Absolutely Chip Kidd

The designer discusses designing Murakami's Absolutely on Music

Over the course of his 30-year career, designer and art director Chip Kidd has created many of the book world's most famous cover images — the white boxer shorts of David Sedaris's Naked, the stunning, ruffled mane of All the Pretty Horses, the Jurassic Park T-Rex skeleton — and possesses one of the most well-known names in book cover design. Despite his iconic status, the designer told Spine he's made a career of avoiding a signature style.
"I have always enjoyed being what I call a 'pluralist,'" he said. "I like to start with a blank slate each time." Case in point: A cover-to-cover comparison of Kidd's' designs for two of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's recent titles. 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is trademark Murakami – absurdity, ambiguity, sex, classical music and pop culture references. For the cover, Kidd went an equally complex route, creating an image of five fingers, each a window into another scene utilizing a map of the Tokyo subway system, which plays a central role in the protagonist's life. The design, per Kidd, was "tremendously complicated in terms of production," involving "die-cuts, special materials, etc."


Comparatively, the design for Absolutely on Music, which features Murakami talking with and writing about former Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa, is straightforward: black ink on white paper. Kidd discusses the creative process, for which he brought in Minneapolis-based illustrator Eric Hanson.
"At first he did some line-drawing portraits of the two men, which were well done but I thought too obvious. The expected way to go with this would be to just show them side by side on the front, and I wanted something more interesting than that. (We ended up doing that on the back, which was fine.)
"It occurred to me that both men work with their hands, but in entirely different ways, and that seemed like it had possibilities. Eric drew a hand writing and two hands in the midst of conducting (Ozawa rarely uses a baton). This implied a conversation with gestures, which I thought was totally appropriate.
"Then Eric made the hands into 'notes' that then were used to create the first bars of Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto. And that's where we stopped. (A key to making any piece of art or design, I have found, is understanding when it is time to stop.)
"At that point in the process I print out a physical copy of the design, trim and wrap it around a book, as if it's finished. Then I start showing it within the house, starting with the editor (Lexy Bloom) and the editor-in-chief (Sonny Mehta). They liked it, so on it goes to the head of Sales, and Marketing, and then to the agent and finally the author. The only adjustments requested involved the size of the two men's names: It had to be clear that Murakami was the author." Concerning the author, Kidd notes Murakami is the rare author who always agrees with the design ("and we appreciate it!")
Up next for Kidd: more, more, more.

"In May I am publishing the first half of Gengoroh Tagame's graphic novel My Brother's Husband at Pantheon. In the summer I hope to finally publish my collections of Batman: Black and White sketch covers to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; and in the fall I will unleash Chip Kidd Book Two: 2007-2017 from Rizzoli, with introductions by Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman and Orhan Pamuk (!!). And then all of my ongoing book cover work throughout the year.


"It never stops, and I am ever grateful for that."

Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.