The Art of Superheroes

The Art of Superheroes

Designer Chip Kidd takes a loving look at Alex Ross’s comics art

Celebrated gay graphic designer Chip Kidd may be best known for his dust jackets for Knopf titles, but this fantastic artist also has a side career writing books about comic books. His latest project is the magnificent volume “Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross,” a loving tribute to Superman, Wonder Woman, and Kidd’s personal favorite superhero, Batman, put together with Ross and photographer Geoff Spear.

Kidd will be at the Midtown Comics, 200 West 40th Street at Seventh Avenue, Friday November 21 at 5 p.m. to sign copies of “Mythology.”

“I developed my interest in comic books very early on as every kid does,” Kidd said about his enthusiasm for the caped crusader and his super friends. “It speaks to something within me.”

Many kids grow out of reading comics, but Kidd made these graphic novels his lifelong passion, and turned his hobby into a part of his career.

“I always thought that the form of the cape as wings was particularly appealing,” he explained about his fascination with Batman. “I like the contradiction that Batman looks like a demon but he was a good guy. He works outside of the law, but serves the same goal.”

Kidd acknowledged that there is “a weird contradiction that the guys reading [comics] are looking at really built guys in skin tight outfits beating the crap out of each other,” though he dismissed the notion that this is a particular turn-on for him.

“Sex appeal has more to do with not wearing anything than [wearing] a costume,” he offered.

What really influenced Kidd about these comic books were the images and the artwork. His tremendous appreciation for Ross’ talent was what motivated him to join the effort to create “Mythology.” The designer met the comics painter at a gallery displaying Ross’ art and introduced himself. After a few collaborative projects, they created this coffee-table book to showcase Ross’ illustrations for DC comics. This lavish volume not only contains pencil drawings, and color panels of all of the popular (and lesser known) DC characters, but also an original Batman-Superman story written by Kidd and illustrated by Ross.

“That was a big dream come true,” Kidd said about the collaboration, “to write [a comic] and have Alex bring it to life.”

Kidd does Ross’ work justice in the gorgeous design and art direction of Mythology. Even people unfamiliar with comic books will appreciate this stunning volume. Kidd shows how Ross’ drawings and the characters developed over time. The book is laid out chronologically from the artist’s childhood to his first assignment for DC, but also by character.

Ross approved Kidd’s design without hesitation.

“He commented on a couple of spreads where art should be rearranged,” Kidd said. “But he trusted me to organize it the way I wanted.”

One of the most significant aims of the book for Kidd was to “show as much as possible of Alex’s extraordinary pencil work and [his] process.”

Kidd suggests that talent such as Ross’ is becoming a lost art.

“‘Mythology’ is a celebration of the human hand. That’s drying up,” he said. “It’s all being done on computer now.”

Kidd had complete access to Ross’ studio, and when he and Spear started looking for images for the book, they found buried treasure.

“We could have made an entire book out of the stuff Alex made up to age 13,” Kidd said, referring to some dolls the artist made of DC’s Justice League. Ross was embarrassed by them, but they made their way into the book nonetheless.

“I wouldn’t have run them if he didn’t want me to,” Kidd said, “but then he wouldn’t have shown them to me in the first place.”

Oddly enough, Kidd is the subject of a new book on his work as well. “Chip Kidd,” by Véronique Vienne is a tribute to the artist’s book jackets, and it features more than 100 of his best, favorite, and most popular designs.

“It’s very flattering and a little odd,” Kidd said about the book, “It’s not what I would do.”

But Kidd admits that he one day plans to prepare his own retrospective of his work.

As for what his partner of eight years, J.D. McClatchey, the poet and editor of The Yale Review, thinks of all this, Kidd said, “He suffers it gladly. Our relationship is a nice yin and yang of high and low culture that I think works. It would not be nearly as interesting if I wanted to be a serious poet.”

Kidd is the author of “The Cheese Monkeys,” an outstanding novel about a college student learning graphic design, but is not likely to give up his day job to be a writer full time. Especially if his arrangement at Knopf allows him to keep producing wonderful books like “Mythology.”

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