Chip Kidd: writer, artist, inspiration

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, graphic designer and author Chip Kidd visited Oswego State to speak to its population about his book "The Learners," which was selected as the summer 2010 reading book by the Oswego Reading Initiative (ORI).

Kidd grew up in Shillington, a Pennsylvania suburb of Reading. It was here that he soaked up as much of America’s pop culture as he could, from television series to comic books, most notably Batman comic books. Kidd attended Penn State where he studied art and design. It was here that he was panned for his work on a variation of a John Updike novel. His professor didn’t like it and stated in front of his class that book jacket design wouldn’t be a good field for Kidd to enter.

Today, Kidd is the associate editor at Knopf, which is an imprint of the publisher Random House, an organization that Kidd has been a part of since 1986 when he was hired as a junior assistant, where he produces on average 75 book covers a year. Kidd has designed book covers for notable authors such as Cormac McCarthy, Frank Miller, Charles Schulz, and David Sedaris, among others.

In addition to this, Chip Kidd has written two books; 2001’s "The Cheese Monkeys," which is semi-autobiographical. It draws on his experiences as an art student at Penn State, although it is set in 1956, roughly 20 years before Kidd attended the school. The novel follows a young graphic designer named Happy, to be a part of the infamous Milgram experiment that occurred at Yale University starting in 1961. His second book, "The Learners," a sequel to "The Cheese Monkeys," was published in 2009 by Harper Perennial.

Chip Kidd’s mastery of multiple disciplines had him speaking to students all day. During College Hour, Kidd was fielding questions from students and faculty. First he addressed a standing room only crowd in Lanigan Hall as part of a presentation to graphic design students. Following this, Kidd met with members of the on-campus American Institute of Graphic Arts group, Break Thru Design, for a more personal question and answer session. Kidd went on to speak to a room of creative writers in the Campus Center, where he answered questions about his writing process as well as his inspirations.

At 7 p.m., Kidd once again spoke, this time to a full crowd packed into Tyler Hall’s Waterman theatre.

Kidd’s presentation began with a video of the Milgram Experiment, which involved a participant administering a test of phrases to another participant, and if they did not complete the phrase correctly, they were met with an increasing dose of electrical shock for each incorrect answer. At first, participants were shown who refused to continue when the other participant, who was an actor, started screaming out in pain. Then as the video went along, a more startling saga unfolded as a man continued giving the test until the maximum voltage was achieved.

Kidd followed the video by reading a passage from "The Learners" where a little old lady duplicates this feat, then performed an exercise explaining how content can change in tone depending on the reader. His first example was the Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz" reading an excerpt from the Bible, which got big laughs from the audience. In the second performance Kidd took on the form of a newborn hamster who was reciting the content of the famed "To be or not to be" line from "Hamlet." A few nose wiggles and bumps into the microphone later, Kidd again took questions from the audience and then signed books to end the talk.

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