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, Iâ€™d like to say to all the relevant reviewers/bloggers/whomever: I am heartened that you all have such concern for Mr. Kuwataâ€™s welfare. So hereâ€™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 wonâ€™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 phenomenonâ€”however short-livedâ€”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 itâ€™s not like weâ€™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 donâ€™tâ€”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 itâ€™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 weâ€™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 bookâ€”Iâ€™ve heard nothing but compliments and thanks from him.
So thatâ€™s what I have to say. In this culture of blogger-snark Iâ€™m sure this is just the equivalent of painting an even larger target on my forehead, but I canâ€™t just say nothing.
PS: The most interesting observation on the book, so far anyway, is from Ainâ€™t It Cool Newsâ€”the reviewer there said that â€œit is an American re-interpretation of a Japanese re-interpretation of American pop culture.â€
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).
But… 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.