You may not know the name Chip Kidd, but you know his work.
As the most prominent book-jacket designer in the nation, Kidd has created memorable images ranging from the terrifying T-Rex on Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" to the stark subtlety of "The Original of Laura," Vladimir Nabokov's final, unfinished novel.
Kidd, who turned 45 Saturday, is the associate art editor for the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house. A Batman fanatic, he also writes books himself, including "Bat-manga!," about Batman comics in Japan, and the best-selling novel "The Cheese Monkeys." His partner is the poet J.D. McClatchy.
Kidd will be in town Wednesday to kick off this season's Minnesota Book Publishers' Roundtable lecture series.
Q You're writing a Batman comic for DC Comics -- can you give us some tantalizing foreshadowing?
A No, too premature. I let the cat out of the bag earlier than I was supposed to on that. Somebody twittered it and then it was everywhere. It's an exhilarating experience to write a Batman story, but very nerve-wracking because with everything that's already been done, what on earth can I bring to it that no one else has?
Q How many items of Batman memorabilia do you own?
A Hundreds. If I were more organized I'd have some sort of comprehensive list for insurance.
Q If your apartment was in blazes, what would you grab first?
A This will sound really geeky: the original cover painting for Kingdom Come No. 3 by my friend Alex Ross. It was a DC comics four-part miniseries, the first look at what his version of Batman was going to look like, and this is the only cover in private hands.
Q How many book jackets do you design a year, and do you always read the whole book before starting?
A About 30 to 40. If it's a first-time author I don't know anything about, I do read the whole manuscript, or as much of it as I need to feel well equipped to proceed. But for certain writers, like Orhan Pamuk, if it hasn't been translated yet I will talk to him directly.
Q Have you designed book jackets that you wish you could do over?
A How much time do you have? Certainly. I did get to, once, with the paperback of Robert Hughes' "The Shock of the New," when a new edition came out 10 years later. The first one was terrible, with clunky, self-conscious typography. To do a terrible cover for the premier art critic in America, not so great.
Q Which authors would you most like to design for whom you haven't yet?
A Lorrie Moore and Alice Munro. The irony is that we [Knopf] publish both of them and each have long-standing relationships with other designers. But there are worse problems to have.
Q You also write books, and recently formed a band for which you sing, write and play percussion. What's the next creative field you'll tackle? Modern dance? Poetry?
A I'd love to do something with film. I'll never do poetry because of my other half. Part of what makes our relationship work well is that I don't want to be a poet and he doesn't want to be a graphic artist. The band, Artbreak, is finishing up an album that will be recorded by the end of the year.
Q What did you think of Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as the Joker in the movie "The Dark Knight"?
A Bale is great, but for these movies, you're not casting Batman, you're casting Bruce Wayne. Once the actor gets all that regalia on it makes no difference. I'm a Batman purist, so I take issue with the commando look. I do love that they went grassroots with the Joker this time, it worked so well. Too bad they did the opposite with Batman.
Q Is the sadistic art teacher in your novel "The Cheese Monkeys" based on a real person?
A I had two very good, very tough graphic-design teachers at Penn State in the early '80s. I blended them into one über-teacher in the book. I respond well to negative reinforcement. I was always more interested in knowing what I was doing wrong and how to correct it than what I was doing right. Strengths take care of themselves.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046