Renowned designer Chip Kidd talks to us at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 about Batman and the enduring legacy of the character.
Charlie Chang: Most comic book readers know your work because of Batman: Death by Design but your latest work is the new Detective Comics #27 cover. How were you introduced to the character and what is your earliest memory of the character?
Chip Kidd: Well it’s kind of great to see this year they’ve licensed all this Batman ’66 stuff and I was born in ’64 so I was two years old when the TV show came out. Which you’d think is maybe too young.
CK: It’s not, that was my introduction to Batman, the Adam West and Burt Ward TV show. I had a brother who was two years older and I wanted to be into whatever he was into and so he was into that. That sort of led to the comic books of the time and then what was interesting to me was that in 1969 to 1970 a transition in the comics from Batman as a what we call “camp” figure back to his roots what we now understand as the Dark Knight and then DC reissued the very first stories in what they called Famous First Editions and they were Detectives Comics #27, the first introduction of Batman and Action Comics #1, the first introduction of Superman and by then I was in second or third grade. I loved going back to see the roots, the real origins of the characters. It was just fascinating to see how they evolved but also what the original concepts for them were.
CC: Very cool. For most people, their first introduction to a character or superhero is their personal version. Is that true in your case? Is Adam West your Batman?
CK: You know, I would have to honestly say not really. I love it but I think it was really going back to those original stories. Frankly the Batman from Detective #27 up through I believe #38, like right up until Robin was introduced. That was actually my favorite version.
CC: Is that the version you personally design the character off of?
CK: Yeah and so Batman: Death by Design is basically the ‘30s even though we don’t ever say it. There’s also a little bit of a steampunk theme to it but it’s really the idea not only of Batman Year One but also of Batman circa 1936 or ’37.
CC: Do you have a favorite Batman story arc or graphic novel?
CK: There’s so many, there’s a classic story from the ‘70s called “Night of the Hunter” and it’s largely without any dialogue. Basically, Batman witnesses a modern replaying as a young child’s parents are gunned down in front of him. He then pursues the murderers and ends up deep in the woods. They get in a getaway car and they go out to the outer woods around Gotham City. IT’s a short story, it’s 12 pages or something but it gets real spooky and one by one Batman tracks down each person almost in a horror story fashion even though he doesn’t kill them. It’s a way for him to try and get some kind of closure to what happened to him. By the end of the last panel, Bruce comes back to Wayne Manor, takes off the cowl and just starts to cry because he’ll never really get true closure. It’s amazing.
CC: One of the best things now that we’re at the 75th anniversary of the character. Batman touches so many different generations. What do you think are the traits that make this character so everlasting?
CK: I think the design of the character. As a designer, the design of the persona and the outfit is really what has set this character apart from the rest. There have been references to the classic Dracula character and the subtext of that this character that looks dark, evil, and scary is a force for good and the dichotomy of the form versus the content.