Award-winning book designer Chip Kidd loves design. He loves Batman. He loves comics. He loves writing. Combine all of that, and you get his first graphic novel, "Batman: Death by Design" (DC, $25).
Kidd has written novels, comic-book stories and nonfiction books (two on Batman). But this was his first work on long-form comics, and he described it as "a real learning curve."
"I came up with the title first," he said. "Because I thought, 'What are people going to know, or think, that I'm good at?' And the title had not been used before, which is pretty amazing. And so I sort of took it from there.
"I've lived and worked in New York City for 26 years, which is essentially Gotham," he continued. He asked himself: "What have I seen day in and day out that I think is ... architectural injustice? And one of the things was the destruction of the original Penn Station."
That led Kidd to create a Wayne Central Station in Gotham City, an equivalent to Penn built by Bruce Wayne's father that's about to be torn down for various reasons -- not the least of which is a hidden history about which the plot revolves.
"The thing about the destruction of the original Penn Station," Kidd said, "is the only good that came out of it was that it created such an outcry that it helped start the historical preservation society in New York. And ... later on in the '70s they were talking about demolishing Grand Central Station and one of the chief figures that stood in the way of that ... was Jackie Onassis. She literally led the fight to save it, and obviously did. So I wanted somebody like her to be a figure in this book."
That led to Cyndia Syl, a preservation crusader who serves as foil, conscience and possible love interest for Bruce Wayne.
Given that the story is set in the 1930s, a lot of prewar influences add to the mix, from Art Deco to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." Most important, Kidd said, was an early-20th-century architect named Hugh Ferris, who also influenced the groundbreaking "Batman: The Animated Series."
"He was an architectural renderer in the '10s, '20s, '30s," Kidd said. "His work is in MOMA [New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art]. It's mostly all in pencil and charcoal on paper, but incredible monolithic buildings. Very urban utopia of the time. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff."
Because "Death by Design" is set in the 1930s, it obviously isn't part of the current Batman's history. But Kidd isn't concerned that his story is "out of continuity," as they say, which means it's unlikely his creations will see life in any form other than a sequel. He had a great time, which is reflected in a great story.
"They really let me pretty much do whatever I want," Kidd said.