Renowned designer of dust jackets for books, Chip Kidd is also the author of The Cheese Monkeys.
Chip Kidd was born in 1964 in Shillington, Berks County. He grew up fascinated with American popular culture, especially Batman. After studying graphic design at the Pennsylvania State University, he worked at the Knopf publishing house. Book-cover design was initially his main focus, but he went on to author and edit graphic novels and coffee-table books. In 2001, he wrote his first novel, The Cheese Monkeys. This was followed in 2008 with The Learners. Kidd now lives in New York City and Stonington, CT, writes and edits for Pantheon publishing, and plays in a band called Artbreak.
Charles (Chip) I. Kidd was born September 12, 1964 in Shillington, Berks County. As a child he immersed himself in American popular culture through daytime television and began an impressive life-long collection of Batman merchandise.
After graduating from the graphic design program at the Pennsylvania State University in 1986, Kidd was hired at Knopf publishing house as a junior assistant. As he told USA Today, this was at a time when book covers were replacing record album covers as the “cool, neat thing” for graphic designers to make. Kidd began to develop his own style of unconventional book designs and became notable as a unique and effective designer of covers. His sense of humor and idiosyncratic techniques translated to his designs. David Sedaris’ Naked, for example, features a pair of boxer shorts on the book jacket, which reveal an x-ray of a pelvis on the hardcover when the jacket is removed. In a monograph on Kidd, Véronique Vienne, a teacher in the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York, noted his technique of stretching “the visual boundaries between words and visuals by choosing pictures that appear at first glance to be non sequiturs.”
By 2002, Kidd had designed 1200 dust covers for Knopf, as well as a number of freelance projects. Among these was the famous silhouetted T-Rex skeleton for Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, which became the merchandising logo for the blockbuster—what Véronique Vienne calls “probably one of the most seen images of the 1990s.” Kidd also created covers for authors Cormac McCarthy, David Sedaris, John Updike, Haruki Murakami, and James Ellroy (who has called Kidd “the world’s greatest book-jacket designer”). Kidd frequently designed for New York Times best-sellers lists, so some writers (most notably best-selling author and neurologist Oliver Sacks) began to contractually request his covers for their books. Kidd’s influence on the book-jacket has been amply noted—Time Out New York has said that “the history of book design can be split into two eras: before graphic designer Chip Kidd and after.”
Kidd is often asked about his creative process. On the source of his inspiration, Kidd told Matt Pashkow in Inspirability that “for the most part I’m inspired by whatever the book is, or by the manuscript itself.” For the USA Today, he outlined his process for creating a cover. After closely reading the work he contacts the author, who “has final say, so it’s a logical starting point.” “Along the way, I may or may not involve photographers or illustrators or any amount of ephemeral detritus that washes up on my shores in the pursuit of solving the problem. And that is what it always amounts to: visually solving a problem.” He says that this solution can take up to six months to find.
Kidd went on to edit graphic novels at Pantheon, a division of Knopf publishing. He also authored and designed several coffee-table books, including Batman Collected (1996), Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz (2001), and Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross (2003).
With the release of his first novel, The Cheese Monkeys (2001), Kidd expanded his creative versatility even more. The novel, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, is loosely based on Kidd’s experiences as a graphic design student at the Pennsylvania State University. Its design features several gimmicks that Kidd hesitated to use on other authors’ works: the jacket simply prints the title, while the cover underneath shows it in pictures: “the” followed by a picture of swiss cheese and three monkeys. On the inside title page, Bret Easton Ellis’ written praise is frustratingly split (another idea of Kidd’s) across the outside edge of a page: “it has suspense, likeable and lovable characters… effortlessly sustained comic charm throughout (and without curdling into cuteness—not a simple achievement).” The Cheese Monkeys sold about 50,000 copies in hardcover and paperback—fairly high for a debut novel.
Picking up where The Cheese Monkeys left off, Kidd’s second novel, The Learners, was published in 2008 and follows the protagonist’s participation in the Milgram experiment, a 1961 psychological study in which participants were ordered to electrically shock test-takers every time a mistake was made, revealing that people were often willing to harm others if told to do so by an authority. The Learners makes a connection between this experiment and the power of suggestion in advertising. In an interview with CBC News, Kidd calls the Milgram experiment “a metaphor for the way advertising can work and the way advertisers and agencies have a tremendous responsibility because of the — almost literally now — viral ways that their messages are disseminated to society.”
In 2005, Kidd's monograph, Chip Kidd: Book One, was published by Rizzoli International, with an introduction by John Updike and featuring over 800 works, spanning two decades (1986-2006).
His work has received prestigious acknowledgment, including the National Award for Communications, the industry's highest honor, and the Use of Photography in Design award from the International Center of Photography. He has also been awarded the National Design Award (2007) with his work included in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum's third National Design Triennial.
Continuing his aim to be a novelist as well as a graphic designer, Kidd has written two more original books, True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World (2010), co-authored with Lisa Birnbach, and Batman: Death by Design, A New York Times Bestseller (2012).
He has presented lectures at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, RISD, and numerous other institutions, including the 2012 Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference, resulting in a TED Talk web video, “Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is,” that has over 660,000 hits and counting. He also returned to Penn State recently, where he presented his lecture, “Fail Better.”
Presently, Kidd travels between a highly-decorated apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Stonington, Connecticut, where his partner, poet and Yale Review editor J.D. McClatchy, resides. He also spends time in Palm Beach, Florida. He continues to edit comics at Pantheon and frequently writes about graphic design and pop culture for publications including McSweeney’s, The New York Times, Vogue, and EntertainmentWeekly. His persona attracts enthusiastic media attention, and he has been described by USA Today as “the closest thing to a rock star” in the graphic design world. In 2008, Kidd started a new wave band called Artbreak, for which he is the primary songwriter, vocalist, and percussionist.
Four of Chip Kidd’s book cover designs are forthcoming in the Before Watchmen: Deluxe Edition (2013) series, due out from DC Comics this summer.
The Cheese Monkeys: a Novel in Two Semesters. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
The Learners: the Book after “The Cheese Monkeys” New York: Scribner, 2008.
True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World (With Lisa Birnbach). New York: Knopf, 2010.
Batman: Death by Design. New York: DC Comics, 2012.
Jurassic Park. Crichton, Michael. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
The Elephant Vanishes. Murakami, Haruki. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Murakami, Haruki. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Naked. Sedaris, David. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 1997.
Awakenings. Sacks, Oliver. New York: Vintage Books, 1999.
American Tabloid. Ellroy, James. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Seek My Face. Updike, John. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Before Watchmen: Deluxe Edition. New York: DC Comics, 2013.
Batman Collected. New York: Bullfinch/D.C. Comics, 1996.
Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz. New York: Pantheon, 2001.
Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross. New York: Pantheon, 2003.
Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2010.
Ross, A. Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross (Editor). New York, Knopf , 2010.