“Penis!” It was the first thing out of the book designer Chip Kidd’s mouth, and without a moment’s hesitation. He and Gary Panter had just been asked: if you could create a magazine of your own, what would you call it? The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse designer was more circumspect, eventually considering the title “Smurfy Beaver Shots.”
The scene was a University of Southern California campus auditorium last month. The event was “Shelf Life 2,” subtitled “A Big Day for Small Press.” It was an all-day, open-air gathering of independent publishers, writers, artists, and designers. There were about 80 bazaar tables, staffed by the likes of Robbie Conal, Lou Beach, J.T. Steiny, Rick Klotz of Fresh Jive, David Mayes of Typecraft, V. Vale of Re/Search, and Billy Shire of Wacko. There were also workshops in storytelling, silkscreening, and Surrealist collage.
Chip began his presentation by mocking the notion that a festival honoring modest little publications should invite an art director at Random House, the most ginormous publisher in the universe, as a featured speaker. And so he continued with his smart, snappy Kidd-ing. Among the highlights was his talk about covers for Vertical, Inc., which specializes in contemporary books translated from Japanese, ones they consider “good reads with universal themes.”
When I asked Chip about his experience working for a relatively small press he replied, “The difference with Vertical is that there was no pressure to make the books look like ‘big best-sellers,’ which is a myth anyway. It was very freeing, very refreshing. I had a blast making designs for them.”
So here: have a blast looking at them, and imagining the stories they might contain.