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Chip Kidd & The Cheese Monkeys

November 23, 2009

This week I’ve been reading The Cheese Monkeys, debut novel by all-American book jacket designer Chip Kidd. The novel presents the semi-autobiographical tale of the beginning of Chip’s college life, and his transformation from naive comic-book-enthusiast to graphic-design-wunderkind comic-book-enthusiast. It includes some sharp, and very funny, observations on the creative process and the college environment:
“On the first day of class, the Visual Arts building reclined before me like an old brick whore, egging me on to show her one, last, good time.”
Also featured are Himillsy Dodd, a kind of super-cynical art chick who sounds great on paper but would most likely be intolerable in real life, and “shock-prof” Winter Sorbeck, the sociopathic tutor with whom our hero falls in love. Sorbeck is described as looking like Gary Cooper, circa High Noon. Here is an image of Gary Cooper, and one of Chip below it:

…see what he’s done there?
Through his work at Knopf, Chip has become extremely well know, and although John Updike (for whom Chip has designed several jackets) once called his designs “monstrously ugly”, he remains widely respected. Some of the designs are a bit ugly, and he can be a bit mannered in his use of imagery (enough with the circa-1950s comic books!) but there’s a conceptual nugget at the heart of most of the designs that makes them successful nevertheless. There are a couple of good interviews with Chip in Seeing & Writing 3, and Identity Theory, and here are images of some of the jackets that made him famous:

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