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Kidd dynamite: the first collection of book jackets by Chip Kidd prompts the question "would there be books without him?" An exclusive talk with the out designer.

"It's definitely the closest thing to a child I will ever have," says Chip Kidd, the renowned book jacket designer, of his first collection of covers, Chip Kidd: Book One: Work 1986-2006 (Rizzoli International). And what an aesthetically pleasing--if large--child it is, showcasing on page after page the celebrated designs Kidd, 41, has conjured for books by a pantheon of major contemporary authors. Just for starters: All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and the juggernaut Jurassic Park.

On a recent afternoon in his small, jam-packed 19th-floor office at Knopf, the prestigious literary imprint of Random House where the out designer has worked since graduating from Penn State two decades ago (he also freelances for other publishers), Kidd makes it all sound simple. "I want a book cover to be intriguing enough to make you want to pick it up, and that's the only brief I give myself," he says. "And whether you get there typographically or photographically or with illustration, that's all dictated by what the book is about." Indeed, as he writes in the collection's prologue: "Through a manuscript, [the author] will give you all the ideas and thoughts that you could possibly need to design a jacket."

The resulting jackets have often been as memorable as the books they have adorned, such as the cover of Edmund White's sexy but elegiac 1997 novel The Farewell Symphony, about the onset of AIDS. By combining a grainy close-up from an old porno of a guy on his back with legs in the air, as above him a song's closing notes are depicted in sheet music, Kidd perfectly captured the book's bittersweet tone. "My art director looked at it and she said, 'Oh, my God, he looks like he's dead on a slab,'" Kidd remembers. "And I said, "Well, actually, he's alive on a slab.' But that tension between sex and death was what the title meant."

And although his design for a book called Sexual Slang that featured a rooster overlaying a bodybuilder's groin was shot down by the marketing department, he says about The Farewell Symphony, "I don't think anybody said anything. Nobody was like, 'This is gay porn, and we can't do it.'"

Kidd has also worked with other queer favorites like Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris, but one writer is dearest to the designer's heart: J.D. McClatchy, the poet and Yale scholar. The two met 10 years ago at a Random House party for a short-story collection that Kidd designed and McClatchy edited, and they have been together ever since--even if their collaborations, Kidd jokes, are "the latest test of our relationship." He clarifies: "It's not really an issue. I don't want to be a poet, and he doesn't want to be a graphic designer."

In fact, Kidd does dabble as a writer: He's currently working on the screenplay for his first novel, The Cheese Monkeys, a coming-of-age tale about (what else?) a graphic designer. Then there are the summer 2006 covers to design, including new Updike and Burroughs books. And in a nod to his comics obsession, he acquires and edits graphic novels for Pantheon, itself a Knopf imprint.

And now that Book One of his jacket design is out, surely Book Two can't be far behind? "There won't be a book two for another 20 years," he says with a laugh. "That I'm quite sure of."

Kennedy is a reporter for New York magazine.
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Title Annotation:BOOKS
Author:Kennedy, Sean
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 22, 2005
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