Judg­ing books by his cov­ers

Famed graphic de­signer Chip Kidd shares how he comes up with book cov­ers, in­clud­ing that iconic Juras­sic Park di­nosaur sil­hou­ette for the best­selling Michael Crich­ton book.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By AK­SHITA NANDA

GRAPHIC de­signer Chip Kidd knows peo­ple lit­er­ally judge a book by its cover. For nearly 30 years, he has cre­ated de­signs that lodge in pop­u­lar mem­ory.

Naked, the 1997 col­lec­tion of re­veal­ing per­sonal es­says by Amer­i­can hu­mour writer David Sedaris, gota jacket that could be re­moved to strip the book down to the bone. Juras­sic Park, the 1990 novel by Michael Crich­ton, was rep­re­sented by a di­nosaur sil­hou­ette now sym­bolic of the four- movie fran­chise. How does Kidd do it? First, he reads the book to find out what the story looks like. The en­tire book? “Itall de­pends on which book it is,” Kidd says on the tele­phone from New York, where he lives. “With Haruki Mu­rakami, if there is a full man­u­script, I’ll def­i­nitely read it.”

Kidd, who turns 52 this year, started out as an as­sis­tant to the art di­rec­tor at pub­lish­ers Knopf in 1986 and has since be­come one of the world’s best- known book de­sign­ers.

He free­lances for var­i­ous ma­jor pub­lish­ing houses such as Harper-Collins, butis mostly known for his work with Al­fred A. Knopf, Pan­theon Graphic Nov­els and other im­prints of the Pen­guin Ran­dom House group.

He has de­signed cov­ers for Oliver Sacks, James Ell­roy, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and No­bel lau­re­ate Orhan Pa­muk, among oth­ers. He says he would love to cre­ate book cov­ers for No­bel lau­re­ate and Knopf au­thor Alice Munro, but she has a long- stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with an­other de­signer.

He turned Neil Gaiman’s in­spi­ra­tional 2012 speech “Make Good Art” into a book in which ev­ery sin­gle page lit­er­ally il­lus­trates the key con­cept. Kidd also used quirky fonts and page de­sign for the two nov­els he wrote in the Noughties, Th e Cheese Mon­keys and Th e Learn­ers, based on his ex­pe­ri­ences in col­lege and the pre- com­puter age of graphic de­sign.

He cre­ated a Bat­man graphic novel for DC Comics in 2012 and has edited comics for Pan­theon for over a dozen years. He ac­quired and pub­lished the Amer­i­can edi­tion of Sin­ga­porean artist Sonny Liew’s The Art Of Char­lie Ch a n Hoc k Ch ye, a cre­ative retelling of Sin­ga­pore his­tory through the per­spec­tive of a comics artist. ( The Art Of Char­lie Ch a n Hoc k Ch ye is on ex­hibit at the Mu­lan Gallery in Sin­ga­pore till March 24; visit mu­lan­gallery.com. sg.)

“I do be­lieve it’s a mas­ter­piece,” says Kidd of the book, which was just­pub­lished in the US – with the au­thor’s orig­i­nal cover.

This is high praise from some­one who has worked with lu­mi­nar­ies such as Art Spiegel­man and Mar­jane Sa­trapi. Both th­ese artists won ma­jor awards for their re­spec­tive vis­ual his­to­ries of the World War II Nazi pogrom again­st­the Jews and the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion.

For more than 20 years, Kidd’s cov­ers for Mu­rakami’s nov­els have been what read­ers first fall in love with when the English trans­la­tions reach stores around the world.

The de­signer is a huge fan of the au­thor as well, en­joy­ing the writer’s in­sight into con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese cul­ture and his mag­i­cal real­ist style.

For the 2011 trans­la­tion of the 900- page 1Q 84 , a tale of a woman who moves be­tween par­al­lel planes of ex­is­tence, Kidd de­signed a semi-trans­par­en­t­jacket over­lay­ing a hu­man face. When peeled away, the ti­tle ap­pears as neg­a­tive space on the im­age.

New York Times re­viewer Janet Maslin panned the story, but loved the cover. Her re­view read: “In the case of 1Q 84 , there is a star­tlingly clever Chip Kidd cover to cre­ate an air of the ir­re­sistible. The ac­tual text? Notso much.”

Kidd’s other de­signs for Mu­rakami nov­els are sim­i­lar: sim­ple and mem­o­rable at first glance, with deep­en­ing com­plex­ity the closer one looks. Mu­rakami’s Col­or­less Tsu ku ru Ta za ki And His Y ea rs O fP ilg rim a ge, pub­lished in 2014, had a cover with a “palm” made of dif­fer­ently coloured pil­lars or fin­gers. The colours evoke the names of the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter’s four friends and the de­sign also in­cludes a Tokyo sub­way map, hint­ing at Tsukuru’s in­volve­ment with trains.

Two or three weeks of thought can go into each de­sign but Kidd hits the bull’s eye first­time, more of­ten than not.

“With Mu­rakami, I’ve been very lucky. Since the first­five books, the first de­sign has been cho­sen,” he says.

For more de­tails on his de­sign process, he refers us to his TED Talks – the global con­fer­ences held to dis­sem­i­nate “ideas worth spread­ing” – freely avail­able on­line .( The Art Of First Im­pres­sions talk is at­tinyurl.com/jfr6uue and On The Juras­sic Park Logo is at­tinyurl.com/htk8kfx.)

In two 18- minute videos posted in 2012 and lastyear, Kidd speaks about how to leave a good first vis­ual im­pres­sion and how he came up with some of his best­known vi­su­als. Each video has been viewed more than 1.5 mil­lion times.

Kidd de­scribes his work as a bal­anc­ing act be­tween clar­ity and mys­tery. He fol­lows ad­vice re­ceived dur­ing his graphic de­sign stud­ies in Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity in the 1980s: Do not un­der­es­ti­mate the au­di­ence. With­hold enough in­for­ma­tion to add mys­tery. Give them credit for what they al­ready know.

He ex­pands on this in Judge Th is, a primer on good de­sign he wrote and pub­lished with TED lastyear.

Asked for other ad­vice for as­pir­ing de­sign­ers, he says: “Frankly, I don’t know what ad­vice to give them. You have to have some tal­ent, you have to work very hard and you have to get lucky and get some­body to give you a break.” He works on an Ap­ple com­puter and en­joys hav­ing ac­cess to “thou­sands of fonts”, but some of his best work comes from low- tech so­lu­tions. For the washed- away font on the cover of D ry, Au­gusten Bur­rough’s 2003 mem­oir of bat­tling al­co­holism, Kidd printed out the ti­tle and threw wa­ter on the pa­per so the ink ran.

For Juras­sic Park’ s fa­mous semi-fleshed out di­nosaur skeleton, he wentto the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in New York, bought a book on di­nosaurs from the gift shop and looked through it for ideas. A di­a­gram of a Tyran­nosaurus rex skeleton caught his at­ten­tion so he made a pho­to­copy, traced over itand be­gan fill­ing in the out­lines un­til he was sat­is­fied. The end re­sult: movie icon his­tory.

“I still do things by hand if I’m go­ing to cutup a piece of pa­per or let­ter­ing by hand, but I don’t miss that some­thing that­would take me three days to do, I can do in 15 min­utes. I don’t miss that a tall.”

He likes it when an au­thor has def­i­nite ideas about the cover and shares them up front.

“Oliver Sacks would some­times have an idea of what he wants and some­times he wouldn’t. Mu­rakami doesn’ t get in­volved un­til there’ s a fi­nal de­sign and he’s al­ways ap­proved.

“I would rather talk di­rectly with the au­thor atthe be­gin­ning. It’s his book and his book is more im­por­tant than my de­sign.”

— JOhN MAdErE/ chip­kidd. com

Cre­ative guy: Kidd still works by hand if his de­sign calls for it – he threw wa­ter at one de­sign to get ink to run – but is just as happy to save time and work on a com­puter if he can.

— Photo: tor. com

Kidd turned Gaiman’s in­spi­ra­tional speech into a cre­ative book in which each unique page ex­em­pli­fies Gaiman’s mes­sage about mak­ing good art.

— re­copies

Among the iconic cov­ers Kidd has de­signed are the ones for Naked, Dry and – the most well- known – Juras­sic Park.

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