University Libraries acquire design 'rock star,' alumnus Chip Kidd's archives

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s University Libraries have acquired the archives of graphic designer and writer Chip Kidd.

Kidd, dubbed “the closest thing to a rock star in graphic design” by USA Today, studied graphic design at Penn State before starting work at Alfred A. Knopf in 1986. At Knopf he has created memorable book jackets for authors such as John Updike and Michael Crichton, including the iconic cover for “Jurassic Park.” Kidd is the recipient of the National Design Award for Communications (presented by the Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian) and will receive the American Institute of Graphic Arts medal for lifetime achievement in April.

Kidd is also the author of several books, including “The Cheese Monkeys” and “The Learners,” both fictional accounts of his time at Penn State, as well as an original graphic novel, “Batman: Death by Design.” He has also authored several books about comics, most notably “Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz,” “The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross” and “Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan,” among many others. His most recent work is the highly acclaimed “Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design.”

Kidd’s archives include works from his youth until the present. His student portfolio work from Penn State as well as drafts for the cover of “Jurassic Park” are among the more than 250 boxes of materials now housed in The Eberly Family Special Collections Library, in 104 Paterno Library. The collection includes original artwork, sketches, separations, page proofs and original printed versions for each of Kidd’s several hundred published dust jacket and book designs; many of these have extensive handwritten mark-ups and corrections illuminating the artist’s creative process as well as the progression of works from concept through production. Approximately 1 terabyte of digital data complements these items, including files from nearly the entirety of Kidd’s career. As much of Kidd’s artistic and literary composition over the past 15 years has been born digital, this portion of the archive includes the full record of many of his most iconic designs as well original drafts of his written works, lectures and working notes.

The archive also contains a wealth of correspondence from authors such as John Updike, William Maxwell, Martin Amis, Gordon Lish, Michael Ondaatje, James Ellroy, Don DeLillo, Larry McMurtry, David Sedaris, Michael Crichton, Orhan Pamuk, Augusten Burroughs, Haruki Murakami, Donna Tartt and Cormac McCarthy. More than 60 letters, many illustrated by graphic novelist Chris Ware, are also present. Ware was a frequent collaborator with Kidd and was the 2013 winner of the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, awarded by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book and Penn State’s Libraries. Lynd Ward, acknowledged as the father of the American graphic novel in the early 20th century, is featured in the libraries’ collection. Nearly 200 items from Kidd’s collection of pop-culture collectibles, such as Batman figurines, cereal boxes and collector’s plates are also part of the archive. Many of these objects inspired Kidd’s designs and books.

Dean of the University Libraries Barbara I. Dewey noted, “The Kidd archives will be a wonderful addition to our strong holdings in fine printing, printmaking techniques, graphic novels and original artwork for illustrated books.

Kidd could imagine no better place for his archive than Penn State. "I'm thrilled that what amounts to my life's work has found a home at the Penn State Special Collections Library. In many ways I have my education at PSU to thank for its very existence. The core conceptual thinking that forms and informs so much of this work was developed in classes with Lanny Sommese and Bill Kinser in the Graphic Design department during my time there from 1982 to 1986. It's so exciting for me to know that anyone who wants to examine this material in the future will find it at the place of its conceptual origin. My heartfelt thanks to Tim Pyatt and Sandra Stelts for their considerable efforts to make this happen."

The Kidd archives are a major acquisition for the Libraries, according to Tim Pyatt, the Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and head of The Eberly Family Special Collections Library. “Kidd’s work enhances our existing graphic collections, such as that of Edward Gorey and Lynd Ward, and makes Penn State an important stop for any researcher of graphic design in the modern era.”

Penn State faculty and students should also find a good deal to support their work and inspire their careers. Lanny Sommese, distinguished professor and head of graphic design, who taught Kidd while he was at Penn State noted: “There is much here for literary and pop-culture scholars. Kidd’s collection powerfully demonstrates to our students how high they should strive to fly.”

Plans are under way to exhibit the Kidd archive next January, with a goal of having the collection processed and open to researchers by then as well.

For more information or if you anticipate needing accessibility accommodations or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Tim Pyatt at tdp11@psu.edu or 814-865-1793.

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Last Updated January 22, 2014