KIDD: I donāt see my books about the superhero stuff that I do [as being] so much about nostalgia as about validation. Iāve been collecting Batman stuff pretty much uninterrupted my entire life, which is not something that Iām proud to sit here and say. Chris did this fake strip as a Christmas present for me one year. And I opened this up and I almost fainted because I thought it was real. [Laughter] I thought I had the single oldest original piece of Batman art, and then I got to the part where Robinās lamenting that Iām already seeing somebody, and ā¦
HEER: For those who canāt read it, it says: āIt must be the work of Chip Kidd! I simply adore him! Though I hear heās taken.ā Which is sadly true.
KIDD: I literally felt like, well, āIf I can publish a book of Batman toys, then Iām not nearly as pathetic as some people say I am.ā [Laughter] And it just went on from there. āIf I can publish a book on the Batman animated TV show by Bruce Tim, then itās not totally gay to like it!ā [Laughter] And Iāve been dogpaddling like this ever since.
So ā¦ obviously thereās a nostalgia component but itās really more like a ā¦ rediscovery or really trying to make other people see this stuff the way I see it.
SETH: Well, nostalgiaās tricky because when you read things at a certain age, you invest these emotions into them. And then later when youāre an adult you have to go back and sift through and see whether the material actually is worthy of that level of interest in it again and itās hard to separate your sentimentality towards it to see whether the work really stands up.
HEER: And actually, to get to Chipās point, as well as what you said about the difficulty of nostalgia, I think some of the hostility that some hardcore comics fans have to some of your projects, like I know that there were some Peanuts fans who made very stupid, ignorant comments about the Peanuts book, but I think itās because they were emotionally invested ā¦
KIDD: They called it an act of necrophilia. [Laughter.]
HEER: But it comes from the fact that youāre tampering with their nostalgia. They have a sort of five-year-old memory of what Peanuts is, and what youāre trying to do is to get them to see Peanuts afresh, and for some people that creates a great deal of hostility.
KIDD: And, well, a lot of the hostility came from the fact that I reprinted the strips literally as if they were clipped from the newspaper and then we simply photographed them that way. Itās kind of hard to get that impression from here. I remember when I was thinking about trying to put this book together and what it would be, I called up Chris and I said, āI donāt suppose you know anybody who has an amazing vintage collection of early, early Peanuts strips,ā and he said, āYeah, me.ā And he had just literallyā¦
WARE: I didnāt say it like that. [Laughter.]
KIDD: A little more enthusiasm. But he had just purchased, on eBay for an outrageously low sum, a scrapbook of the first, I donāt know, three years of the strip?
WARE: Something like that, yeah. The great thing is that the collector who did this focused more on the sort of gag aspect of the early Peanuts strip and kind of cut out most of the ones that were about the characters as they developed, which just highlighted for me the fact that Schulz, when he published the first Peanuts volume, was a shrewd editor and artist, because he understood the real engine of the strip was the interaction between the characters and not the sort of more tossed-off gag type things, but this guy collected āem. And in the back of the book, on top of that, he had party jokes pasted in. So I thought āIs he, like, trying to memorize these things for when he [laughter] went out in social circumstances, to try to amuse people, or ā¦ā
HEER: Pick up chicks ā¦
KIDD: But what was even, to me, just logistically so extraordinary about this scrapbook that Chris so graciously lent to us for this project, was that when Peanuts started, it started in eight newspapers in the entire country. Eight. So, that meant ā and three of them were in Pennsylvania near where I grew up. So this guy, whoever he was, recognized that Peanuts was special immediately, and started collecting these things. When you think about it, itās one thing for somebody, even at the end of the ā50s, to start doing it, but to start doing it in 1950 was pretty amazing. Anyway. I think people were upset because they thought that I was showing a lot of Schulzās work in a way that he would not have approved of.
WARE: Actually, I think it kind of highlights the whole problem of comics as art. Because you were presenting them as cultural artifacts. You were photographing them as printed objects. And I think what maybe upset people who didnāt like it is that they were used to seeing them more as type on a page or text on a page. The difference being that when you photographed them you could see the browning of the paper, the paper thread; you were showing ā¦ how it was originally presented. It was more of an art book. They werenāt really necessarily as much intended to be read in your book as they would be, say, like in the version that Seth is working on, where youāre presenting them literally almost as type. So maybe thatās what upset people.
And thatās one of the reasons why comics just maybe never will be considered art: because it is an art of reproduction. Everybody can have one. But thatās the thing I like, actually, about it most ā that thereās not, like, a cultural exclusivity to it. Itās not on a wall in a museum that some group of donors paid $12 million for. Everyone can take the book home and have a very kind of private, personal experience, but at the same time our culture doesnāt really value things like that. Unfortunately, it sees them as sort of a tossed-away things.
My goal at least is to make the best possible thing I can for a single person, whoever that person might be.
HEER: Thatās a very good note for this portion of it. I think we have time for questions from the audience and it looks like thereās a lot of people out there. Yes?
MAN: What are some of the trends that you guys see today in comics and where itās sort of headed? And also, I noticed a sort of division between the superhero comics and these more independent comics and is there a tension there? I donāt know, and you see those two worlds coming together. Iām sure Iāve seen a few independent examples where the worlds have come together kind of in a funny, ironic way, and Iām wondering if you see that merging. I donāt know if DC or somebody is interested in the independent world or vice versa ā¦
BURNS: I donāt see it as a tension. I think thereās room for all those worlds to coexist. I think thatās whatās good right now: that thereās a large body of what I think is good, interesting work coming out. When I was a kid I genuinely loved reading Spiderman comics. I looked forward to the next issue; it was the right age for me and it was the kind of story that I really liked. I do remember that there was some disappointment ā¦ that I wanted better work. I remember buying a Batman comic and I knew it was crummy, but I bought it anyway ācause I liked comics. ā¦ But for people who love superheroes, I mean, thatās great. They should be able to coexist. I donāt think there needs to be ā¦ warring factions. I donāt see it that way at all.
WARE: I do.
SETH: There is a bit of tension, though, I think. And the tension mostly for me is that, because comics is a small world, you have to deal with them. Itās not that I have any problem with superhero comic books; Iām more than happy for guys to be out there making them, and I could have easily been one of those guys and been very happy. But itās the fact that you must deal with them, sort of, as a cartoonist. [Laughter.] Iām sure that there are authors out there that donāt have to deal with childrenās books, for example, like if Salman Rushdie is giving an interview, nobody asks him about childrenās books. But as a cartoonist youāre constantly returning to the superhero. I mean it is a potent image for us as cartoonists, anyway; we canāt really escape it, itās been so formative. But I think thereās a weird focus on the superhero because the marketās sort of worked its way down to just being superheroes at some point.
WARE: Right. Plus, the predominant content of our language, basically. Itās not always gonna be that way, it just happens to be that way now. We grew up reading them, and itās the most prevalent commercial content of comics in America. You go to another country, itās not necessarily superheroes. There are hardly any superheroes anywhere in Europe. Itās not a popular genre at all. They like Westerns there, [laughter] and science fiction. And if we were there weād be asked, you know, āDo you like Westerns and science fiction?ā I donāt mean to interrupt you.
HEER: Actually, Chip might be a good person to bring in here, as well, because youāve sort of straddled the borders of these two worlds.
KIDD: Right, I feel like Iām kind of the Kofi Annan of ā¦ āCanāt we all just get along?ā
HEER: First Peter Lawford, now Kofi Annan.
KIDD: Yeah, right, we just shifted there, didnāt we? Iāve got this deep, heartfelt love of superhero comics, and I always will, and then Iāve got a deep heartfelt love of what everybody on this stage is doing, and, I donāt know. I think, going back a little bit to your initial question is, like, āWhere are comics going?ā Again, itās too broad a question, I think it needs to be pared down. Itās like asking āWhere are movies going?ā or āWhere is fiction going?ā Thereās so many different ways of answering that, that the first way to answer it is to start talking more specifically about ā¦ āWhat kind of comics?ā You know, thereās the autobiographical stuff, there is manga, there is superheroes, there is all different kinds of things, and I think ā¦ that they at least seem to be garnering a larger audience than they have before, and as Chris likes to say ā¦ Well, do you want to say it?
WARE: I donāt know what I say. [Laughter.]
KIDD: That you feel that there are more good cartoonists working today than ever before in a single time in the medium.
WARE: Yeah, I think so. Well, I mean, the reason I got into comics, or kept doing comics as an adult, really is ācause I can do whatever I want, nobody ever tells me what to do. Iām not edited, Iām not changed. And I would never, ever work for a company that would want me to do that, like DC or Marvel would. They would want to own a property. Iād be somehow told what to do. Occasionally, I get calls from the syndicates like United Media saying, āWeād like you to do a strip,ā and within 10 minutes or so I get them to tell me āOh, yeah, we have to own the characters, we have to approve this, we have to approve that,ā and I think āWell, why would I want to do that?ā I mean, if I lived like, for 350 years, I might try it for a decade or something ā¦ [Laughter] Iām gonna be dead in 40 years! I donāt have that much time! This stuff takes a long time. And I donāt want to do that. Actually, I donāt know why anybody would want to do that, but some people do. ā¦ I donāt haveā¦ Well, Iām gonna dissolve into pejorative comments, here, if I donātā¦ So Iāll be quiet.
HEER: Thereās some more questions. In the red?
WOMAN: Sure. Iām very interested in the status of illustrators and comic-book artists within the art world. And now that you guys are all high art ā¦ [Laughter.]
BURNS: We are?
WOMAN: How are things changing in that regard for you, and what impact can that have? Also, now, we have the advantages, in hindsight, if there had been more federal support in the past, for perhaps the previous generation to yourselves ā¦ [If you had] gotten grants, in years past, would that have helped, or would it have spoiled the isolation that you spoke to earlier, that in a way has contributed to the wonderful stuff that youāve made?
BURNS: As far as the idea of it being accepted as a fine art, do you mean specifically about being hung on a gallery wall, or something like that? Is that what you mean?
WOMAN: That youāve been written about academically, that you are getting hung in national galleries, for instance, and that you are now acceptable at dinner parties ā¦ [Laughter.]
BURNS: I always look at the originals as beingā¦ Theyāre like mechanicals for the final product, which is a book or a printed piece. I, as an artist or as a cartoonist, I love looking at those things. I love looking at Chrisās work or Sethās work on the wall, to look at how they drew this and how they corrected that, and I like looking at them as an object. But it always seems kind of awkward to see them in that setting, in that kind of, looking at them on a wall, like that. Youāre not reading them, theyāre not doing what they should be doing, which is ā¦ you know, sitting and looking at them on the printed page, for me.
WARE: Well, in terms of art, there arenāt that many comics that reach into your soul as far as they can and pull out a complicated mass of desire, frustration, fantasy, memory, all the things that go into making life confusing and worth living, and put it out on the page. Thereās really only a handful of cartoonists that do that. And the more they do that, the more it will be considered an art, whether or not itās hung on the wall, or printed in books or written about.
And the mechanism of reading comics, or looking at comics, has more to do with reading pictures than it does looking at them. A gallery and a museum context asks the viewer to look at things rather than read them. So, I had problems, at least when I was in art school, of actually getting my art teachers to read my comics. Theyād literally take them and turn them upside down and say āOh, this is a nice composition.ā And Iād think, āIām payingā¦ this is like ā¦ $400 an hour, here, will you please just read it [laughter] and tell me if the story affected you?ā
So, Art Spiegelman has a really great quote about comics in the art world because up until recently they were treated entirely as a stand-in for popular culture. If you drew a comic panel it meant, like, āLook, pop culture sucks, and I painted it big, but itāll look really nice in your living room.ā And he said āBasically, Roy Lichtenstein did for comics what Andy Warhol did for soup.ā [Laughter.]
HEER: Now, Seth, you have a museum show that just ended recently. D you want to speak to this question?
SETH: Itās a tricky question, because I do think that the profile of comics has been going up in the last 10 years, and I think itās very obviously true that thereās been more attention paid, and having this show is a good example of the kind of seriousness of intent that wouldnāt have been paid to my work 10 years ago, and if it was in a gallery, itās like what Chris would have said, it would have been there either as source material for something else, or as an ironic stance or something, but I felt like the work was presented very straightforwardly, to allow people to actually see it without any ironic distance between what I was doing and the work. I mean, itās not the same as reading it. That is the real experience. You canāt present a whole comic book in a gallery. You could put 200 pages up, but people arenāt going to read it any more than watch a film in one-minute segments for five hours.
But I think that ā to take the second part of your question, about whether or not support from the arts or from the government would have made any difference ā I donāt really think that that would be the answer. I mean, obviously certain artists could have used a grant, and had they been the type to apply for a grant back in the past, if it had even occurred to them, they might have got one. It certainly would have encouraged certain artists to explore things. But I think that there werenāt that many artists that were moving in that direction, just because of the nature of how comics has evolved. Cartoonists have tended to view themselves, because theyāve been on the outside of the art world theyāve had more of a connection to the commercial world, and theyāve understood they had to make a living somehow, and then try to produce art on the side, if they were doing that.
Itās only, I think, in this modern sphere, that we have a certain group of cartoonists that are looking at the field as a primary source of artistic expression. Maybe in an alternate reality there would have been more cartoonists that could have used that kind of help, but itās just, I think, now more than ever thereās been a climate has developed where now more than ever would be the time to support artists. I mean, you could find a handful of artists back in the ā70s who were working in underground comics, who thought of themselves as real artists, and if there had been some kind of cultural support for what they were doing, I think a lot of those guys might have stuck around, and a lot of them disappeared except for the few most committed of them, like Kim Deitch or Robert Crumb. I guess it is a failing of the culture not to have recognized anything in comics, but itās also a failing in comics, to have not presented much for them to recognize.
WARE: Well, thatās the quote of the evening.
HEER: Yeah. [Laughter] You have a question?
MAN: You all talk about what comics have influenced you, and nostalgia in general. Seth and Chris in particular, youāre clearly influenced by design and typography of another time. So Iām wondering what, aside from comics, has influenced the look of your work.
SETH: Just about everything. I feel like Iāve absorbed everything that I come in contact with and then try to pick and choose whatās of value to me. Itās really hard to narrow it down. But I guess aesthetically youāre attracted to different things. For myself, one of the reasons Iām so firmly fixated on the ā20s and ā30s ā¦ Iāve come to think of it as there are certain textures to different time periods, I canāt think of a better word for it, but thereās a feeling to these different times, that you feel through the pictures and through the graphics and through the packaging and whatever, from these times, and youāre drawn to certain ones more than others. And when I just see that work from the early part of the 20th century, thereās a hand-done aesthetic to it that really appeals to me, the way the lettering looks. Even just in the aesthetics of the way people looked. You know, everybodyās wearing wool and cotton, and thereās something appealing about looking into those photographs. People just look different. And thereās something that just grabbed me about that. Iāve certainly tried to intellectualize it over the years, as to why I would have an attraction to this period specifically, but I think it really just comes down to an aesthetic response. Thereās a workmanship in a lot of this stuff that speaks to me, that when I look at a modern candy-bar package, that just doesnāt speak to me. I just look at it and think, like, āCould they squeeze a hundred more things on this package design?ā Thereās ā¦ something that you just want to take from it, and itās as simple as that.
WARE: I think itās also because I really, really loved my grandmother. [Laughter.] Seriously. Thereās something about the time in which she grew up ā there was a certain dignity to it, and the sort of things that were in her house I was really moved by, as a kid, I guess. I mean, this is in addition to what Seth is saying.
HEER: Do you also want to say a little bit about music? ā¦
WARE: Somewhat, yeah. But I would just get kind of nattery, Iād just go on and on about it or something forever. [Laughter.]
HEER: OK. Another question?
WOMAN: Iād just like to know, initially, how difficult was it to find your first publisher, and did you get many rejection notices?
WARE: Well, to say really quickly here, I never actually sent anything out, because I didnāt want to be rejected, because I had been all through school, [laughter] and had some, you know, bad ā¦ school dance experiences and stuff, so. The only thing I actually did try, ever, to do, was to get in the student newspaper when I was in college, which I was ready to be rejected from, but then I got lucky and I wasnāt. And then from there it was just the visibility of doing it, and that people came and asked if they could publish my stuff, so it was a very charmed sort of existence, I was extremely lucky. I donāt know if I could have done it if I had to keep sending things out. They have classes now in art school that teach you how to kind of put yourself out there, and ring doorbells and shake hands and stuff like that, which seems anathema to being a cartoonist. Or even an artist, for that matter. I donāt know.