocks his socks off—as very rarely happens—he'll be the first to admit it, but most of the time the students don't live up to his high expectations. But Sorbeck is a true teacher. He gets to students. He arouses their passions. He forces them to go far beyond what they had ever thought themselves capable of."
Kidd told Library Journal's Wilda Williams that writing The Cheese Monkeys took six years. He wrote evenings and weekends and often put it away for weeks before returning to it. He admitted that it is somewhat autobiograhical and said 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, J. D. McClatchy, poet and editor of 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."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor called The Cheese Monkeys "sheer charm most of the way." In a Los Angeles Times review, Mark Rozzo called Kidd's writing "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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, September 17, 1996, Glen Helfand, review of Batman Collected, p. 55.
Booklist, September 1, 2001, John Green, review of The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, p. 51.
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, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, p. 68.
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.
Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2001, Mark Rozzo, review of The Cheese Monkeys, p. 10; February 3, 2002, Adam Bresnick, "Long before South Park; Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, edited by Chip Kidd," 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.
Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, Jonathan Bing, "Elmore Kidds Around; Knopf's Chip Kidd Gives New Look to First-ever Trade Paperbacks of Leonard's Backlist, from Dell and Morrow," 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.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, winter, 1996, review of Batman Collected, p. 20.
Flakmagazine,http://www.flakmag.com/ (July 13, 2002), James Norton, review of The Cheese Monkeys.
Complete Review,http://www.complete-review.com/ (July 13, 2002), review of The Cheese Monkeys.*