By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Comics are, by nature, nostalgic. Look at Winsor McCay‘s work from the early 1900s and you’ll find that his Little Nemo strips aren‘t all that distant in spirit from the late 20th- and 21st-century comics of Chris Ware, or Daniel Clowes, or the Hernandez Brothers, or Seth, all of whom can evoke another time even as they’re telling thoroughly modern stories. Even the titles of some recent comics -- Palookaville, The Golem‘s Mighty Swing, Louis Riel and Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid in the World -- are as wistful as their drawings are handsome. And lately, with the publication of numerous reprint and tribute collections (The Spirit Archives; Supergirl Archives; several volumes of Walt Kelly’s Pogo; and the upcoming Krazy Kat and Ignatz: The Komplete Kat Komics, a celebration of comics legend and L.A. native George Herriman), we seem to be enjoying a sustained interest in comics history.
At the heart of many of the more fetching recent projects is Chip Kidd, editor, author, graphic designer and creator of more than 1,500 book jackets for Alfred A. Knopf. Batman Collected is the latest product of the designer‘s well-known fixation with the Caped Crusader, and he and Art Spiegelman co-authored Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits. Kidd also edited some of the comics world’s best new work, including Ware‘s Jimmy Corrigan and Clowes’ David Boring. In Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, Kidd rummaged through Schulz‘s studio in order to compile an intimate look at the late artist’s work. A little earlier in the year, Kidd and artist Tony Millionaire (Maakies, Sock Monkey) contributed an ironically dark story of the Dark Knight to DC‘s Bizarro, a zany compilation of alternative-comics artists riffing on traditional DC characters. And finally, though not a comics work, Kidd’s first literary endeavor, Cheese Monkey: A Novel in Two Semesters, was published in December by Scribner. Recently, I got a chance to ask Kidd about nostalgia, comics and good book covers gone bad.
L.A. WEEKLY: You have a keen sense and respect for Golden Age comics. When did you become interested in that era and its look?
CHIP KIDD: First, there was Jules Feiffer‘s The Great Comic Book Heroes [published in 1965]. But even better than that, what really woke me up to Golden Age comics was when DC did all those wonderful reprints [beginning in the early ’70s] of the first issues of their titles, but at tabloid size. “Famous First Editions,” they were called. I think I was in second or third grade, and I thought those things were the coolest ever, especially Detective No. 27, Batman No. 1, Action No. 1, Superman No. 1 . . . I just thought, “Wow, comics used to be so cool.” Especially Batman, because he had changed so much.
You‘ve said that you are “a sucker for the false promises of comic books.”
You could say that about any kind of escapism. But this promise of a world where it’s very clear who the enemy is, and after a certain amount of struggle you just defeat them -- all of the rules and the way they‘re set up -- it’s really very seductive, very addictive. Seductive to a, frankly, juvenile personality. Which is what I have.
What do you think about the direction in which Frank Miller took the Dark Knight?
I was a huge fan of the first one [Batman: The Dark Knight Returns], which was in four chapters. But I think a Pandora‘s box was opened. It’s not like he had any control over it, I don‘t blame Miller at all, just the bad imitators that he spawned. And it really seemed to take the fun out of it. That said, I think someone like Bruce Timm and the Warner Bros. animation people put the fun right back into it [cf. Batman: The Animated Series, ’92--‘95.]
I finished one of The Spirit Archives before picking up Plastic Man. I noticed that the artwork for The Spirit had been a cleaned up and printed on stark white pages, where you and Art Spiegelman reproduced Plastic Man from scans of the original pulp printing. In other words, you kept the look of the comics as readers originally saw it.
Certainly that was always the intent: to preserve the innate comic-ness of the comics. Both Art and I have publicly taken issue with this idea of bleaching all the color out and starting over -- and what’s worse, starting over on a computer. It seems totally counterintuitive to the idea of archiving a comic. Why would you want to do that and not preserve the way the comic actually looked? Sanitized is what it ends up looking like.
What was it like to be in Charles Schulz‘s studio and have access to his archives when you were doing the Peanuts book?
It was bittersweet. I never actually got to meet him, which was sad. But it was exhilarating at the same time. The trust they put in us was extraordinary. When we were at his studio, they just left us alone for hours and hours to poke around. “Archive” is a generous term for what we found there. It was not organized in any way at all. Now they’re putting the Schulz museum together in Santa Rosa, so I can imagine that it‘s becoming archived in a way.