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Death by Design: Batman by Kidd

2012 June 5

I have on one or two past occasions used this forum to flick a metaphoric wadded-up-paper projectile in the direction of celebrity-within-comic-book-circles designer Chip Kidd. But perhaps it’s now, at last, time to balance the scales. Because today I would like to extend a word or two of congratulations and encouragement in his direction.

The designer of lots of things has authored a graphic novel, Batman: Death by Design, illustrated by Dave Taylor. I haven’t read it, though the concept sounds potentially interesting. This past weekend the Robot 6 blog posted a round-up of responses from the web, however, and the excerpted comments at any rate seem very mixed.

To some extent I’ll confess that this was a pleasant surprise, if only because it seemed like, “hey, level playing field, wow.” Apparently, the comic book commentariat’s adoration for Chip Kidd as designer doesn’t extend to automatic approval of anything he tries. And that’s as it should be, I think.

At the same time, though, reading some of the criticisms I couldn’t help thinking that, even if they’re fair, I think the trying itself merits some degree of credit. There’s a level of courage, of ambition, there which I respect. Maybe being the design darling of anglophone comics provides some advantage in getting a project like this actually published; I would imagine it must. But I think that kind of success must also cut both ways. If you’re reliably popular and successful in one thing, that almost has to discourage you from trying something different, particularly when it’s going to be exposed to the same audience which is accustomed to and happy with that one thing. In fact I daresay that many other creators could testify to the risks involved in branching out like that, just within writing or drawing comics. The safe easy thing is to go on giving the audience what you know they want.

Death by Design does something else, though. It does still give the audience something not wholly unlike the design work they’ve celebrated before. But the designer also gives them the story. And apparently not every reaction has been quite so celebratory. Well, so it goes. “From risk comes progress,” but not every single time. Otherwise it wouldn’t be risk. But it’s usually worth it anyway, at least creative risk. And worth congratulating just for itself.

Also, bonus comment: Speaking of respect I was blown away by this line from the “Batman News” review: “…Kidd used Quark rather than simply write a traditional screenplay-like script…” Really? Maybe the reviewer was confused, but if this is really detail-accurate, wow. I know Quark still has some kind of user-base, but the idea that a hip, hot, rock-star designer is using it is just… fascinating. I mean, frankly I think using Quark XPress in 2012 pretty much qualifies, per a term I encountered somewhere recently, as “old-school to the old-school power.” So much that as crazy as it sounds, we might honestly be about to the point where using Quark is so retro and downright archaic that it’s daring and cool. Really, forget exposing your name to criticism by writing something for an audience that knows you as a designer; using Quark is really doing your own thing.

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