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Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: Chip Kidd

The renowned designer Makes His Marvel for the first time with a topsy-turvy take on the STRANGE TALES hardcover.

By Sean T. Collins

If you've ever been to a store where books are sold—particularly those without pictures—then you've seen the work of Chip Kidd. He's designed the covers for prose novels and memoirs by Michael Crichton, John Updike, Cormac McCarthy, Brad Meltzer, Gore Vidal and William Shatner. He's done the same for comics and graphic novels by Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek and Osamu Tezuka. He's edited and designed art books on Charles Schulz, Jack Cole and Alex Ross. As editor-at-large for Pantheon Books, he's shepherded classic graphic novels by Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes, while as associate art director for Alfred A. Knopf he's become the most influential book jacket designer of the last quarter century. He's even found time to become an acclaimed novelist in his own right with "The Cheese Monkeys" and "The Learners." (Phew-that's quite a resume!)

STRANGE TALES HC cover, designed by Chip Kidd
So—a major comics fanboy with an impeccable high-art and literary pedigree and a taste for the unusual and avant-garde? Who better to create an unforgettable cover for the STRANGE TALES hardcover collection, on sale March 3, 2010? For his first-ever Marvel work, Kidd did a 180 on a Peter Bagge Hulk image and made heads across comics do a 360 in response.

The award-winning editor and designer took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with Marvel.com about the book, his thought process, and whether he'll ever return to the House of Ideas.

Marvel.com: How did you hook up with Marvel for this project? Did they approach you? Was the series something that had been on your radar already?

Chip Kidd: Yeah, Marvel approached me. The series was on my radar. Several of the cartoonists in it I've worked with in the past and/or am working with currently, chiefly Tony Millionaire and Dash Shaw, whose new book [Body World] I'm putting out in April.

Marvel.com: So they pitched you on putting the cover together?

Chip Kidd: They did! I was surprised! And pleased.

Marvel.com: I guess they're a pretty hip crowd over here now.

Chip Kidd: Well, it's just that I've never done anything for Marvel, and I didn't know if that was the way they wanted it. It was just a pleasant surprise.

Marvel.com: Obviously, you've been associated with the Distinguished Competition for some time...

Chip Kidd: I love "Distinguished Competition." I've never heard that before. That's very funny. It took me two seconds [when you mentioned it in an email]: "What does that mean?" [Laughs] Then I was like, "Ohhhh!"

Marvel.com: I can't take credit for that. I'm pretty sure I stole it from "Stan's Soapbox."

Chip Kidd: Mm-hm. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: Was that a big jump, going from one to the other?

Chip Kidd: Ummm...no. I freelance for a lot of different publishers. The main thing, to me, was that the project seemed like a good fit. At the same time, there was sort of a question of, "Well, what the heck could I bring to this?" I had to use preexisting art—which is frankly my specialty. Maybe that's why they came to me, whether it's redesigning The Dark Knight or what have you. So it just became a case of figuring out, "What could I bring to it? What feels right? What can I do that seems fresh and yet appropriate to it?" Et cetera, et cetera.

Marvel.com: Was there any difficulty in that it's an anthology featuring many different artists, rather than it all being the work of one cartoonist?

Chip Kidd: Right, exactly. It took a while. As simple as it looks, it took a while to figure this out and get it straight in my head. Your initial impulse is, "Oh, let's include everyone!" or "Let's represent everyone." But you know, they didn't do that on the covers of the comic. I'm a real fan, when it comes to comic covers, of graphic simplicity, because so many people are not. [Laughs] Especially with the "All Star" series for DC. When you go into a comic book store, you are so bombarded with this mélange of stuff. You often see that they're trying to reinvent the wheel with the logo of whatever it is and then doing the same thing with the image, and they very often, to my mind, fight, to not a good effect. So I try and not do that. I very much separate out the title from the image visually, whether it's All Star Superman or this.

Marvel.com: When the folks at Marvel first sent me a copy of this cover, I immediately wrote back and asked, "Did you send me the right jpeg, or is this thing screwed up?"

Chip Kidd: Well, that's great! I mean, that's the goal.

Marvel.com: Was that the thinking behind flipping the image and title upside-down—that it would take people by surprise to that degree?

Chip Kidd: The main goal...I mean, yes. But it's not like you look at that and don't know what it is. You still read it. You look at it and it's like, "Oh, it's STRANGE TALES—but what the **** is that?" Really, I thought, "Thank God that [Marvel] got it!" It's probably seen as something as a risk for them, but it's really the main core idea that the whole thing is hanging on. If they weren't up for it...I gave them three variations of that, and I literally told them, "I'll be honest—I don't have any other ideas for this. [Laughs] So if you're not into it, maybe it's just not meant to be." So I was really really relieved to hear that they liked it.

Marvel.com: Why did you select an image from Peter Bagge's Hulk story, "The Incorrigible Hulk," to run on the cover?

Chip Kidd: Ultimately, it's the thread that's running through all three issues. Graphically, it represents what the project is, to me. I could have gone with lots of other different images, but this, to me, felt right.

Marvel.com: This was your first work for Marvel. As a lifelong comics reader, do you have any favorite Marvel comics or characters?

Chip Kidd: It's funny, because I was not a "Marvel kid," and yet I had lots of Marvel comics and I was keenly aware of them. My problem with Marvel growing up...I'm 45, I was a '70s kid in suburban Pennsylvania, which meant that my main outlet where I could buy comics was a pharmacy outside the bicycle-riding radius of my neighborhood. That means there was no guarantee of getting consecutive issues of anything. Most of the DC stories were self-contained or just two- or three-parters. Now, that in and of itself wasn't the reason I was a DC fan—I just liked the characters better. But with Marvel, it just feels like a constant, neverending thing. The stories had no beginning and no end. It was like catching a soap opera one episode a week. That, to me, was very alienating. Actually, I became something of a Marvel fan when they started issuing the Masterpiece editions. Those sort of were self-contained. I loved the size, and I could read the whole Galactus Saga from beginning to end. 

Marvel.com: Would you be open to doing more work with Marvel in the future?

Chip Kidd: I'm totally open to it, and it would all depend on what the project is and what the scheduling is. This project really felt right to me. So we'll see. I certainly am open to it. I'm also, believe it or not, not great at going out and getting stuff. I'm more of a "wait to be asked" kind of guy, mainly because it's just easier and I'm lazy. [Laughs] But it would be interesting to write something for them, actually...


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