Following the Indian Market, I traveled south to Santa Barbara to catch up with my brother and a few other long time friends for a few days. On Tuesday night, I joined my old volleyball buds Craig and Don to attend a lecture at U.C. Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall. The speaker was Chip Kidd, a famous author and graphics designer who specializes in creating state-of-the-art book covers for New York Times bestsellers.
This guy is good. He spoke for over an hour about the process of creating a dynamite cover, presenting it to the author and/or the business side of the publishing house, experiencing both rejection and guidelines for improvement, and then finally succeeding. Kidd was smart, irreverent, funny, informative, and he engaged the audience of about 400 people for the entire lecture. His comments about the use of color and space and finding the right hook to coerce someone browsing in a bookstore to actually stop, pick up the book, and look inside were insightful but surprisingly simple.
My favorite cover that he featured was also the most basic. He was given access to the archives at the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa to research a book he was writing about the famous Peanuts cartoonist. Schultz read all his fan mail and answered every bit of it using stationery of his own design. He signed each letter "Charlie Brown." At the bottom of the stationery was a drawing that showed Charlie Brown in his iconic tee shirt sitting to the left of Snoopy's doghouse with Snoopy laying face up on top and a trash can on the right with Charlie Brown's kite sticking out of it. Sort of a typical C.B. day, right?
Kidd called his book Only What's Necessary and he wanted to capture the essence of Schultz's art on the cover. Here is what he came up with. I think it's masterful.
Another favorite cover is the one for Haruki Murakami's novel Men Without Women. The silhouette is that of the author. The puzzle piece is an adaptation of the Japanese language character for woman. Men take note: don't try this at home.
For this one, The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks, Kidd utilized a standard eye chart like you see at an optometrist's office and blurred it a bit to give it a flavor of the subconscious. Pretty cool.
Although Kidd didn't feature these covers in his lecture, he created them, and I'm including them just because I really liked these novels by Stieg Larsson. Highly recommended. Much better than the movie.
Going to this lecture reminded me how great it is to live in a place where you have access to a major public university. Events like this are stimulating, even if the topic isn't really something you know or isn't of exceptional interest to you. Listening broadens your mind.
At the end, Kidd fielded questions from members of the audience who approached the stage and used a microphone so everyone could hear what they were asking. Most of the questions were serious and drew appropriately informative responses.
But in true Santa Barbara Gaucho fashion, one lovely Asian co-ed with long flowing hair that reached the back of her knees, came forward to say: "Hi. Is a hot dog really a sandwich?"
To which Mr. Kidd replied, "Uh. no."
And that concludes our program for tonight, ladies and gentlemen.
If you want to experience an e-version of one of Mr. Kidd's lectures, there is one available as a Ted Talk. It is not as engaging as being there in person, but nevertheless, it gives you an idea of the enthusiasm he brings to his craft.
Peace, Love, and Learning,