Death by Design

Joel Meadows talks to the creators of the latest Batman graphic novel from DC comics

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2012 is a big year for Batman. With Christopher Nolan’s eagerly awaited third film, The Dark Knight Rises, hitting cinemas in July and with superheroes in high demand following the success of The Avengers – attention towards the iconic character has never been greater.

In recent years, high profile figures from outside the world of comics like Jonathan Ross, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith have all tried their hand at writing a series and we can now add award-winning graphic designer Chip Kidd to that list. A designer who has created book jackets for everyone from James Ellroy to Cormac McCarthy, it is no secret that Kidd is also a massive comic book fan.

Batman: Death by Design is an original graphic novel, published by DC, written by Kidd and illustrated by Liverpool-based artist Dave Taylor (Judge Dredd, Batman).

For Kidd, getting the opportunity to write Batman was the culmination of a long dream and one he undertook in a very deliberate manner.

“I approached Death by Design the way you’re never supposed to – by starting with the title. I figured: ‘What will people familiar with my work think that I’ll be able to bring to this?’ And the answer was the design element. After that I created some new characters to play with, and based the arc of the story on two real-world NYC events – the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, and the fatal construction crane collapses in midtown Manhattan of 2008.”

Despite the big distance geographically between himself and Kidd, Taylor says it was a very satisfying collaboration.

“As the project gained momentum, Chip and I talked about the overall feel and look of the book, him citing the 1939 New York World’s Fair as a part of the book’s inspiration. There was the futurism, looking to a brave new world, with the optimism of people.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all have a dark side.

“We chatted by phone a few times until we both felt we were singing the same tune, and then the calls stopped. I was left to my own devices, with only the occasional comment or input from him.

“He knew he’d done all he could to put me on course and knew to leave me to it. We might have worked more closely had I taken him up on his offer of moving to New York – I might have drawn the whole book from his New York apartment, which he was willing to move out of for the duration, had I not decided to stay in the UK with my wife and daughter. We couldn’t have all moved out there so I had to turn his amazing offer down.”

Kidd was very pleased with the results – his writing had been brought to life on the page.

“My soundbite art direction to Dave was: ‘What if Fritz Lang had a huge budget to make a Batman film in the 1930s?’ And he totally nailed it. His efforts have made my jaw drop, and my dream for this come true.”

Despite the fact that the character has existed for over 70 years, Batman still continues to have a great appeal for readers and cinemagoers alike. Taylor believes that Batman speaks to a particular part of us all.

“If we really do share a consciousness, then Batman is firmly a part of that mass, worldwide consciousness that we’re all plugged into.

“Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all have a dark side. A part of us forever in shadow, forever brooding, forever dark. It’s nice for us to be reminded that that darkness is not particularly nasty or sinister, that it can harbour good intentions and noble thoughts and that it can do good. Without darkness, there is no light.”

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Death by Design

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