Chris Ware and Chip Kidd discuss Ware's brilliant new book, Rusty Brown—and their philosophies on comics and life.
Chip Kidd has never been bashful about his admiration of Chris Ware’s work.
As Ware told Publisher’s Weekly, “Chip called me one day out of nowhere, offering endless and embarrassing words of kind praise for the first three issues of my comic The Acme Novelty Library, and invited me to design an invitation for a talk he was giving. He paid me $1,000—at that point more than I’d ever been paid for anything—and wrote ‘nude modeling’ in the memo line of the check to embarrass me when I deposited it at the bank. We’ve been very close friends ever since.”
Kidd, entrenched at Pantheon, brought Ware’s brilliant opus Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth to the publisher in 1999 (dubbing Ware “the James Joyce of comics,” and Jimmy Corrigan his “Ulysses”). The book would go on to win a slew of awards, including a Harvey and an Eisner, and become Ware’s breakout, with the author going on to create such works as Building Stories, and his latest, the acclaimed Rusty Brown.
Kidd, meanwhile, had become a design pillar over the years for his jacket work—from the iconic Jurassic Park cover that defined the book and film series to his covers for Cormac McCarthy and Huraki Murakami—and for his own books, including Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, The Cheese Monkeys, The Learners, Batman: Death by Design and more. Dubbed “a pioneer in book cover art” by Booklist and “the closest thing to a rock star” in design by USA Today, his impact on the field and its evolution cannot be understated.
In the latest episode of Design Matters With Debbie Millman, these two minds converge and converse—making us, and anyone who has ever read one of their books, profoundly thankful that Kidd found his way to Knopf as a junior assistant in 1986 and that Ware posed for Kidd’s veritable figure-drawing class so many years ago.
To ring in the episode, here are 19 stray strands of their wisdom—clues to their personalities that interlock like puzzle pieces.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief
“As an art of reproduction, comics always returns to its status as trash, which I think is key to its being seen clearly and read critically; it has none of the innate prestige of writing or painting and so has to earn its stature on its own terms, every time.” —Chris Ware
“I’m no expert on haiku poetry, but it is a very, very strict form of getting a lot of information and emotion across in a very minimal, crystallized way, and I think the front of a book cover also does that.” —Chip Kidd
“I don’t think of myself as an illustrator. I think of myself as a cartoonist. I write the story with pictures—I don’t illustrate the story with the pictures.” —Chris Ware
“My job was to ask this question: ‘What do the stories look like?’ Because that is what Knopf is. It is the story factory, one of the very best in the world. We bring stories to the public.” —Chip Kidd
“Comics are the art of memory, and every word, picture, gesture, idea, aim, regret, etc. that's gone into the story has somehow filtered through my recollection and selectivity, so it's all somehow autobiographical.” —Chris Ware
“Clarity or mystery? I'm balancing these two things in my daily work as a graphic designer, as well as my daily life as a New Yorker every day, and they’re two elements that absolutely fascinate me.” —Chip Kidd
“For the reader as well as the artist, comics are already something of a paper mirror.” —Chris Ware
“I just observe what people are doing, and I do something else. I go against it. This is one of the things one of my teachers at school told me: Find out what everyone in the class is doing, and then do something completely different. And that has always made perfect sense to me.” —Chip Kidd
“One of the most valuable things one of my teachers said to me was, ‘Don’t be upset by criticism. Value the fact that at least someone noticed what you did.’” —Chris Ware
“She said: ‘No one’s ever done a book to teach graphic design to kids. I think someone should do it and I think it should be you.’ I was utterly floored. I said: ‘I don’t know anything about kids. I don’t know how to talk to them effectively. I don’t have them. I don’t even like them. This puts me out of my comfort zone. And so I’ll give it a shot.’” —Chip Kidd
“I knew Rusty Brown would be a long book, but as in the embarrassing cases of my other experiments, I never thought it would go on as
long as it has, or metastasize into such a sprawling mess. Then again, sprawling messes are what I aim for, since they most accurately reflect real life.” —Chris Ware
“Graphic design, if you wield it effectively, is power. Power to transmit ideas that change everything. Power that can destroy an entire race or save a nation from despair. In this century, Germany chose to do the former with the swastika, and America opted for the latter with Mickey Mouse and Superman.” —Chip Kidd
“I very much believe that one of the most important things we can do is to try as hard as we can to imagine other people’s lives, with the ultimate aim of understanding and empathizing with everyone we possibly can. We already do this unconsciously when we dream, or consciously when some jerk cuts us off on the highway, but fiction can act as an assisting rudder; books can’t tell us how to live, but they can help us get better at imagining how to live.” —Chris Ware
“‘Jurassic Park.’ That will be the first line of my obituary, and I’m extremely proud of that. I have absolutely no regrets.” —Chip Kidd
“At a recent conference with my daughter’s teacher, I expressed my frustration with the increasing lack of time for her to draw in school, and her teacher said that the new Common Core standards not only didn’t include it, they didn’t allow for any extra time for what are considered ‘non-literate’ endeavors. … I’ve encouraged her to still take one of her sketchbooks to school regardless of what her teacher says. Maybe it’s even good to have something to ‘work against’ at her young age.” —Chris Ware
“Would I design a cover for Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly? Absolutely not! It’s one thing to design a cover for a novel that’s not Ulysses, it’s another to design a cover for a book that basically teaches people to think like an asshole.” —Chip Kidd
"I was listening to a lot of Brahms at the time—sorry, this sounds so pretentious, but it's true—and I remember feeling that I wanted to produce that sensation on the page, with a large image, and then something much more lyrical and textural, and then into a sweeping passage, and then focusing down into a point. I feel that music does that better than anything; it captures that weird sensation of writing one’s thoughts, that course of consciousness." —Chris Ware
“Just do the best possible work you can do, and then, whether that’s going to change the world or not, is kind of up to the world.” —Chip Kidd
“Of course I’m writing for people who are not born yet. Why else would you make anything?” —Chris Ware