Some nagging thoughts and comments about things I know little about:
Usually when I write a blog post it is an immediate, visceral reaction to something that has stimulated one or two of my four or five functioning senses. But for this one I've have had to sit on it, chew on it, spit it out and look at it before picking it up and recognizing it for what it is. After all, the topic is Chip Kidd, the big boned boy from 40°20'30" North, 75°55'35" West turned superhero on the not so distant world of publishing. What's more, the posted video was directed by my friend Gary Nadeau, filmed by my friend Tal Unriech of Flike and given a typographic shine by two talented colleagues from Pratt Institute who never seem to remember who I am. The video debuted at Joe's Pub this past Monday to an audience of graphic dignitaries, a who's who of the publishing circle and a number of skinny young bucks with this summer's topper of choice, the straw fedora. The video was crisp and beautifully simple. Split, layered and cut with precision, perspective and pace. Twitching and turing with an obsessive compulsive cadence of habit and necessity. Solid, solid as a rock. But as the song crescendoed and the crowd responded as sea of somewhat rhythmical white hands clapping, I began to fade, shrink and think.
Looking at Chip Kidd, or looking at one of his book covers, you are afforded the horizontal and the vertical that he controls. You see the uncomfortably stuffed shirt with custom collar and neatly pressed sleeves rolled up with a devil-may-care precision. An animated tuft of hair perched upon his forehead like the male Bird of Paradise trying to impress a potential mate. But the finest detail, and the most important design element would be the tortoise portholes resting on either side of their aquiline pedestal, their delicate twisted arms desperately reaching for his ears. The glasses, the palsy-walsy connector and synthesizer of what he sees and what he hears. The transparent curtain behind which he keeps his wizard, and the window from which he watches us drink his rainbow flavored Kool-Aid.
The glasses are not only a metaphor for vision, knowledge and smarts, they are the physical means by which he has observed the world and collected a lifetime of images which he has manipulated and fused to other people's words. You can't separate Cristina Garcia's story in Dreaming in Cuban from the image of the woman peering over the red cigar box like band on the cover. Nor can you remove the gangly and antsy typography of Katherine Dunn's novel Geek Love from your minds eye, although the original cover was done by David Hughes in 1989. Even the illiterate can associate the iconic skeletal T-Rex with Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Seems as though Chip Kidd will be forever quietly lurking around our homes, and in the back of our minds.
Kidd has almost single-handedly reshaped the publishing industry by creating a reason to create exceptional book cover design through intuitive reasoning and meaningful, emotive imagery. Although be believes content makes the book successful in the long run, not the cover, he would certainly argue that good covers do create interest and opportunity where they didn't exist before.