Chip Kidd—award-winning designer, musician, author, and all around rock star—joins for his fifth time to talk about his recent projects and so much more.
Debbie Millman (00:00:00):
Chip Kidd has been on the podcast before. Four times, actually. I went back to the archives and counted. He’s been on to talk about a novel he wrote. He’s been on to talk about the fabulous book covers he’s been designing at Knopf for decades. He’s been on with Chris Ware to talk about graphic novels.
Debbie Millman (00:00:19):
More recently, he’s been on to talk about his book, Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. That book is now out in paperback, and there’s so much more to talk about like his Batman exhibits, and his cameo in the last Star Wars movie, just to mention, two of his latest projects. Chip Kidd, welcome back to Design Matters.
Chip Kidd (00:00:44):
Thank you so much. I can’t believe you wanted me back again, but I-
Debbie Millman (00:00:48):
Chip Kidd (00:00:50):
I’m so grateful, and I just want to say thank you for creating Design Matters. What an incredible, incredible achievement. It’s just-
Debbie Millman (00:01:01):
Chip Kidd (00:01:01):
Yeah. Thank you. And I’m proud to call you my friend.
Debbie Millman (00:01:03):
Oh, Chip, you know that I call you my brother.
Chip Kidd (00:01:07):
Well, all right. Then, that-
Debbie Millman (00:01:10):
You’re my family.
Chip Kidd (00:01:10):
I’m proud to call you my sister then.
Debbie Millman (00:01:12):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And hi there, Mrs. Kidd.
Chip Kidd (00:01:15):
Debbie Millman (00:01:16):
Chip, I want to start by asking you about something that I seem to have missed in our four previous interviews, which I’ve subsequently regretted, and wanted to ask you about now. You designed the original Jurassic Park book cover in 1990, which subsequently was used in the 1993 movie directed by Steven Spielberg.
Debbie Millman (00:01:40):
And since then, that same logo has been part of the five additional movies. The most recent being the blockbuster summer hit Jurassic World Dominion. It’s also on thousands, if not millions of merchandising and promotional items. Is it true that the original Jurassic Park book logo was really dark green?
Chip Kidd (00:02:07):
Oh, yeah. First of all, just to clarify, the original book jacket is just the typography and then the drawing of the dinosaur. And the drawing of the dinosaur, which I did both, but the drawing of the dinosaur is what they used for the logo. So, the lettering is by somebody else and all of that.
Debbie Millman (00:02:25):
Okay. Yes. We must be accurate about every bit of the credit.
Chip Kidd (00:02:28):
Yeah, I think so.
Debbie Millman (00:02:29):
Chip Kidd (00:02:31):
But yes, I don’t know what I was thinking with a couple things with that cover. The drop shadow on his name, why is it there?
Debbie Millman (00:02:42):
Chip Kidd (00:02:43):
Maybe somebody had said his name needs to pop more or something. But yeah, from a distance, the dinosaur looks like it’s black. But then when you get up real close to a first edition in the unforgiving light of day, you can see that it’s a dark green. And I think what I was thinking was something about primordial ooze. Yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:03:09):
What is the strangest thing you’ve seen the logo on?
Chip Kidd (00:03:13):
A human body.
Debbie Millman (00:03:15):
Chip Kidd (00:03:15):
Oh sure. Yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:03:16):
So, people have tattooed.
Chip Kidd (00:03:17):
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:03:18):
I thought you were going to say something about the toaster. I know there’s a Jurassic Park toaster.
Chip Kidd (00:03:23):
Well, which you were so sweet to give me. They made a toaster that upon putting the piece of bread in and pushing the button, when it pops up, the logo is on it. And I will admit, I have it in the box, but I haven’t opened the box.
Debbie Millman (00:03:39):
It’s probably worth more not opening it.
Chip Kidd (00:03:46):
The kind of guy I am, but yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:03:46):
All of the history of the logo and the identity is now shared in another new book that’s come out about Jurassic Park that actually has been published by Topps, the card company.
Chip Kidd (00:04:01):
It’s actually been published by Abrams.
Debbie Millman (00:04:04):
Chip Kidd (00:04:04):
But Abrams publishes these… and they’re beautifully done, these collections of Topps collector cards. So, they’ve done Star Wars, and Wacky Packages and Mars Invades. So, then, they were going to do Jurassic Park, and the editor of this series is my dear friend, Charlie Kochman at Abrams. And he suggested, I guess, to Topps and including Universal, that I write an afterward.
Chip Kidd (00:04:32):
And so, I did, and they had to vet everything. And I basically just explain again how this happened with photographic evidence, and they published it. So, for me, it’s a very meaningful hallmark for me because it’s the first time that Universal Pictures is acknowledging that I did this because I’m never in the movie credits and-
Debbie Millman (00:05:02):
Haven’t received a penny of the proceeds.
Chip Kidd (00:05:02):
That is certainly true. So, there it is. It’s in print with the stamp of approval by Universal Pictures. I’m glad that it’s at least acknowledged that way. I did two Ted talks and the first Ted talk was basically like, this is who I am and this is what I do. And I very much wanted to make creating Jurassic Park a big part of that because I want this… I was going to say I want to own it. I want to own the fact that I did it.
Debbie Millman (00:05:38):
Absolutely, as you should. It’s one of the most recognizable logos of the 20th century. And now, it’s continuing into the 21st. It’s so interesting that they rebooted the movie. They rebooted it with all new actors, only in this third movie are Laura Dern and some of the rest of the cast back. But the logo has been there-
Chip Kidd (00:05:59):
But the logo is the same.
Debbie Millman (00:06:00):
… for all six movies. That’s incredible.
Chip Kidd (00:06:02):
It is. It’s amazing.
Debbie Millman (00:06:03):
Even the Star Wars logo has changed a bit over the years. But the Jurassic Park logo hasn’t.
Chip Kidd (00:06:08):
Debbie Millman (00:06:09):
And the new book is really beautiful. One thing I found in my research that I didn’t see in any of the previous times that I’ve interviewed you is a fax that Michael Creighton actually sent to Sonny Mehta, which it has the normal heading of a fax, the to, from, the date, et cetera. And then, in giant typewritten letters, it says, “Wow, fantastic jacket.” And I thought that was pretty cool too.
Chip Kidd (00:06:38):
Yeah. Boy, those were the days, faxes.
Debbie Millman (00:06:40):
Faxes. Chip, you were born in Shillington, Berks County in Pennsylvania. And I know as a child, you were enthralled by pop culture. And I love to remind you that in the prologue to your first monograph, you stated, “I did not grow up yearning to become a book designer. What I wanted to be was Chris Partridge on The Partridge Family.”
Chip Kidd (00:07:05):
Debbie Millman (00:07:06):
I still don’t understand why you were so fascinated with Chris, especially since two actors played the same character.
Chip Kidd (00:07:13):
I know. And that was fascinating too.
Debbie Millman (00:07:14):
What was it about Chris that enthralled you so?
Chip Kidd (00:07:17):
I wanted to be a drummer, and that I did sort of become. But the idea that he’s eight years old or whatever it is, and he’s the drummer of this band. I was just obsessed with that show.
Debbie Millman (00:07:32):
I was, too.
Chip Kidd (00:07:33):
And the music was so good. In that sense, it was sort of like The Monkees. It would be so easy to write it off, but the music was terrific.
Debbie Millman (00:07:42):
Yeah. I think the music actually holds up. I think Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque is one of their great unsung hits that deserves a lot more recognition. I loved that show. There was something about the dynamic of this family without a dad, with-
Chip Kidd (00:08:02):
Which they never talk about.
Debbie Millman (00:08:04):
Never, never. With these little kids being part of a big band. I had a massive crush on Susan Dey, but I also had a bit of a crush on Danny Bonaduce as well. I love them all. Bobby Sherman, still to this day. I love Bobby Sherman.
Chip Kidd (00:08:21):
Debbie Millman (00:08:23):
Your mom was very supportive of your interests. And I think in many ways was the catalyst to a lot of what you ended up loving. I know she made you Batman costumes every year for Halloween. And talk about how she influenced your thinking about cartoons, and comics, and characters.
Chip Kidd (00:08:48):
Well, it was my mom and my dad. Actually, when it came to the cartoon characters, it was much more dad than mom. Because he wasn’t trying to taunt my brother and I, but he would tell us that he had Superman #1. He had the Superman #1 comic and the Batman #1 comic.
Chip Kidd (00:09:07):
And he had all this stuff when he was a kid, but then it all got tossed into the paper drive for World War II. But he was a terrific cartoonist who pursued chemical engineering instead. But I remember going up into the attic in the house that I grew up in, and just poking around, and I would find his old chemistry textbooks, and he would have cartoons in the margins.
Chip Kidd (00:09:34):
And I was just fascinated by that. I think the difference between my parents and me is that I felt I could pursue an actual career doing something creative. Whereas, I think for them, they were much more pragmatic. Like I said, my dad was a chemical engineer. My mom was what used to be called a personnel manager, which we now called human resources.
Chip Kidd (00:10:02):
And they both did creative things on the side for fun. And I wanted to do a creative thing as my main job, hopefully, for fun that hopefully, to get a salary. My mom, her brilliant creative thing was she was a seamstress. When we were really little, she would make our clothes, my brother and I, brother Walt. And she would make our clothes, and there would be these little junior league fashion shows.
Chip Kidd (00:10:29):
And we’re like three and five years old, tramping down the runway in these little onesies that she made, and it’s so funny. But yeah, then when we went to elementary school for Halloween every year, my brother and I would think up what we wanted to be. And for about, I’d say five to eight years, they would figure out what we wanted to be.
Chip Kidd (00:10:54):
It was Batman and Robin right away. Then, for me, Captain America, Zorro, Captain Marvel, the DC Captain Marvel, my brother wanted to be Hawkman one year. There were these dolls, the silver knight and the gold knight. They were like GI Joes, but they were knights, and had all this armor, and he wanted to be, I think, the gold knight. So, they were very nurturing, and loving, and sweet in this regard. Yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:11:26):
You recently gave one of the costumes to Anderson Cooper, talk about why, and the worldwide sensation that that costume has become.
Chip Kidd (00:11:41):
Well, I thank you. You’re exaggerating a little bit.
Debbie Millman (00:11:46):
Chip Kidd (00:11:47):
I had designed book jackets for Anderson’s mother, Gloria Vanderbilt for what seemed like forever, since 1991. And that came about because she was published by Knopf. And somehow, her jackets started getting assigned to me, and that’s how I got to meet her. And she was just amazing, and fascinating, and sweet, but this window into this whole other world.
Chip Kidd (00:12:19):
One of the book covers that I designed for her was called A Mother’s Story, which was her memoir of her older son with Wyatt Cooper taking his own life. I was just tremendously affected by that. And so, through the years, she would make a book, and I would do the cover. And then, Anderson was publishing his first memoir, which was just after Katrina.
Chip Kidd (00:12:45):
And he wasn’t out yet. And it was published by HarperCollins. So, for me, that was a freelance job, and that’s how I met him. And he was just amazing. I went to his office at CNN, and I’ll never forget he had a mouse pad that was the Wonder Twins from Super Friends, Zan and Jayna, shape of this and form of that. And I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s the Wonder Twins.”
Chip Kidd (00:13:13):
He’s like, “You know what the wonder twins are?” I said, “Yes, I love the Wonder Twins.” So, I did the cover of that book. And then, in the middle of the pandemic, I got an email from him. I think it was like June 2020, that he was going to be working on a history of his family, The Vanderbilts. And it was going to be the Schwartz and all thing.
Chip Kidd (00:13:45):
And he was inspired to do it because he had conceived a child through a surrogate, Wyatt. So, long story short, I did the cover. He really liked it. He sent me this text video of him with the book. I hadn’t seen it. And he wanted me to do the end papers too. And I made it coordinate with the jacket and all this stuff.
Chip Kidd (00:14:08):
And he was all excited, and I wrote to him and I said, “Could I come by your house, and meet Wyatt, and get you to sign a book for me?” And he said, “Sure.” And then, I started thinking, I have a couple of bits of these costumes that survived over the years, amazingly, that my mom made.
Chip Kidd (00:14:31):
I have the Batman cape, and I have the Robin tunic, but I had this other blue cape that was… I’m pretty sure it was used for my brother’s gold knight costume. But it looks like a Batman cape. And I thought I’m going to take this and give it to him then. And then, I had this vintage Batman, Japanese, 1966, like a Halloween mask, but it’s for a little kid. It’s small. And I thought I’m going to bring that too.
Chip Kidd (00:15:00):
And so, I did, and it was just the most lovely experience, but hilariously, I thought… and he starts filming, and there’s the nanny there. It’s like, that’s it. It’s like us three or four. I’m wanting to take pictures, but I’m thinking this is a private thing. But he starts taking pictures, and he starts taking little movies and stuff. And I said-
Debbie Millman (00:15:27):
And so, the baby is in the actual costume and he’s-
Chip Kidd (00:15:32):
Yes, he’s in the mask and the cape. There’s something about capes. And by, I guess last fall, he would’ve been 18 months. So, you’d put the cape on him, and then he’s just running around. There’s just something magical about that that I think literally empowers a child. For whatever reason, I don’t know. But he starts filming that. And then, I’d like, “Can I?” He’s like, “Sure.”
Chip Kidd (00:15:55):
So, I start filming and taking pictures. And then, he signed a book for me, and he signed a book for my mom, and we just had a lovely, I don’t know, it was like an hour, hour and a half. And I just thought that was just a lovely private thing. And I’m going to have to figure out a way to tell my mom, but I’m just going to wait because I knew, and Debbie, you know my mom.
Chip Kidd (00:16:23):
As soon as I tell her, she’s going to want to get on a bus, and come up to New York, and see little white… and I should say in the past, I was supposed to have lunch with Gloria. I believe it was the fall of 2016. And Gloria had suffered a fall, and she couldn’t do it. And so, she wrote to me, “I’m so sorry.”
Chip Kidd (00:16:46):
And Anderson wrote to me and said, “Look, I’m really sorry that she can’t do it, but is there anything that I could do?” And my mom and my aunt Syl were coming to New York. So, we were his guest at CNN for two hours. He’s just the best. He is exactly what you see on TV. He’s just a great, great guy.
Chip Kidd (00:17:10):
But anyway, so I just thought, I’m going to tell my mom, but I was just putting it off because I’m sure she was going to call the local paper and have them put it on page one. And so, the following week, my mom goes to this meeting of… she’s on one of these committees for the local symphony, for the Redding symphony, it’s the lady’s committee or whatever they call it.
Chip Kidd (00:17:34):
And one of these women said, “Well, that’s really something about Anderson giving the cape that you made for Chip to his little boy.” And my mom is like, “What are you talking about?” The previous day, he had gone on CBS Sunday Morning. I think it was Gayle King said, “What are you going to do? Are you going to take him out for Halloween?”
Chip Kidd (00:17:59):
And he said, “I’m not sure, but if we do, I have the perfect costume.” And he told the whole story. And so, that cat was out of the bag. And then, he told it again on Drew Barry Moore. And he told it again on Stephen Colbert. And I just-
Debbie Millman (00:18:15):
Your mom is now getting orders for little Batman costumes.
Chip Kidd (00:18:18):
No, I got the biggest kick out of it. But I should add, that evening after I had given him that stuff, he texted me and he’s like, “Are you sure you want to give this away? Because if you want it back, I will totally understand.” And I said, “This means so much to me that you have this and that he has it.” And I said, “Oh, and by the way,” and I sent him a couple other pictures of the stuff that I still do have.
Debbie Millman (00:18:45):
Well, it’s giving whole new life to these wonderful things that were handmade with lots and lots of love.
Chip Kidd (00:18:51):
Debbie Millman (00:18:53):
Talk about your love of Batman. You’ve been called a bat maniac, which I’d never heard. I’d never heard that term until I did the research for this show. What fuels it? What fuels that passion?
Chip Kidd (00:19:06):
I feel at this point, it’s such a universal thing. But I think the gateway drug was the Adam West 1966 TV show. And the fact that I have a brother who was two years older, I think I was two when the show came out. So, he would’ve been four. We were the perfect audience for it at the perfect time.
Chip Kidd (00:19:29):
And it was just so mesmerizing as a kid, and exciting, and like this crazy other world where they… I think it’s the escapist aspect of it. And part of that is that he’s a billionaire. You start to fantasize, like it would cost money to be Batman to do it properly with the car and all of that. And then, as I was growing up, there were all these other… the show came and went. That was pretty quick.
Chip Kidd (00:20:03):
But then, the comic books really picked up on the much darker origins of the strip. And DC Comics was very good about constantly reprinting the original stories. So, that was a revelation to me, that it was dark, and scary, and the Joker was really scary, and killing people in mysterious ways, and announcing it on the radio, and just fascinating. And I don’t know, I just never got over it.
Debbie Millman (00:20:36):
Which is your favorite Batman portrayal? Aside from Adam West.
Chip Kidd (00:20:40):
Right. The cop out answer is the voice actor, Kevin Conroy, on the animated series. I think he’s near perfect. I think in terms of the movie portrayals, it’s just so hard to say, because at this point, there’re so many. I was very impressed with Robert Pattinson, I would say, yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:21:03):
Yeah. My nephew too. He’s-
Chip Kidd (00:21:04):
I was impressed with him, and I thought the costume was great. Yeah. And this is a whole other geeky discussion. I think Christian Bale was the best Bruce Wayne. Again, I love the millionaire playboy carefree aspect of that. So, that’s his disguise that you would never guess that he was this other thing. And they did away with that in the most recent movie. And I wasn’t so crazy about that.
Debbie Millman (00:21:31):
You recently curated an art show at Artspace in Louisiana titled Batman: Black and White. And it features an extraordinary selection of over 150 original Batman drawings that you commissioned from artists, including Alex Ross, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Ross Chest, even Gloria Vanderbilt.
Debbie Millman (00:21:53):
And the project really began back in 2012. When DC comics invited you to write a story for their Batman: Black and White anthology comics title, which was based on their hugely popular 1996 publication, how did it grow into an exhibit of this significance?
Chip Kidd (00:22:14):
It was a total accident, and I don’t know how easy this… or effectively I can explain this on a podcast. But basically, when issue number one that had my story in it came out, by then, I think it was October 13. It was New York Comic-Con, and they issued it with different covers. And one of the covers is what’s called a blank variant.
Chip Kidd (00:22:40):
So, it’s this uncoded card stock cover that is just blank white, except it has the logo of the comic on it. And the idea was, is they do it to this day, you get that version, and you go to a convention, or you go to a show, or you go to whatever where there’s artists, and wait in line, and get Neal Adams to draw on it, or get your favorite artist to draw on it.
Chip Kidd (00:23:09):
And so, as is my temperament, I became completely obsessed. I started buying these things up on eBay, just thinking of like, “Who?” And it was a really interesting exercise. And first of all, there had been people who I wanted to draw a Batman for me for a long, long time who don’t normally draw a Batman.
Debbie Millman (00:23:31):
Chip Kidd (00:23:32):
Well, Art Spiegelman, this Dutch cartoonist, Joost Swarte. So, a lot of the raw artists, Charles Burns, Kim Deitch, Gary Panter. It was this strange opportunity to at least tug on their sleeve and say, “Would you do this?” And 165 people said yes.
Debbie Millman (00:23:54):
Isn’t that incredible?
Chip Kidd (00:23:55):
Debbie Millman (00:23:56):
What surprised you most as you were collecting these pieces of art from these extraordinary artists?
Chip Kidd (00:24:05):
What surprised me the most? Well, what surprised me is what they’ve come up with. Some people would say, “What do you want?” And then, others would have some crazy idea that they just wanted to do. One of the most recent ones that I got over the pandemic is by this amazing artist who goes by R. Kikuo Johnson. He’s just a brilliant illustrator.
Chip Kidd (00:24:29):
And he does covers for The New Yorker, and he just released a new graphic novel. He uses a very clear line, and I had been wanting to get in touch with him for years to try and publish a graphic novel by him at Pantheon. Finally, he did a cover for The New Yorker called Waiting. And it’s this sole Asian woman alone. I don’t know if you remember it, on the subway track, looking at her watch.
Chip Kidd (00:24:54):
With this furtive look on her face like, “Train, please get here now.” And it was just so timely and moving. And that’s what finally nudged me to like, “Come on, get ahold of this guy.” But he’s like, “Yeah. All right. I actually have an idea for that.” So, I’ve sent him the book with a return slip, and it’s brilliant.
Chip Kidd (00:25:20):
So, Batman is laying on his back, and he’s trapped by this giant chicken that has the Joker’s head on it that’s menacing him. And it’s brilliantly done, but it’s like, “Where the hell did that come from?” What does this mean? And he’s just like, “I’ve just always been fascinated by this idea.”
Debbie Millman (00:25:46):
Interesting. Well, that’s what makes him the brilliant genius he is.
Chip Kidd (00:25:51):
He is. He is, indeed.
Debbie Millman (00:25:52):
There was also a rather risqué cover of Batman and Robin kissing.
Chip Kidd (00:25:58):
Yes. That’s Art Spiegelman.
Debbie Millman (00:26:00):
Talk about that, if you can.
Chip Kidd (00:26:01):
That’s a reference to his, I guess, infamous New Yorker cover where he has the Hasidic man kissing the African-American woman. Plus, he did it in color. That was the interesting thing. If people wanted to do things in color, that was fine with me.
Debbie Millman (00:26:17):
You’ve written extensively about Batman, your books about the Cape Crusader include Batman Collected, Batman Animated, which garnered two of the comic book industry’s highest awards, the Eisner Awards and Batman: The Complete History. Do you anticipate a Batman: Black and White will also become a book?
Chip Kidd (00:26:37):
I would love that, but the problem is it would be a permissions nightmare. I’ve actually pursued it. It got as far as somebody at DC had drawn up a release form, I got a bunch of the artists to sign it, but there was a bunch of them that would not sign it. They’re like, “If you want to use this in a book, fine, but there’s no way…” because I can’t remember what the release language was.
Chip Kidd (00:27:01):
But it was basically, the artist can’t republish it without DC’s permission, and DC can’t republish their art without their permission. One day, I will try and self-publish it just so that it exists, but that would be a lot of work. But I’d really like to do that.
Debbie Millman (00:27:18):
Yeah. I think it should be. It should be made, or maybe a catalog from the shows.
Chip Kidd (00:27:23):
Debbie Millman (00:27:24):
Batman is not the only comic character you have worked with. You have also designed the trilogy, Superman: The Complete History and Wonder Woman: The Complete History for Chronicle Books, several books about the art of Alex Ross, which are magnificent, Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, and so many more. One of your upcoming projects is a book titled Spider-Man: Panel by Panel. Tell us about that.
Chip Kidd (00:27:55):
Well, that is going to be again, that’s Abrams and my friend, Charlie Kochman, who made the connection, because it all has to be sanctioned by Marvel. Spider-Man first appeared in a comic book called Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. And that was an immediate hit. And then, Spider-Man #1 quickly followed. And so, what we’re doing is a photographic reexamination of both of them.
Chip Kidd (00:28:29):
So, going super close up with the camera because by now, my God, a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 just sold for like $3 million. It’s just insane to try and find original. But Charlie hunted down or found a collector, who had this that had not sealed it in Plexiglas, who allowed us to photograph it. So, it will allow the fans to see what it was like to have this comic book in 1962 up close.
Chip Kidd (00:29:01):
It’s almost like you’re under the covers in your bedroom with a flashlight looking at it. That’s the kind of effect. And plus, some mysterious donor had the original art by Steve Ditko to the Spider-Man origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15, and donated it to the Library of Congress. They were going to allow us to photograph it, but COVID restrictions prevented that, but they’re photographing it to our specification. So, you’ll get to see the original art, which is always so fascinating.
Debbie Millman (00:29:36):
Speaking of original art, in 2019, you collaborated with JJ Abrams, different from Abrams book publisher, JJ Abrams, the man on the comic Spiderman #1, which featured a unique die cut. How did that project come about? And how did you go about making that cover?
Chip Kidd (00:29:58):
JJ is a friend. Well, he hired me through Paramount Pictures to do a print campaign for a movie that he was producing called Morning Glory. And this was quite some time ago. The movie didn’t do much business, but the experience was great, and the print campaign turned out really well. And we became friends from that.
Chip Kidd (00:30:22):
And he and his son, one of his sons, Henry, I guess pitched to Marvel, we want to do our own take on Spider-Man, and it’ll be six issues long. The first one had three or four variants, and they asked me to do one of the variants. And so, I researched what had been done before in terms of really zooming in on the Spider-Man mask, and the classic eye.
Chip Kidd (00:30:48):
And so, I decided to do that, but I wanted to see if they would allow a die cut whole so that when you open it up, there’s something else revealed underneath. I did what you’re really not supposed to do as a freelancer. I sent it to JJ first, before sending it to Marvel. And so, he fell in love with it, and Marvel didn’t want to spend the money because it’s extra money.
Chip Kidd (00:31:13):
And JJ insisted. And so, he prevailed, and it totally sold out. And so, then the Marvel art director approached me and said, “Well, actually, we’re doing a new Wolverine #1, and we’re doing a new Spider-Woman #1, can you do die cut covers for those?”
Debbie Millman (00:31:31):
One of the most unique things about you is how you’re able to make things happen through the sheer will and creativity of your spirit. And one of my favorite stories that I really want you to share with our audience, because it really is about manifesting a reality that you want to make happen is your experience with JJ Abrams, and your cameo in the last Star Wars movie. If there was ever a story about persistence, and grit, and manifesting something that you want more than anything, this is the story.
Chip Kidd (00:32:18):
Well, I have to say, it’s hard for me to talk about this. It’s really a story about a friend helping another friend grieve. So, my wonderful, beautiful husband, Sandy McClatchy had be… we’ve been together for 20 years, and he became ill, and I was a caregiver. And through that time, JJ would write periodically because he had met him, and we had spent time, and how are you doing, and how is he doing?
Chip Kidd (00:32:53):
And so, by the summer of 2018, I was alone. And I got this notion actually from Chris Ware who had visited the set of The Force Awakens. Because when he was over in England getting some sort of award, and they were filming that back then, and Chris had told me about this experience. And I just wrote to JJ out of the blue and said, “You know, actually, I’m going to be in London for a while this fall, could I come by the set, and maybe be a Storm Trooper or something?”
Debbie Millman (00:33:30):
Chip Kidd (00:33:32):
And he wrote, he wrote back and he said, “We’ll figure something out for you. And I’m going to hand you over to my, my AD, Josh, and you can work it out with him.” And so, for two weeks, November into December of 2018, I was on the set in Pinewood, and they’ve thrown together this costume for me. But they also-
Debbie Millman (00:33:58):
So, you weren’t a Storm Trooper, you actually-
Chip Kidd (00:33:59):
No, I wasn’t. Yeah, I wasn’t a Storm Trooper.
Debbie Millman (00:34:01):
You show up on screen as not you, but you know-
Chip Kidd (00:34:03):
Right. I mean-
Debbie Millman (00:34:04):
… your face is Chip Kidds’ face.
Chip Kidd (00:34:07):
I have a beret and a leather trench coat. The thing is if you don’t know to look for me, I’m actually in it three times. But if you don’t know to look for me, blink and you’ll miss it. But I’m in what passes for the Cantina scene, where three of the leads are sneaking through trying to evade Kylo Ren, but it’s Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac, and Anthony Daniels is C-3PO are sneaking through this bar. And as the band is playing, and I’m sitting at the bar chatting with this giant creature thing. And that was just wild.
Debbie Millman (00:34:46):
So, not only did you have this wonderful costume made for you, I know that they also gave you a book to hold.
Chip Kidd (00:34:53):
They gave me a prop book. They took my book, Go, and they made a Star Wars version of it. It was just so touching, the effort that they went to. And that was all JJ.
Debbie Millman (00:35:06):
I know you’ve been a Star Wars fan since you were quite young. And when you were a little boy, you made a Star Wars scrapbook. Talk about that. Why are you laughing?
Chip Kidd (00:35:19):
Yes. I made this scrapbook and it had, for some reason, David Prowse, who was the physical embodiment of Darth Vader, I guess was doing this tour. This was way before Comic-Cons existed. This would’ve been the late 1970s. And he came to our local department store, Boscov’s, and I waited in line, and got him to sign it. And this scrapbook that I had that… it was not a scrapbook, it was a notebook.
Chip Kidd (00:35:46):
It was a spiral notebook that had Darth Vader on the front. And then, I started putting stuff in it. Many years later when I was helping my parents to move, I found it in their storage unit. So, when I went over on the set, I gave it to JJ as a present.
Debbie Millman (00:36:04):
Could you imagine what little Chip Kidd would’ve thought when he was making that scrapbook that one day, you’d end up on not only on the set, but in three scenes in the movie, the final chapter of this-
Chip Kidd (00:36:21):
What can one say?
Debbie Millman (00:36:23):
… nine-film saga?
Chip Kidd (00:36:25):
Debbie Millman (00:36:26):
I know that it’s a hard story in that you were grieving quite terribly during that time. But I also think it’s a really beautiful story about manifesting something that you really want to help your spirit.
Chip Kidd (00:36:42):
Yeah. And something that he was willing to giving.
Debbie Millman (00:36:44):
Yeah. Shows JJs generosity, for sure. I want to talk about Go, but I also want to talk about so many of your other books. You attended Pennsylvania State University where you graduated in 1986 with a degree in graphic design, which you’ve written about in The Cheese Monkeys and in The Learners, your novels. Afterwards, you were hired as a junior assistant designer at Knopf where you still work today all these years later.
Chip Kidd (00:37:12):
Debbie Millman (00:37:13):
In addition to working as the associate art director now, you are also editor at large for their graphic novels division. I think it’s safe to say that you’ve designed over 2,000 book covers, book jackets.
Chip Kidd (00:37:28):
I would think at this point, yeah.
Debbie Millman (00:37:31):
Yeah. Because in our last interview, which was several years ago, it was at the 1,500-, 1,600-mark. So, I was trying to do the math. So, the covers include work for Cormac McCarthy, David Sedaris, Donna Tartt, Whoopi Goldberg, Oliver Sacks, John Updike, James Ellroy, who stated that you are the world’s greatest book jacket designer, and he’s not lying, time out.
Debbie Millman (00:37:53):
New York stated that the history of book design can be split into two eras before graphic designer, Chip Kidd, and after. So, I’d like to talk about some of your recent covers because you really are in a whole new zone now with some of the work that you’re doing, which is magnificent. First, you designed Billy Jean King’s memoir, All In, which immediately became a New York Times bestseller. What was that process like? What is it like to work with these legends, living legends?
Chip Kidd (00:38:22):
Well, I’ll tell you. The process was so different because it was by then, we were in the pandemic. And I was down in a little studio in my apartment. So, it was all virtual. I think had the world not changed, I would’ve been taking meetings with her at the office. And as it was, there was a lot of Zoom. It’s interesting when you work with somebody at that level, they have a team.
Chip Kidd (00:38:55):
And she very much wanted the team involved. And it turned out fine, but it was just a lot of time, talking to this person, and that person, and then explaining why I was doing what I was doing, but she was great. And she knew Charles Schulz, and they were friends. And so, I don’t know, somebody did their homework, and knew that I had that history.
Chip Kidd (00:39:23):
So, I think that helped. The big question was what image of her would we put on the front? And we, as a publisher, really, really wanted a vintage action shot of her on the court. And she was saying, “But that’s not who I am anymore. I’m an activist now. That was 30 years ago, 40 years ago.” And so, you have to listen, no matter who the author is.
Chip Kidd (00:39:57):
You have to listen to them if they have strong ideas about what they want. And so, we tried, I tried a couple of options where, “All right, here you are now on the front, but look at this amazing shot of you nailing this.” And so, she, I guess acquiesced is the word. And so, we put a big photo of her now on the back, and this great action shot on the front. And I think it really did what it was supposed to do.
Debbie Millman (00:40:30):
Rodrigo Corral, another great book designer puts up a lot of rejected covers on his Instagram, which is so interesting to see. Many, many, many times, I think some of the rejected covers are far better than what ended up going to market.
Debbie Millman (00:40:47):
How do you present different options to a client, whether it be Knopf, whether it be one of your freelance clients, that shows a range of work that both provides the type of work that the client might be expecting to see, but then also, takes them to a whole other place that surprises them?
Debbie Millman (00:41:13):
Because that’s really what you’re known for. You’re known for breaking paradigms, doing work that’s never been done before. How do you get clients to feel safe enough to take those risks?
Chip Kidd (00:41:25):
Because in most cases, we’ve been working together for so long. So, like Haruki Murakami just trusts me. This latest new one for Cormac McCarthy, he just trusts me. Now, sadly, after doing this for almost 36 years and counting, a lot of the authors are gone. Michael Crichton John Updike-
Debbie Millman (00:41:49):
They had it in their contracts that you were their designer for their book.
Chip Kidd (00:41:53):
Some of them did, Oliver Sacks. I think if you have a reputation that you’ve built up over a long time, people will at least look at what you’ve done, thoughtfully consider it. And then, it goes from there. The editor has a say, the publisher has a say, sales has a say, marketing. But I think with me, I have a certain reputation. So, they’ll at least take it seriously. But again, no matter what kind of reputation I have, if the author doesn’t like it, that’s just it. And you have to start over.
Debbie Millman (00:42:34):
How often does somebody like Murakami or Cormac McCarthy say, “Mm-mmm, sorry, Chip. This isn’t a winner?”
Chip Kidd (00:42:42):
It happened with Cormac McCarthy on the road. And that’s hard to explain. What it came down to was that book was so personal to him. And it was an allegory about something else in his life that he started micromanaging it in a way that he didn’t, on the other four books that I designed for him. He didn’t want his name on the front, which made our editor in chief’s head explode. And it can become very tricky.
Debbie Millman (00:43:12):
You recently worked on three book jackets for Haruki Murakami, First Person Singular, Murakami T, and Writing as a Vocation.
Chip Kidd (00:43:22):
Debbie Millman (00:43:23):
Were they all different types of experiences?
Chip Kidd (00:43:27):
Debbie Millman (00:43:27):
In what way?
Chip Kidd (00:43:28):
Well, and what I love about designing for him is that you start from scratch every time. Those are three completely different books. So, First Person Singular is short stories. Murakami T is this little gift book that’s about his t-shirt collection. And he’s got all these stories about them. It’s really interesting. And then, the new one that’s coming out this fall is Writing as a Vocation. It’s precisely what it’s about. It’s about his writing process.
Chip Kidd (00:43:58):
So, those are three completely different things. And you just have to consider what’s the book about, and how are you going to convey to the reader what’s Murakami doing now. The new one, Writing as a Vocation, I made the letter M into a huge labyrinth. So, writing as is going into the labyrinth, and then coming out at the bottom is a little arrow, a vocation. And so, the visual metaphor is going through all these starts, and stops, and false endings to get finally where you need to go.
Debbie Millman (00:44:36):
Do you start by sketching? Do you start on the computer? How do you work?
Chip Kidd (00:44:40):
You know what? I’ve never been a sketcher. Back in what, a sophomore in college, one of our graphic design classes, we had to keep a sketchbook. And that was work. Doing the actual assignments, that was much easier than actually having to document them in a sketchbook because it’s just not my temperament. I do all the sketching up in my head.
Chip Kidd (00:45:07):
And if there’s something that I need executed by somebody else, like a photographer, what have you, then maybe I’ll make a sketch and say, “Hey, we want a monkey raising his hand or something like that.” But-
Debbie Millman (00:45:18):
It’s so interesting when people work in their heads like that. My wife, Roxanne writes an entire essay in her head before she starts typing.
Chip Kidd (00:45:27):
Now, that is amazing because writing is a whole other thing for me. Yeah, no, no. I need to be at the keyboard, and writing, and writing in InDesign.
Debbie Millman (00:45:39):
Well, what’s interesting is that you’re not only just a designer, you’re also a writer and an editor. You’ve written several novels, and you’ve edited two important books over the last year, Original Sisters by Anita Kunz and Our Colors by Gengoroh Tagame. How do you pivot back and forth between these different vocations?
Chip Kidd (00:46:01):
I’m hugely grateful for it. Especially, in the last two years, I’ve been so grateful to have work to do, because I was just in isolation for so long down in my place in south Florida. And how do you pivot? I’m a fan of all of it. I really love it. And so, that really helps. I can’t imagine how people work on things that’s assigned to them that they don’t want to do. And that’s most people.
Chip Kidd (00:46:36):
Occasionally, I’ll have to do a book cover for something that I’m not all that interested in, but I can get interested in it. Computer coding in 1940 or whatever, that’s not something normally I would-
Debbie Millman (00:46:51):
You and Michael Bierut have that ability to find something interesting about anything.
Chip Kidd (00:46:54):
Well, anything that’s thrown at me.
Debbie Millman (00:46:58):
How do you go about finding and inquiring books? Because you do that, you look for graphic novels to publish.
Chip Kidd (00:47:05):
It’s a totally organic process. In the case of Original Sisters by Anita Kunz, I had known her for a long time. I had known her work for a long time. I think she’s absolutely brilliant. It had never occurred to me to publish any of her work because she’s not what we call a sequential artist. She’s not a graphic novelist, which is mainly what I’m looking for.
Chip Kidd (00:47:27):
And so, a couple months into the pandemic, I got this proposal from her on email. And she had originally called it The Originals. I was stunned. It’s a book of portraits of women in history, some of whom you know, but a lot of whom you don’t, and then her researching of them. And so, you have people to bounce things off of.
Chip Kidd (00:47:51):
And so, I sent it to some of my colleagues and said, “I think this is kind of great. What do you think?” And they’re like, “Yeah, we think this is really kind of great.” And so, that’s a submission. The Gengoroh Tagame, Our Colors, I pursued that, and we had published him previously and very successfully. So, that makes it much easier to do the next project.
Debbie Millman (00:48:14):
How involved are you in the editing process when you acquire a book?
Chip Kidd (00:48:18):
That’s a really good question. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes intensely, like I’m publishing this graphic novel by this guy, Wonderful Toronto, a cartoonist and illustrator named Maurice Vellekoop. And he was just in town, and we were working on that, and it’s really one of the first graphic novel, because usually, we get them fully formed. And I’ll have a couple of ideas.
Chip Kidd (00:48:45):
And we have a copy-editing department that’s going to take care of that stuff. But with this, the book by Maurice Vellekoop is called I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together, and it’s a memoir, and he had a difficult family, and they were very conservative, and he was gay, and he wanted to be an artist, and they were all upset about that. We’ve been working on this thing for 10 years.
Chip Kidd (00:49:10):
I think it’s finally going to come out in the spring of what, ’24, but that this is one I’ve really been putting input into, really, actually editing. Usually, editing a graphic novel, for me, means being an ambassador for it, into the publishing house. And you have all these duties that you have to do. You have to do an audio presentation for the salesforce so they can listen to it in their car or now, at home. That’s part of the editorial process at Pantheon and Knopf.
Debbie Millman (00:49:44):
You have a book that has been recently published. It is the paperback version of Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. Congratulations.
Chip Kidd (00:49:55):
Debbie Millman (00:49:55):
What made you decide to create a book about graphic design for kids in the first place?
Chip Kidd (00:50:00):
Well, as I’ve said in every interview about this, it was not my idea. I cannot claim ownership of the idea. It was this amazing woman named Raquel Jaramillo, who by now is much better known by her pen name, R.J. Palacio. And she had been a book cover designer of great renowned. She did everything for Thomas Pynchon. And then, she became an editor at Workman.
Chip Kidd (00:50:27):
And she called me, I don’t even remember what year it was, 2010, 2011 and said, “Do you want to have lunch? There’s a project I want to talk to you about.” And I said, “Sure.” And I just thought it would be a book cover that she wanted me to do. And so, we met and she said, “Okay. Unless I’m mistaken, no one’s ever created a book to teach graphic design to kids.”
Chip Kidd (00:50:51):
And as soon as she said it, this flash went off in my head, I’m like, “Oh my God, you’re right. I can’t think of one.” And she said, “Yes. And I think you should do it.” I probably said this in the last interview we did about this, but I thought, “Okay, I don’t know any kids. I don’t relate to kids. I don’t like kids. Sign me up.” Because I just thought nothing is going to put me outside of my comfort zone like this.
Chip Kidd (00:51:26):
But what was great about it, and at time is frustrating was okay, rethink all of this. I learned these things in college, but now, what do I say to a 10-year-old? It forced me to rethink about what graphic design is, about what the components are, how to teach somebody about it, who doesn’t have a lot of life experience.
Debbie Millman (00:51:53):
How do you go about doing that? How do you go about teaching somebody something where they don’t really have the construct in which to potentially envision it on their own?
Chip Kidd (00:52:06):
One of the things that Raquel said from the beginning was don’t talk down to them. Don’t talk down to your audience. And I had figured that out with kids, despite all of what I just said. It’s like talk to them like they’re a peer and not like they’re 10. And they’re going to take you a lot more seriously, and listen more effectively to what you have to say.
Chip Kidd (00:52:29):
And then, it’s imagination. I have to think about, “Okay, if I was 10, what would I be able to comprehend about this?” And I’m sure I’ve also said in the other podcast about it, the challenge became not so much what to put in the book, but as to what to leave out. Because when I learned about graphic design in college, we studied the history.
Chip Kidd (00:52:55):
There are all these important historical moments and contributions in the history of graphic design, which is mainly the 20th century, that I did not want to get into with a 10-year-old, war propaganda, pornography, sex sells. And in fact, I didn’t want to make any of it about selling something, really.
Debbie Millman (00:53:18):
Chip Kidd (00:53:18):
Yeah. It is hard.
Debbie Millman (00:53:19):
It’s really hard.
Chip Kidd (00:53:21):
We touched on it a little bit, but not really. It’s more about form, and content, and concept, and typography. Think about the alphabet. Do you realize what a miracle the alphabet is, and how it’s used? But message sending and-
Debbie Millman (00:53:40):
It’s really, for me, a blueprint for creating visual language in a lot of ways. I learned a lot reading it. I learned about numbers and the history of numbers.
Chip Kidd (00:53:50):
I learned a lot too, because I had to look all this stuff up. Because I thought, “All right, who created the written word?” That’s pretty important. And I didn’t know. You do a lot of research, and then you figure out, all right, now I’ve got to explain this to a 10- to 12-year-old kid.
Debbie Millman (00:54:09):
Had Raquel written Wonder at that point?
Chip Kidd (00:54:12):
She was writing it at the time, which I didn’t even realize until towards the end because she… I forget the context, but we put the cover of Wonder in Go, which I think was a way of showing something metaphorically without showing it literally.
Debbie Millman (00:54:33):
Well, that’s one of the things I love about the book that there are visual examples for everything that you talk about. So, people can, not just read it, but actually see it, and learn it from examples.
Chip Kidd (00:54:45):
Yeah. And they’re all examples of real actual printed work.
Debbie Millman (00:54:48):
So, did Raquel also edit it?
Chip Kidd (00:54:51):
Debbie Millman (00:54:51):
Because she has that way of talking through the eyes of a child that so-
Chip Kidd (00:54:58):
And she actually had children. So, every now and then, I can’t think of it… oh, there’s a spread where I’m trying to teach the difference between sincerity and irony to a kid, and using two different words, and then depicting the words in different ways. It was something like fastidious and filthy. I think it was a different one, but she was like, “Let’s not use fastidious. That’s too complicated.” And so, we changed it.
Debbie Millman (00:55:30):
A word with many syllables.
Chip Kidd (00:55:31):
Right. And then, there are the projects for the reader to do at the end. And she was really great about coming up with some of those.
Debbie Millman (00:55:39):
Yeah. They’re really fun. You added new material to the paperback version. Talk about what is different.
Chip Kidd (00:55:44):
Well, what’s different is the timeline in the front. And I have to say, Workman approached me about doing this. And again, it was the middle of the pandemic, and I get this email from them out of the blue, and they said, “We never did a paperback version. Do you want to?” And I said, “Sure.” And they said, “We’ll treat it as a new publication, and you can fiddle with it a little bit.”
Chip Kidd (00:56:10):
We have four extra pages that we can put in it because now, we don’t have the end papers, and you can use. And so, I expanded, there’s a timeline, just a couple little highlights of the history of graphic design. Then, I was able to put two more spreads of them in.
Debbie Millman (00:56:27):
What things did you add?
Chip Kidd (00:56:29):
I added the on-off button, which I didn’t even realize is a combination of a one and a zero. And I ended with the street painting both in Washington and in New York city of Black Lives Matter in the street because that was just such a brilliant use of graphic design. At that point, there was a different editor I was working with because Raquel had left to pursue her career. And I said, “Is this too political?” They said, “Well, let me check, and we’ll get back to you.” And they said, “Let’s do it.”
Debbie Millman (00:57:05):
That’s great. It’s an opportunity to teach kids, while they’re learning about graphic design, about the power of imagery, and what this means to our society and our culture.
Chip Kidd (00:57:16):
Debbie Millman (00:57:17):
I have one last question for you.
Chip Kidd (00:57:20):
Debbie Millman (00:57:21):
Thor: Love and Thunder will have just come out when this interview is published. Are you excited about seeing the film, and any predictions for the storyline?
Chip Kidd (00:57:33):
Well, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I’m excited about seeing it because I’m going to see it with you. I’m trying to think what I’ve heard. I haven’t tracked this one that much. I know that Jane becomes the new Thor or at least at some point.
Debbie Millman (00:57:51):
Chip Kidd (00:57:51):
Which is a theme in the comics, and that Christian Bale plays some crazy freaky villain.
Debbie Millman (00:57:58):
Creepy looking villain.
Chip Kidd (00:57:59):
Yeah. Very creepy looking.
Debbie Millman (00:58:00):
Speaking of creepy, I actually wanted to ask you about your new cover that you’re designing for Bret Easton Ellis next spring. It’s coming out. It’s called The Shards, sounds rather sinister as well.
Chip Kidd (00:58:10):
Yeah. It’s a very personal book for him. It’s a prequel to Less Than Zero. I’m thrilled with the cover. I think he is too because he just post… I think he just posted it on Twitter. It’s really interesting. I would say it’s one of the first cinematic covers that I’ve done that involves sequential imagery. I’m really excited about it.
Debbie Millman (00:58:35):
I’m running to Instagram after this interview.
Chip Kidd (00:58:39):
And again, my God, I’ve worked with him and for him since, I think The Informers in 1995, ’96.
Debbie Millman (00:58:48):
I lied. I do have one last question for you before we sign off. You also have designed the upcoming Cormac McCarthy books because there’s two. And I have seen those, listeners, and they are magnificent. Talk just a little bit if you can. Give us a little tease about what you’ve done with these novels.
Chip Kidd (00:59:11):
Well, first of all, as a publishing house at Knopf, we were just so thrilled that he delivered this manuscript. He’s been working on it for a long time. He’s 88 years old. We didn’t know if we were ever actually going to get it. It’s complicated. It’s a two-book story. And one of the books is called The Passenger. And the other book is called Stella Maris.
Chip Kidd (00:59:33):
And they’re the story of a brother and a sister. It’s complicated, but there’s mathematics. There’s deep sea diving. There’s the atomic bomb. There are all these themes in it. And the brief to me was we’re going to publish them individually. Then, we’re going to publish them together in a box. It all has to look like it goes together, but both the individual jackets and the box set, when they’re together, the books have to look like they belong together.
Debbie Millman (01:00:04):
And when they’re apart, they have to look like they can stand on their own.
Chip Kidd (01:00:08):
Right. To me, they also have to look like they need each other, which is a big theme in the book.
Debbie Millman (01:00:14):
Will they be coming out at the same time or are they coming out separately?
Chip Kidd (01:00:17):
Staggered over three months. So, The Passenger comes out in October of ’22. The second, Stella Maris comes out in November of ’22. And then, the box hit comes out in December.
Debbie Millman (01:00:31):
Chip Kidd, thank you so much for making so much work that matters in the world. And thank you for joining me today on Design Matters.
Chip Kidd (01:00:38):
Well, thank you my friend, and my sister, Debbie Millman.
Debbie Millman (01:00:42):
Chip’s upcoming exhibit, Batman: Black and White, will be opening at MICA in Baltimore this fall. And his latest book, Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, can be found wherever books are sold. You can keep up with all things Chip Kidd and all his latest projects at chipkidd.com. I’d like to thank you for listening. And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. I’m Debbie Millman, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.