Kidd’s stuff

When Chip Kidd is the designer, you can judge a book by its cover

Kidd_headshot_Photo-credit-John-Madere

CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK? | Dust jacket designer Chip Kidd, above, has created iconic covers for authors like David Sedaris and Haruki Murakami, below.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Chip Kidd takes the adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover” seriously. On the other hand, part of his job is to get you to look at the book in the first place.

In the world of publishing, there is probably no more respected dust-jacket designer than Kidd. After more than 25 years at Alfred A. Knopf, Kidd’s reputation is almost as solid as the authors for who he has designed covers: Michael Crichton, David Sedaris, Cormac McCarthy, James Ellroy and Michael Ondaatje, to name a few; some writers even have it in their contracts that no one but Kidd may design their book jackets.

You might think such acclaim would give Kidd an ego bigger than some of the novelists and essayists whose words adorn his art. But nothing could be further from the truth.

“Yes, a cover can be a sales tool, but it can just get your attention,” he says. “The question I get asked with astonishing regularity, and have for decades now, is ‘Do you read the books before you design them?’ Oh my god yes! Yes yes yes yes yes!”

Everything he does is in service to the text. Which means he has to flex his creative muscle while still respecting the source.

“It’s tricky — each book is its own particular case,” Kidd says from his office in New York City. “ I could give you a whole case study on [McCarthy’s] The Road and how we ended up with what we did. But different authors want different things. I have been doing this 25 years and counting, and that’s working non-stop. There is every conceivable story [of how a design came about].”

Those stories, in fact, make up a presentation of his work that he’ll bring to the Dallas Museum of Art this week.

There are carefully planned successes, and unexpected failures, “such as the horrible [cover] you have to do again and again until everyone gives up,” he says.

“But the opposite of that is also true: The one where everything comes together.”

Kidd is thinking about his design for Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, an experience “that was almost too good to be true. The [final design ] is bookshelvesexactly what I presented to our editor-in-chief. I usually do about three different things, but this one I thought was absolutely the best thing to do and everybody agreed. I would say that’s my most favorite or my recent covers.”

Without even reading the book, its cover suggests something ethereal, dreamlike, unnerving — all words that Kidd says capture Murakami’s writing to a tee.

The story begins with a woman in Tokyo navigating down a spiral staircase from a highway, but when she reaches the bottom, she feels she has entered a parallel universe. Kidd originally considered a Tokyo cityscape, “but faces work remarkably well on an emotional level and on an aesthetic level. I just started researching faces of Japanese women.” Suddenly, an instant classic.
It’s not always that easy.

“We publish every conceivable kind of book — cookbooks, crime fiction, literature,” Kidd says. And he has to bring that creative bent to all of them.

“Genre stuff is hardest because you want to transcend the genre,” he says. ” Technically, 1Q84 is science fiction — there is supernatural stuff going on, though it is very subtle. So a design ethos of mine is, if you can predict what I’m going to do, I’ve failed.”

There is a shorthand that develops when he works with the same authors over and over, but even that’s almost incidental, because “I try to wipe the slate clean every time.” Still, no one can deny his covers for Michael Crichton’s books, such are Jurassic Park, became part of the iconography of the novels. (I tell Kidd Disclosure is still one of the best dust jackets I’ve ever seen. “Yes, that’s about as good as it gets,” he agrees.)

Turning a hardcover jacket into a paperback soft-cover is a whole different beast, which comes with its own dynamics.

“There are so many different factors at play” in designing a paperback, he says. “Sometimes it’s about whether the hardcover was perceived to have under-performed. Then you have the opposite and everything in between: Let’s keep this and that element and change the rest. One of the things we follow here at Knopf is, at the end of the day you want the author to be pleased. You sometimes talk them into it or you compromise. There is a sort of buttered-side-down aspect to this business.”

What does it take to make a lasting, memorable cover? Even Kidd’s not sure. Certainly, though, he’s agree that the original jacket for The Great Gatsby is iconic. Not so much.

“From a graphic designer’s point of view, coming into it cold, it’s not great — it’s kind of silly! Eyes floating over a purple sky…? But the book is iconic so the cover became iconic. The most important thing is the text. … though from a book collector’s point of view, to find a first edition with a jacket is worth tons and tons of money.”

Spoken like someone who understands art and business.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens