Chip Kidd lives out his comic book fantasy

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You e-mail Chip Kidd one minute, he's on the phone the next. The man who is known for his aesthetic sensibilities loves to talk, and he's becoming known for that almost as much as he as a graphic designer, writer and editor. Mr. Kidd will hold a sold-out lecture at the The Andy Warhol Museum Friday to discuss his work and that of his colleague, the title artist in the exhibition "Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross."

In the phone conversation on Tuesday, he gave a sneak preview of his topics, including writing a Batman graphic novel for DC Comics.

Mr. Kidd is best known for his book covers during 25 years as a designer and associate art director for the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. In October, The New York Times noted his YouTube trailer for the design of the book "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami. In the video, you may notice the Batman toy in the background, and if you're a real fanboy or fangirl, you already are familiar with Mr. Kidd's "Batman Collected" and "Bat-Manga." His books include an award-winning exploration of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts gang and the best-selling novel "The Cheese Monkeys," plus two collections featuring Mr. Ross' artwork.

One of Mr. Kidd's topics on Friday will be his current project, writing and designing the graphic novel "Batman: Death by Design." It came about because he was talking.

He was in the role of interviewer with award-winning writer Neil Gaiman ("Sandman," "Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?") for the 92nd Street Y lecture series in 2009, and his knowledge of the Caped Crusader flowed.

After the interview, DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio approached as he walked off the stage.

"He told me he hadn't known I had so much knowledge of Batman, and he said, 'You should do a Batman story for us.' I froze. I said, 'You can't say that unless you really mean it.' "

Now he's working with illustrator Dave Taylor on the graphic novel that is due out in late spring/early summer next year, around the same time that the Pittsburgh-filmed "The Dark Knight" will be in theaters.

His 1930s-era story, which has nothing to do with "The Dark Knight," and the form it would take was a long time coming. "You would think I had some great burning Batman saga keeping me awake all through my adolescence, but I didn't. One thing I had was knowledge, so it became a question, what could I bring to this? Then the title popped into my head."

With the story under way, he got to fulfill a comic-book lover's fantasy.

Mr. Kidd, who wears distinctive, round eyeglasses and dresses in bright, bold patterns, says "I've gotten to do one thing I've wanted to do since I was 2, and that was I made myself into a character in the book."

The cover image of "Batman: Death by Design," and some of the images on illustrator Taylor's website, show a sketchy black-and-white world.

"I basically set the tone for the way it should look, so it was about a lot more than just plot, characters, etc. It has to have a certain feel to it, a certain milieu," said Mr. Kidd.

On his website, illustrator Taylor wrote, "I can't wait for this book to be published because I genuinely think it's my best work. Thanks to Chip, I had to become a better artist."


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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