Chip Kidd Responds to Bat-Manga Cover Credit Controversy – Updated


I was, honestly, getting a little tired of seeing Chip Kidd tried and sentenced by the internet over the past few days, without anyone bothering to contact him or anyone involved with the book about it. So yesterday afternoon I dropped him an e-mail about the situation surrounding Jiro Kuwata’s lack of cover credit on Bat-Manga: The Secret History Of Batman In Japan. Apparently his response to me last night got lost in the ether (not even in my spam-filter, just disappeared…). Anyway, responding to a question from Chris Mautner (Patriot News, Blog@Newsarama) he sent out the following response. Also cc’d on the e-mail were Bat-Manga co-creators Geoff Spear, Saul Ferris, Bat-Manga translator Anne Ishi, and Leigh Walton from Top Shelf Comix. Here’s Chip Kidd’s comments on the kerfuffle:

Hi Chris [Mautner],
Coincidentally, I had gotten the same question yesterday, from another Chris (the Beguiling), and had answered it last night. But a check on my e-mail records today indicates it did not go through and subsequently disappeared. So here goes again, let me know you (all) got this.

First of all, I’d like to say to all the relevant reviewers/bloggers/whomever: I am heartened that you all have such concern for Mr. Kuwata’s welfare. So here’s a question: where were YOU for the last thirty years, while he was languishing in obscurity both here and in his own country? I won’t bother waiting for an answer.

As for my answer, it is multifold and complex, and if it comes off as self-serving, I apologize for that. Here goes.

First, Bat-Manga is not just about the work of Mr. Kuwata, although that of course makes up the bulk of the book. Rather, it is about chronicling the phenomenon—however short-lived—of Batman in Japan in 1966. To that end, the book itself as an act of pop-culture reconnaissance is entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and myself. Mr. Kuwata is prominently mentioned on the front flap (as is translator Anne Ishii) and on the back cover, so it’s not like we’re trying to deny him any credit. I would not have made the considerable effort to track him down, interview, and photograph him if that were the case. It is worth noting that before we took it upon ourselves to do this, NO ONE had any interested in collecting this material for reprinting, least of Shonen King (and they still don’t—Bat-manga has amazingly failed to find a Japanese publisher).

But I would put forth the analogy: when Ken Burns made his documentary on the Civil War, the subsequent book had his name, and his writer Geoffrey Ward, on the front. It did not have the names General Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, or Abraham Lincoln, or any contemporary historians that Burns interviewed. That may sound like a stretch, but it’s the same situation. We took it upon ourselves to put this project together because of our love for this material. We spent far more of our own money amassing everything then we’ll ever see out of sales of the book; and without going into details, any money we did get as an advance went right back to Mr. Kuwata, who was thrilled to get it. As he is thrilled with the book—I’ve heard nothing but compliments and thanks from him.

So that’s what I have to say. In this culture of blogger-snark I’m sure this is just the equivalent of painting an even larger target on my forehead, but I can’t just say nothing.



PS: The most interesting observation on the book, so far anyway, is from Ain’t It Cool News—the reviewer there said that “it is an American re-interpretation of a Japanese re-interpretation of American pop culture.”
Now that I buy.

Chip Kidd is pretty infamous for not mincing words, I wasn’t expecting much different in the way of response on this one. It would have been nice if he were nicer (I’m pretty sure Leigh Walton wasn’t even born 30 years ago…), but considering someone wrote “shame” at him this morning I’m not, you know… Like I said, I’m not surprised at his response. And really, he’s right.

I have to admit that I noticed the absence of Jiro Kuwata’s name on the cover of Bat-Manga a week back while I was writing something up about the book, and was both puzzled and, initially, a little saddened by it. Primarily because, in discussing the book with Chip both in private and on-stage at the International Festival of Authors, he was utterly in awe of Jiro Kuwata’s work. We spent a little bit of time going through all the manga reference books we had at The Beguiling to see if any of them had a mention of Kuwata or his work, and we couldn’t find any. Kidd had gone to great efforts to dig up as much as he could of this material, and of 8-Man and other works. He wanted to create a tribute to the short-lived phenomenon of Batman in Japan, and Kuwata’s almost completely unknown contribution to it. In creating this book, he really discovered how great Kuwata’s work is, and worked to see him as fully compensated for this book as possible (see: above). So I found a disconnect between Kidd’s obvious and public admiration of Kuwata, and Kuwata’s lack of credit on the front-cover of the book (but, as Chip mentions, not the back cover, inside cover, or multiple times inside).

peanuts_book.jpgBut… just looking at some of Kidd’s other projects of historical documentation like Batman: Collected which is a whole book on neat Batman toys (almost none of which were created by Kidd), or Batman: Animated which Kidd co-authors and which features work by Bruce Timm and other artists, or especially Peanuts, Kidd’s tribute to and collection of work by Charles Schultz, as the editor of those project he got top billing, even when the project is largely focused on the work of one creator. Kidd creates books about the phenomena of “the work”, for the most part, and the credit he gets is deserved (in my ever humble opinion). My initial, defensive feelings were off the mark. That said, would it have been nice to see Kuwata’s name up there? Or Bob Kane’s for that matter (although that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish…)? Sure, why not. But is it necessary, or even standard practice? Or, you know, shame-worthy, not to have included it?

If this were a straight-up reprint, along the lines of what Vertical is doing with Tezuka’s work or D+Q is doing with Tatsumi, yeah, the author’s name should be front and centre. But this? These comics are being given equal consideration with toy photos, costumes, magazine covers, and other various ephemera. Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, and Saul Ferris have opted to cover the phenomenon of Batman in Japan, with the comics being given the most weight in the collection. You can argue that the focus is different than you might prefer, but on the book’s own merits I think the consideration given to all parties is fair. As is the compensation, by all accounts.

Again, there’s plenty to discuss in terms of how a book like this could have been put together, but this cover credit issue has been blown out of all reasonable proportion, and it’s too bad because the book is definitely, definitely worth owning.

– Christopher

18 thoughts on “Chip Kidd Responds to Bat-Manga Cover Credit Controversy – Updated”

  1. I should really put together a longer response to the email (and I’m somewhat flattered to have been considered the chief bloggy offender)…

    But I think your point is undercut slightly by the image you chose to illustrate par. 3: the cover of Peanuts, which not only displays “BY SCHULZ” dead center on its front cover but is also subtitled “The Art of Charles M. Schulz.”

    (I am indeed well under 30; my first memories of Batman involve this toy, FWIW)

  2. My copy of Walt & Skeezix Volume 2 has a fine Jeet Heer essay, a Chris Ware introduction, and these neat endnotes by Tim Samuelson; there’s at least 100 pages of critical writing, photos, obscure sketches, biographical information, letters, and other ephemera. There’s no shortage of material about the context of the work there.

    The only credited author is Frank King, though.

    How much would Chris Ware have had to add for him to be the author of Gasoline Alley, and not Frank King, exactly? Or if the other essays had been about child-rearing or automobiles, would that have made Chris Ware the author of Gasoline Alley? Where’s the line? I don’t understand where the line is.

    But if Mr. Kuwata’s happy and being paid? Great! Batman comics come out every single week and I don’t exactly remember seeing Jerry Robinson’s credit on any of them lately, even on the inside flap. I think that makes the entire conversation at least slightly absurd.

    P.S. I really like Chip Kidd’s work. I have his monograph on my coffee table, and everything. Don’t think that Bat-Manga book is for me, though– no interest, and I don’t like how he presented the pages; I’d rather have that Speed Racer collection.

  3. Many thanks, Christopher, I really appreciate it. You hit the nail on the head when you said Bat-Manga is NOT a straight-up reprint. It’s a book about Batman in Japan that has a lot of Kuwata’s work in it.

    Abhay’s argument is not valid, because Frank King is the sole creator and artist for Gasoline Alley. As was Schulz with Peanuts(duh). Why do I even have to point that out?

    And why am I bothering to get mired in all this?


  4. People who make these criticisms tend to be xenophiles who are all too desperate to make assertions of western authors plagiarizing eastern culture. No one who reads this book is going to come away with an idea that Chipp Kidd or any of his co-authors actually created the material being discussed, especially when there are so many mentions and near-love letter prose dedicated to Kuwata.

    The Schulz argument is patently absurd as well. Of course it’s “The Art of Charles Schulz”, the book is a study of his work and it’s effect on others. Bat-Manga is a study of Batman in Manga form, which just happens to feature a lot of Kuwata. Why aren’t you banging the drum slowly for the other manga-ka in there?

    On top of that, people who compile text books don’t credit every single source on the cover, who should Kidd? Get over yourself.

  5. The thing is though, the main selling point on this was the manga, not that toys and other knick knacks. The description on the back is about the manga, not the toys and knick knacks. Most of the interviews were about the manga, not the toys and knick knacks. If he sold this as a retrospective of Batman in 1960s Japan, then fine, no problem. But he didn’t. He sold it as a manga and how an American pop icon was interpreted by a sole creator, Jiro Kuwata. The the manga was the meat of the books, and the rest was just well-photographed parsley. Not seeing Jiro Kuwata’s name on the front cover credits or a brief bio with the rest is bad form whether Kidd thinks so or not.

    P. S. “Where was I?” he asks? If I had known about this manga, I would have done all I could to find out more about it to the best of my ability. This stuff is gorgeous. But I am just a poor college student with very, very little means and resources compared to Chip’s. I thank him, but he really could have done better.

  6. I think it’s oversimplifying to say that parts of this book aren’t just a straight up reprint of the Kuwata material. Sure it’s copied lovingly from beautifully aged, archival newsprint, but he’s still just reprinting stories. (That is, you’re reading the actual story, just like its original audience did; you’re not just looking at a picture of some wonderful toy you don’t own.)

    If Kidd had done the same thing with Buddha (as opposed to just designing the covers), copying all the pages from yellowed, timeworn magazines, then it wouldn’t have justified leaving Tezuka’s name off the cover.

    No room for argument there; it just woudln’t.
    (I’m just opining, and not looking for a fight.)

  7. “I think it’s oversimplifying to say that parts of this book aren’t just a straight up reprint”

    The operative phrase being “parts of the book”.

    Not “the entire book”. If it WAS the entire book, there would be something do discuss here, but it’s not.

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