Graphic designers tend to be an even-keeled lot, unless you mess with their precious Futura typeface plans. So at Monday night’s The Art of the Book: Covers With Dave Eggers, Chip Kidd and Milton Glaser, moderated by designer Michael Bierut at the 92nd Street Y, we weren’t surprised that book jacket designer and author Kidd made nice with Panelist Four – a man well into his senior years who boosted the show from the first row.
Kidd showed jackets from the past year. The most notable New York-themed cover, perhaps, was Jay McInerney’s The Good Life, illustrated with photographs of Ground Zero, a first for fiction.
But the talk really got rolling when Kidd introduced his design for The Road by Cormac McCarthy, who didn’t want his name on the book jacket.
“This is like a black-on-black factor where his name is matte and his name emerges the closer you get to it,” Kidd said to the quiet hall, except for the loud laughter from the first row.
“I’m glad that amuses you,” Kidd said warmly. “I actually have to say things like that in meetings. It’s called working for a corporation.”
Kidd then launched into his colleague’s design for Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.
“It’s elegant and it’s, it’s—“
“Simple,” said the heckler.
“Simple,” said Kidd. “Thank you.”
“And it’s yellow,” added the heckler.
The back and forth continued, culminating in what almost seemed like a staged exchange over Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. “It’s just the concept of a grand Upper West Side apartment building as a castle.”
“That’s my building,” the heckler said.
“Really?” Pause. “I know where you live,” said Kidd.
Glaser, who spoke before Kidd, displayed his covers, notably The Signet Classic Shakespeare collection, a number of Herman Hesses (“who you can only read until the age of 19,” he said) and Roth’s Plot Against America.
Glaser, designer of the iconic “I Love New York” design, had an unfortunate Larry Summers moment when he said that the reason there are so few female rock star graphic designers is that “women get pregnant, have children, go home and take care of their children. And those essential years that men are building their careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home.” He continued: "Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it’s never going to change." About day care and nannies, he said, "None of them are good solutions."
The crowd was silent except for a hiss or two and then Eggers piped up that he and his wife both work from home and share child care responsibilities - but added that maybe New York was different (although we don't think Eggers really believes this). Then it was clear to everyone in the room that it was time to move on.
Speaking of Eggers, each time we see him – and the more renowned he becomes - he gets increasingly modest. In between introducing his early McSweeney’s covers (the first was inspired by The Holy Bible), he referred to his shop as a “tiny” company with just three or four staffers until very recently. And if you don’t already know, Eggers works with Quark 4.1 on a computer with a dial-up connection.
All in all, it was a lot of drama for the Kauffman Concert Hall.