Chip Kidd: Remixing Batman And Designing Super-Solutions [Interview]
Chip Kidd is a one of American publishing's foremost graphic designers, a respected novelist and author in his own right, and a life-long comic book fan. He's worked with DC Comics on a number of different projects over the years, writing histories, creating logos, designing books, and even authoring stories like 2012's Batman: Death By Design graphic novel with Dave Taylor. Recently, he produced a "remix" of the first-ever Batman story (which was originally slated to be published in DC's "Detective Comics #27 Special Edition" giveaway, but ended up as a feature in the deluxe hardcover Batman: A Celebration Of 75 Years instead).
While at San Diego Comic-Con last month, we got a few minutes to drop by DC's booth and talk with Kidd about Batman, his design work, and his current (and upcoming) projects.
ComicsAlliance: Let's start with the re-imagining/remix of Detective #27 that you did with Brad Meltzer. How did that project end up happening? Did you come up with the idea and pitch it to DC? Was it something they proposed to you? Was it Brad's idea?
Chip Kidd: It was Brad's idea. He's an old friend – I designed his first two novels, way back when, and we've been friends ever since. It's funny, we didn't realize that we were both comic geeks until several years into the friendship, believe it or not.
Anyway, he had this idea to re-write "The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate" so that it actually made sense, which I thought was a brilliant idea…it's one of those things that I read and adored as a child, but I could never really figure out what was going on. Then he asked me if I'd be interested and I said certainly, and then he got [DC co-publisher] Dan DiDio and [editor] Mark Chiarello on board and they said OK.
Then it became a real interesting puzzle for me, because I had to make a lot of what I would call editorial decisions. Brad just sent me his script for the story that ran in the New 52's Detective Comics #27 that was drawn by Bryan Hitch. And there's lots of things in there that don't correspond to panels in the original story, i.e., Commissioner Gordon has an assistant who has dialogue…well, that sort of had to go. So it was interesting.
But the main conceit of the text of that story, is that mantra that Bruce Wayne/Batman keeps repeating in different versions: "I do it because…" So that all stayed intact, and that to me was the core of what Brad brought to that.
CA: How much freedom were you given in making those "editorial decisions"?
CK: I was given a lot of freedom, because I said "alright, how many pages do you want it to be'? And they said "it doesn't matter". So I thought "alright!" and I just kinda took it from there.
It actually was a lot more work than it probably looks because it was like, "Alright, we have to start with this panel and this is the dialogue that Brad has…that'll work, that'll work, that won't work, that won't work." And what really visually and formally brought it all together was the lettering by Todd Klein. Honestly, I thought "I don't see how he's going to pull this off" and he really did!
CA: What source materials were you given to work with? Did you have high quality scans of the original printing of the issue? Did you have access to any original art proofs or anything?
CK: I had access to whatever they had, but what I ended up doing was taking an issue of Famous First Editions and just scanning it myself. It's funny, scanning is actually a very personal thing, and whenever I give something to an assistant to scan, I usually just end up re-doing it myself. There's a lot of little decisions you make, during and after the scan to try and make it look as good as possible.
But really, you asked what were the resource materials… Frankly, my issue of Famous First Editions: Detective #27, and Brad's script, and that was that.
CA: Now, this is the latest in a long line of Batman projects you've worked on… You wrote and designed Batman: Collected, you put together Bat-Manga, you did Death By Design, there's the Batman: Black & White story with Michael Cho, and you did design work for a number of other books and comics. You might actually be tied with Michael Uslan for title of #1 Batfan.
CK: He probably wins. [laughs] I love him, he's a friend, and I would defer to him. And he's also - I will also say, he's not a generation older than me, but he's older enough. He's got enough years on me that he was old enough to negotiate the license in perpetuity, I guess, to produce Batman films… Once you do that, especially when nobody thinks you'll be able to get anywhere with it, that kind of gives you ultimate fandom status.
CA: So what is it about Batman that's so appealing for you? You've also done other DC books: DC Comics: 365 Days, that amazing Jack Cole/Plastic Man book, and a few others, but Batman seems to be the character you keep on returning to.
CK: Well, the interesting question for me as a fan and a writer and a designer is: can I bring something new to this and if so, what is it" And whether it's from an archaeological point of view…like the Batman in Japan book was really important to me. That was unearthing and bringing to light this really great, completely unexplored chapter in the history of the character.
It's been on the table to do another Batman graphic novel and I'm trying to figure out, OK, what is it? Because I don't want to do it just for the sake of doing it, I want to do it because I can think of something new to say, that the editorial department thinks is good.
CA: Have you ever had the urge to actually tell stories with other DC characters? It seems like there's automatic graphic design possibilities inherent in a lot of those characters and their superpowers, and you could really bring something interesting to them.
CK: I think as a designer, I'm very much…well, first of all, I'm a wait-to-be-asked kind of guy. I'm terrible at pitching stuff. Dan DiDio literally said to me, "You should do a Batman graphic novel for us, think of something." So once I get that kind of directive, then that gives me a goal to shoot for. So if they said to me, you know what? "Do an Atom story", that gives me a goal to strive for. But in the meantime, A) I've got a ton of other stuff to do, and B) I don't know. The whole blank canvas thing is very difficult for me.
CA: So how do you make that switch, when you're doing something like Death By Design, or your original novels? When you're not working as much in the design capacity of "problem-solving"?
CK: You have to create the problem, and that can be really difficult. It's like, "Alright, I have to create a problem in order to solve it"… Which is actually a rather unnatural thing when you think about it.
CA: What other projects do you have on the horizon? You mentioned possibly another Batman graphic novel…
CK: I'm working on a book about graphic design for the TED Conference people. I'm doing a new book on the art of Charles Schulz, which should be out in a year. And I'm working (design-wise) on a comic series for DC that I'm not allowed to talk about yet!