The Rabbit thought he’d caught a superhero–book jacket designer and author Chip Kidd— in a contradiction. In a recent interview for the New York Times‘ “The Moment” blog, Kidd discusses how the cover he designed for The Dark Knight Returns can be seen in any comic book store “instantly at 200 paces.” That coupled with interviewer George Gene Gustine’s intro lines that the old adage not to judge a book by its cover goes out the door in comic books stores spurred us to recall that Kidd once said, “I’m very much against the idea that the cover will sell the book.” But apparently he doesn’t hold that belief when it comes to comics. I know for a fact that I often buy comics on the strength of their covers with no clue to where the story inside might lead.
Comics may be books but they are marketed in a completely different fashion due to serialization, their graphics, format and their audience. I’ve no doubt–and no way of knowing for sure–that Kidd’s belief that covers are less important than content holds true for comics. He’s been known to make statements against the publishers’ notion that covers really do sell books. And it’s really no contradiction to be proud of a cover that will grab attention at 200 paces, especially if what’s inside deserves the attention the cover draws. The covers Kidd designed for his own novels–The Learners is now out in paperback– are at once clever and attractive. And I’ve appreciated the design of his inter-connected stories as well as their literary content.
As is often the case, what’s most interesting about the Times blog-interview are the comments. A couple commentors complain about all the attention Kidd gets. One, who signs the post “de Kooning”– criticizes the Times for its failure to cover “break-out” art. This is a common complaint about big media of all kinds: it seldom knows what’s new and exciting in the wide and active world of culture. They rely on small media–alternatives, blogs and low-culture riff-raff publications–to discover and champion it for them. At a time when there’s much groundbreaking comic work out there, say David Mazzucchelli Asterios Polyp (its cover certainly wouldn’t grab you at 200 paces), it seems the Times, as usual has chosen to tell us something we already know (the Kidd interview is tied into an appearance at a local appearance, another time-honored motivator for newspaper coverage) . Sure, those-in-your-face comic covers sporting exaggerated superhero physiques (wouldn’t Wonder Woman’s pendulous bosoms make it hard to throw a punch?) play to the kind of fantasies that we’ve always loved about comics (an excpetion: the boyish Robin with his exagerrated skininess, on the cover of Batman and Robin No. 10). But we want what’s truly different and innovative to be recognized as well.–Cabbage Rabbit