Why Bat-Manga! Remains Kinda Bullshit

While my main beef with Bat-Manga! remains what I said here, namely, that it's essentially an incomplete book and Kidd and company should've fallen back a bit before publishing, a more popular concern amongst us internet types has been the prominence of Kidd's name on the cover and not artist Jiro Kuwata.

Like pretty much everybody who picked up or purchased the book, Kuwata's absence on the cover struck me as odd for a few moments and then, I was wowed by Kuwata's comics and never thought about it again. The book's a little bullshit but it's still awesome enough and so, I stopped complaining ...until I read this pretty awful "response" from Chip Kidd himself.

Kidd begins with the rather childish, presumably rhetorical question, "where were YOU for the last thirty years, while [Kuwata] was languishing in obscurity both here and in his own country?" and it grows more insincere from there. Falling back on the played-out defense of "What did you ever do" is probably the most unsophisticated response one can have to criticism. Not only because it's way more "snarky" than bloggers half-questioning Kidd's intentions, but because it's based on the utterly bullshit principle that in order to criticize something, you must be able to back it up with something more than thoughtful criticism.

And then there's Kidd's claim that Bat-Manga! is not only about Kuwata's comics but "chronicling the phenomenon—however short-lived—of Batman in Japan in 1966". This is beyond snark or condescension and is just an egregious lie. Outside of Kidd's 'Preface' which deals with the translation and font-choices for the comics and his 'Introduction' which mainly focuses on the creation of the book and those pages of Japanese Bat memorabila, this book is nothing but Kuwata's comics! There's nothing in the book that actually chronicles or delves even sort of deep into this "phenomenon".

If this was Kidd's intention for the book and if it is what he truly believes the book is doing, then it at least explains why we get a bunch of incomplete comics. I guess they're more for context than for our reading pleasure or something? A big cutesy coffee book to sell to the Enid Coleslaws of the world and not for people serious or semi-serious about old, awesome Batman shit. But that can't be it because if you took out all of Kuwata's comics, the book would 20 or so pages of Japanese Batman toys.

The only aspect of the book that in any way acknowledges Kuwata is the tossed-off and way too short and like, half-assed e-mail exchange style interview. Maybe there's a reason for this and maybe there's not, but it all gets a little ickier when you look in the corner and see the aged Japanese artist clutching a copy of Bat-Manga!, a book that sorta compiles some of his comics but's apparently not a collection of his comics but a book "chronicling the phenomenon...of Batman in Japan in 1966."

I don't doubt that this book was a labor of love and I've blamed the publication of incomplete comics on misdirected fanboy excitement more than anything else, but Kidd's response makes it all seem even more suspect. It'd absurd to suggest this is some money-making venture as there's way better and smarter ways to make money than the introduce the world to weirdo Japanese Batman comics, but something odd, something a little off, is going on here.


samuel rules said...

I keep going back to this book and what actually bothers me is it's not enough of everything. It's not a collector's book, it's not an art book, it's not a comic book, it's not a history. The toys should be shown the same way toys are shown in 'Star Wars' collectible books with a nice clear picture of each and every toy they found, not the toy placed on a scanner. It's like everything is calculated to be as shitty as possible while giving you the least amount of content while giving you the largest amount of bookings.

david e. ford, jr said...

i think maybe kidd's response is sort of this microcosm of the phenomenon of chip kidd himself in the sense that this is a guy who became famous for designing book jackets, so like his whole career or reputation or whatever rests on this foundation of decorating other people's work.

i havent actually spent a lot of time with the book largely as a result of learning that the stories are largely incomplete. but i think you and sammy are on to something in suggesting that if the book's purpose is defined the way kidd has, then it has to be viewed largely as a failure.

brandon said...

I didn't put it in the rant, but another issue with it is, Chip Kidd is undoubtedly this self promoter. I think he sees that as like connecting to the work or paying tribute, but in a lot of ways, he "fails" at his designing job as much as he succeeds. He grabs attention to the book but over time it's also like distracts or recontextualizes the books he designs covers for...

Karen Peltier said...

i finally picked it up last night and my big thing was how some pages were scanned so that you could still see like 1/4 inch of the page under it from the original book, like you know, when you open a real book? also there were sometimes shadows from where the original book was placed on the scanner, and i don't understand this need to emphasize the fact that the book you're holding is really a product of these other books. i mean, obviously it is, but to show it in this like, "ceci n'est pas" paradox way doesn't do much for the meaning or importance of the book but just makes it feel poorly put together.