Monday, January 16, 2006

Chip Kidd at B&N Chelsea

Chip Kidd read from his coffee-table book (a strange thing to do, he admitted) Friday at the Chelsea Barnes & Noble. It's basically a collection of his book-jacket designs and other things called Chip Kidd: Book One, Work: 1986-2006. I'd say nearly 150 people turned out for the event. He seemed genuinely befuddled by his rock-star status. Or perhaps it's just an act, and he doesn't want to appear jaded by it all.

He read a "true story" from his book that recounts his first book-cover design assignment at college (he seems a very proud Penn Stater, mentioning it quite a few times, or maybe that's just me projecting). Kidd's from the Reading area, and is also tangentially acquainted with John Updike's family or circle or something, so thus he felt like he had a lock on things when the teacher told the students to design a new cover for Museums and Women, by Mr. Shillington himself, which features some scene in a well-known (to county residents, at least) museum in Reading. So he cobbles together some freshman attempt, all very proud of himself, and the teacher proceeds to tear him apart in front of the class, saying something like, "If you were considering book jacket design as a career, you should consider something else." He says that what that teacher told him were valid critiques, and proof that he wasn't born some genius, but there was still a sense of pride, he admitted, in eventually getting to design Updike's books for real at Knopf.

Speaking of "true stories," Kidd mentioned the now infamous book by James Frey (A Million Little Pieces) in passing because the cover was designed by one of his students ("my greatest creation," he said in a Dr. Frankenstein voice) at SVA, whom Chip thought of as a fuck-up in school, but who turned out to be a real success in his work.

Other than that, there were lots of jokey mentions of drinking and happy hour and rehab, along with lots of air quotes and silly voices. I found him pretty amusing, but perhaps he wasn't what everyone expected because a lot of his flamboyance seemed to fall flat in terms of getting a rise out of the audience.

The Q&A session began with some interesting thoughts, but ended with the inevitable (groan-inducing) "What are your influences?" and "What advice do you have for the struggling book-jacket designer?" ("Find another field" was his answer. "I don't need the competition") and another question about what overriding principles or theories he has. Kidd very charitably gave some answers, although he was basically rewording something he'd said during his initial discussion: that he relies on the content of each new book to inspire him, and doesn't try to carry with him Great Big Ideas that he imposes onto someone else's writing.

Oh, and someone also asked him whether Chip Kidd is his real name. And he said, only inasmuch as his mother came up with it as a nickname for Charles (his birth certificate) when he was a fetus.

Plus, he was wearing a snazzy faded-green blazer with burgundy trimming over a pink and white striped shirt. And he has this off-center haircut that he's always flipping back and forth.

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