Dirk starts off his post today with several links about the Chip Kidd/Bat-Manga controversy. Basically, Kidd didn’t give Jiro Kuwata, the manga-ka who created the Bat-Manga comics, a cover credit. Kidd attempts to explain himself thusly:
First, Bat-Manga is not just about the work of [Jiro] Kuwata, although that of course makes up the bulk of the book. Rather, it is about chronicling the phenomenon — however short-lived — of Batman in Japan in 1966. To that end, the book itself as an act of pop-culture reconnaissance is entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and myself. Mr. Kuwata is prominently mentioned on the front flap (as is translator Anne Ishii) and on the back cover, so it’s not like we’re trying to deny him any credit. I would not have made the considerable effort to track him down, interview, and photograph him if that were the case. It is worth noting that before we took it upon ourselves to do this, NO ONE had any interested in collecting this material for reprinting, least of Shonen King (and they still don’t — Bat-manga has amazingly failed to find a Japanese publisher).
In other words: “Hey, do you know who I am? I’m Chip-fucking-Kidd! It’s my book! Mine, mine, mine! You can tell because my name’s on the cover, right? You think anybody would buy a book by Kuwhatever-the-hell-his-name-is? Not bloody likely; hell, they don’t even know who he is in Japan, all right? I found him, and he’s part of my collection, and I value everything in my collection, be it a mug or a indigenous artist. So just back off, okay?”
I cordially loathed Kidd’s busy, narcissistic, grossly fetishistic Peanuts collection, as well as his busy, narcissistic, grossly fetishistic Jack Cole collection, so it’s very pleasant indeed to see him publicly squirming. Not everyone agrees with me, of course. Here’s Chris Butcher with the contrary view (again via Dirk)
I call bullshit on all of this, all of this fake fanboy outrage. I’m sorry, honestly, if this is an affront to your sensibilities? But. BULL. SHIT. You know who the legal author of those comics is? DC FUCKING COMICS. Kuwata owns or is owed nothing, because That’s The Way Comics Works. Kidd went out of his way to see Kuwata credited and compensated above and beyond the call of duty. If you can’t see that, then your naivete is like a fucking cyst in your eye.
Ooookay. So because DC has mistreated creators in the past, we should all just keep mistreating creators as much as possible? In fact, creators should be grateful for any crumb of acknowledgment or compensation they get, and anyone who can’t see that is a naive fanboy? I won’t attempt to deconstruct this line of thinking further except to note that cynicism and naivete are not in fact opposite stances; instead, they are, taken to extremes, indistinguishable, inasmuch as they both preclude the ability either to make moral judgments or to engage in logical thought.
It’s also possible, I guess, that Butcher is not cynical at all, but simply admires Kidd’s work a lot, and doesn’t like to see him criticized. A possibility which, if true, makes the “fake fanboy outrage” quip especially ballsy….
And, indeed, Google reveals, Butcher recently interviewed Kidd in person. Not definitive evidence or anything, but it does tip the scales slightly towards “fanboy” and away from “cynic”. (Which isn’t a dis necessarily; I think the “I like Chip Kidd, leave him alone!” defense is a lot less icky than the “Comics creators never get anything anyway, so screw them” defense.)
Update: Here’s Butcher’s entire response, which I somehow missed before. Reading the whole thing, his argument is basically that there are a lot worse things perpetrated by the work-for-hire system and nobody gets upset about them, so criticism of Chip Kidd is off-base and stupid.
I don’t know. It seems like special pleading to me. For one thing, lots of people do dislike the work-for-hire system — and this is especially true for the alt comics folks who are Chip Kidd’s audience, and who are likely the ones who think this kind of sucks (just for instance — Dirk Deppey never speaks out against work-for-hire practices? Really and truly?) For another, there’s a cross-cultural thing going on here which adds an element of grossness; there’s a long history of Westerners appropriating various aspects of Asian cultures — especially Japanese art — and not giving credit. Would Kidd have done this if Kuwata was American? I mean, Jack Cole doesn’t own Plastic Man — why credit him?
I think Butcher also maybe missed the point that no one is accusing Kidd of being an evil-hearted bastard or a blight on the cultural landscape (okay, maybe I am, but no one else.) All folks are saying is that he should have credited the guy.
Butcher also points out that no one would have known about what’s-his-name if it weren’t for Kidd, and that therefore we should all be grateful to Kidd and shut up. Well, it’s true, I wouldn’t have known about what’s-his-name if it weren’t for Kidd. And you know what? I wouldn’t have known about Texas Gladden if it weren’t for Alan Lomax. Nonetheless, when a CD of Lomax recordings of Gladden songs was released, Gladden’s name was on the fucking cover.
Update 2: I keep reading more about this and getting more irritated. Such is blogging.
First of all, I’d like to say to all the relevant reviewers/bloggers/whomever: I am heartened that you all have such concern for Mr. Kuwata’s welfare. So here’s a question: where were YOU for the last thirty years, while he was languishing in obscurity both here and in his own country? I won’t bother waiting for an answer.
Thanks, Chip. You rescued him from obscurity, and all you got out of it was fame, fortune, and your name on a book composed of his work. Your generosity astounds.
Look, Kidd has a right to be proud of having helped out an artist he admires. It’s something reviewers get to do on a smaller scale, and it’s kind of my favorite part of the job. However, when you try to give an artist publicity, it’s useful to remember that (A) just because you like the artist doesn’t mean that you are as cool as they are, and (B) that you are getting something out of the transaction — money, fame, a byline, whatever. It’s also useful to keep in mind that no matter how much work and genius you put into a project like that, it’s not about you. That’s the beauty of it; that’s what makes it an act of love. The reason I tend to mistrust Kidd’s books is that he doesn’t seem to get that.