Chip Kidd has had his eye on Batman for awhile.Long before he was the award-winning graphic designer for book designs in comics and the mass market, Chip Kidd had been a fan of DC’s Dark Knight since age 3 when he first read comics. In a 2006 book about the designer by Veronique Vienne, the author described Kidd’s infatuation with the character as a “childhood obsession and lasting adult passion.” And now after years of designing books featuring him and writing books about him, Kidd is writing Batman himself.
Announced last month at New York Comic Con, the forthcoming graphic novel Batman: Death By Design sees Chip Kidd collaborate with artist Dave Taylor (Batman: Shadow of the Bat) on what’s been described as an architectural adventure inside Gotham City – and Kidd is delving as much into the persona of Batman as the man behind it, Bruce Wayne.
“Both Batman and Bruce Wayne play equal parts in Batman: Death By Design,” Kidd tells Newsarama. “I’ve always liked the idea that there were certain things Batman can do that Bruce Wayne cannot, with the opposite being true as well. Bruce can do things out in the world Batman never could. One I firmly re-established those two facets in my head, I was able to think about how he might address a certain situation or character from those angles.”Kidd angles into this feature-length comics debut known primarily for his design work, although he’s written fiction novels as well as a short comic for DC’s Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross. The birth of Batman: Death By Design lay inside the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
“I’m really in debt to Dan Didio and Mark Chiarello for this because a couple years ago they asked me to do an onstage interview with Neil Gaiman at the 92nd Street Y for the anniversary of Sandman,” reveals Kidd. “The event went really well, and backstage afterwards Dan approached me and said he didn’t realize I was such a big Batman fan. He asked me to do a Batman story, and I told him, “Please don’t say that to me if you don’t actually mean it.” And thankfully, he did.”
Growing up idolizing Batman since age 3, the opportunity to write an original Batman story was a long-time coming for the Pennsylvania native – but not without some bumps.“I’ve wanted to write a Batman story all my life but I never really thought about what it’d be if I was ever given the opportunity. It was a happy dilemma,” says the writer/designer. “Once I had the offer in front of me, I had to create and outline and all that. In some ways I knew too much, as I knew his entire history and everything that’s been done with the character so finding a story was daunting. In comics and publishing I’m basically known as a designer, so when the title ‘Batman: Death by Design’ popped into my head I realized it could be a story about Batman’s world from some kind of design perspective.”
With a title and a direction penciled in, Kidd went about defining the story itself.
“Visually, I knew I wanted a very specific kind of art direction to it. That became ‘What if Fritz Lang had a huge budget to make a Batman movie in the 1930s.’,” relates Kidd. “Once I had a story in mind, Dan handed me over to Mark as the editor, who’s a great designer and artist in his own right. We started to think about who’s going to draw it, and very quickly Mark suggested Dave Taylor because, as he basically said, ‘Dave is great with faces and with buildings, and I think he’d be willing to devote the time to this that’d be required.” We went from there and once Dave signed on, I realized I was a fan of his even if I didn’t know it. He had drawn the retelling of Robin’s origins in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #100 and was amazing.”Of all of comics’ heroes its Batman who’s best known for its villains, and Kidd is introducing a new villain to the star-studded rogue’s gallery.
“The villain I invented is named Exacto, with the concept of him being an architectural critic as a Batman villain,” Kidd tells Newsarama. “I wanted to make him a bit sympathetic while still being villainous, emerging as an anti-hero of sorts.”
Kidd was spurred to create Exacto because he the existing rogue’s gallery was off-limits – or so he thought.
“I created the new villain because I assumed I couldn’t use the big villains; I don’t now why, I just did. After I sent Mark my outline and my character write-ups, we met and he explained it was fine and really interesting, but asked ‘don’t you want to use any of the big villains?” I explained to him that I assumed I couldn’t touch them, but he assured me I could since the book is out of continuity,” Kidd reveals. ”After he told me that DC knows me and trusts me, I went for the big one – the Joker. In the end it was certainly not hard to adjust the story to accommodate him, and it ended up working very well. Batman: Death By Design starts like what you might expect from a Joker story, then Exacto throws a wrench into it. It’s a really nice blend, and Dave did a wonderful job with the Joker. I describe Dave’s work on the book as an expressionist take on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with the Joker as a silent movie villain.”In addition to a new foe inside Gotham City, Batman: Death By Design includes a new woman in Batman’s life named Cyndia Sill that has some lofty inspirations.
“Cyndia is sort of a combination of Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Onassis,” says Kidd. “Part of the inspiration for this story was from the 1970s, when the New York City was going to demolish Grand Central Station. The one person standing between the people doing it and the station was Jackie O., and it was amazing. She helped foster the culture of historic preservation in the city. That’s the Cyndia angle, as she’s sort of beseeching Bruce Wayne to save Wayne Central Station, which Bruce’s father had built. It’s this great behemoth of a building but has been left to disrepair. In the outset of Batman: Death By Design it’s set to be demolished, and Sill is trying to stop it.”Much like the iconic Grand Central Station, Batman is one of the most enduring icons in comics - especially given how the concept can be stretched to Adam West-style antics to Frank Miller’s more grizzled version. When asked for his thoughts on Batman as an icon, Kidd was thoughtful but unsure himself.
“I wish I had a quick and easy answer for that. Really, it all comes down to Batman’s design. The way and the artists and writers at DC have evolved him over the past 70 have kept him alive. I did a whole book on Captain Marvel, whose later years were very different. I don’t know a good answer for you except to say that there have been a lot of incredibly talented people who have worked on Batman and expand the mythos.”
As Chip Kidd joins that line-up of creators who have penned original Batman stories, he admits that this book is more than just a professional job.
“It’s like a fanboy dream come true, and I’m a huge fanboy – I’ll be the first person to admit that,” Kidd gushes. “Given that Batman: Death By Design is outside of continuity, it gives me a tremendous amount of freedom. Whether or not I’ll introduce or invent anything that’ll have any resonance in Batman’s mythos going forward remains to be seen years from now. Personally, I’m thrilled with what we were able to do. I’m sure most script writers are used to this, but for me seeing Dave Taylor’s drawings of my scripts fully fleshed out is like magic. It’s really amazing.”