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Kuwata controversy roundup


It all started when Laura Hudson rounded up comments by Top Shelf’s Leigh Walton, Andrew Wheeler and Joe McCulloch about the fact that mangaka Jiro Kuwata’s name was not on the cover of BAT-MANGA, the very well-reviewed Chip Kidd-edited selection. Yours truly and various others of the comics pundit class also called shame on Kidd.

It escalated when Kidd responded to various comics-based blogs, including Chris Mautner and Chris Butcher in the brash fashion that Kidd is noted for, chiding bloggers for not doing more to rescue Kuwata’s reputation and explaining that since it was a heavily designed and edited archival book, the credits were as they were. Butcher jumped in with his own support for Kidd:

If this were a straight-up reprint, along the lines of what Vertical is doing with Tezuka’s work or D+Q is doing with Tatsumi, yeah, the author’s name should be front and centre. But this? These comics are being given equal consideration with toy photos, costumes, magazine covers, and other various ephemera. Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, and Saul Ferris have opted to cover the phenomenon of Batman in Japan, with the comics being given the most weight in the collection. You can argue that the focus is different than you might prefer, but on the book’s own merits I think the consideration given to all parties is fair. As is the compensation, by all accounts.

Of course, this created a weekend teapot tempest; Butcher did what looks to be some ill-advised late-night blogging, and continued the brash tone:

I call bullshit on all of this, all of this fake fanboy outrage. I’m sorry, honestly, if this is an affront to your sensibilities? But. BULL. SHIT. You know who the legal author of those comics is? DC FUCKING COMICS. Kuwata owns or is owed nothing, because That’s The Way Comics Works. Kidd went out of his way to see Kuwata credited and compensated above and beyond the call of duty. If you can’t see that, then your naivete is like a fucking cyst in your eye.

We might have some sympathy for this attitude, except that Laura Hudson, Leigh Walton, Andrew Wheeler, Joe McCulloch, Chris Mautner and John Jakala are not fanboys by any definition of the word. They’re mostly critics, journalists and publishing professionals. In short, a responsible and respectable group who have every right to question the decision. Certainly, this is not a huge, huge deal, but it is a little odd, and Butcher and Mautner certainly were the brave ones who actually followed up in reportorial fashion. Following the escalating round, Hudson comes back with a roundup of the second wave of roundups:

I remain unconvinced, particularly because sequential narratives by Kuwata happen to comprise roughly 80% of that “chronicle.” To me, that’s where it crosses the line from Chip Kidd’s Cool Book About Japanese Batman Stuff to Jiro Kuwata’s Bat-Manga, edited and compiled by Chip Kidd. There are plenty of high-end, beautifully designed collections of sequential art that include additional materials, art, interviews, etc., and the editors and designers of those collections certainly deserve credit, but not to the exclusion of the actual creators.

as does Graeme McMillan (another non-fanboy), who reaches a slightly different conclusion:

I have to admit, I disagree; for the majority of people, Chip Kidd is the draw for this book – well, that or “Hey, look, it’s funny old Batman comics from Japan”. Kuwata doesn’t have the audience or awareness in the US to be the selling point for the majority of people who’ll be picking up this book, and while it would’ve been nice to see Kuwata’s name on the front cover, the fact that he’s not only credited for his work inside but also interviewed for the book makes me think that any outcry over usurping of authorship is slightly melodramatic… which, admittedly, seems kind of fitting for a book about Batman.

In the end, people seem to have been drawn out into way overreactive hissy fits, and time was wasted that could be spent reading or making or promoting better comics. Kidd is a great designer and if he wants to
take the credit, that’s how the publishing world world works. And, as Nisha Gopalan writes, BAT-MANGA is one of the most notable books of the year:

The fact that their collection, chiefly assembled from Kidd and Ferris’ EBay vigilance, is admittedly spotty, merely lends more exoticism to the collection. Take our hero’s dalliance with the dastardly, if fabulously named, Go Go Magician. Trapped in a block of ice, Batman fires up his “safe-cracking hand torch” to melt his way out of the chamber. One glitch: The torch’s flame sucks up all the oxygen before he can burn his way out. With the next issue nowhere to be found, it simply ends there with Batman like we’ve never seen him — foolish, collapsed, facing certain death.

  1. How can something start with a round-up? Didn’t it start with the things that are rounded up? I’m still confused.

  2. “Kidd is a great designer and if he wants to take the credit …”

    Actually, he’s not a great designer. Place all of his books on your coffee-table, side-by-side, and you’re see the cookie-cutter front cover designs. That’s just the beginning, and from there it goes downhill.

  3. my rule of thumb, credits cost nothing to give…so put them there on the cover…especially if what laura said and around 80% of the book is his work. I think the people behind the book need to get into his shoes and take another look at what is being said, minus the anger.

  4. I read Kidd’s somewhat laughable first paragraph response on newsarama where he asks where were we as Kuwata was living in obscurity.

    I don’t know. I think its a fine line, and I agree with Jimmy. Yet the best part is that we are talking about Kuwata.

    I love all of Kidd’s books. I like the feel they give off. Yeah they are cookie cutter, but they still look great.
    What doesn’t look great are his logo designs for the All-Star line and the Trinity series. Talk about coasting.

  5. Is Bill Finger credited anywhere in the book for co-creating Batman? If not, that seems kind of wrong…

    Anyway, it’s good to hear that at least they sent some of the money from the book to the artist. That’s a lot better than many publishers reprinting comics in recent years (Checker, Dark Horse, IDW, Fantagraphics, Marvel to name a few I’ve heard of).

  6. Bob and Peter,
    For many of the reprint projects by the companies that you mention, the content is licensed material. Royalties are the responsibility of whoever owns the copyright, which in such cases is the licensor. The company issuing the reprints pays licensing fees with the expectation that some of portion of those fees will find its way to the hands of the creator (or their families).

  7. I’m wondering if Bob Kane got cover credit on BATMAN COLLECTED? Because even though eighty percent of the books contents weren’t Kane’s graphics a lot of the material represented was based on his graphics. That is,…taking into account that eighty percent of Kane’s graphics were done by other artists.
    Work for hire is work for hire. I wonder how much of the work reprinted in Kidd’s current book was actually done by Kuwata?

  8. This is all really quibbling about cover credit. The manga-ka does get credit inside, as does the translator. Yeah, they could have put him on the cover, in fact they should have. But its not a big deal. This is a book that complements Kidd’s other Batman books, so he’s credited on the cover. The design of the book is half of the book’s joy and Kidd did resurrect them. The manga-ka gets an interview and is celebrated within the pages of the book. He’s not dishonored, he’s not forgotten, but he is not credited. The crime is a quibble which can be fixed in the sequel. But I don’t think its anything too terrible. This isn’t like what happened to Jack Kirby, Bill Finger or Steve Ditko, the credits are inside the book.

  9. If nothing else I still chuckle over how Kidd thinks its HIS name that’s the selling point for the book.

    I bought the book purely because “Its Batman stories never collected before!” and as a Batman comics collector/reader, that’s my (and I’m sure many others who do find the book) reason.

    Next thing you know he’ll be taking credit for Final Crisis cause he designed the covers!

    The subject matter is the important factor here!

    And another response to Butcher:

    Considering DC has had NOTHING to do with this proejct (Kidd even stated when he talked to Levitz about it Mr. Levitz had no idea that not only did these comics exist, but DC gave licensing out to make them in the 60’s) using them as the legal author is BS.

    DC’s completely out of the loop in this one instance.

  10. Let’s make one thing clear: you and your merry band of bloggers might be “critics, journalists and publishing professionals”—but you are still FANBOYS.

    you obsess about details, you can’t write for shit, you pile on mercilessly—you are fucking FANBOYS.

    not that this is inherently a bad thing—but please don’t pretend otherwise.

  11. BobH: If DC was willing to fire Mike Barr way back when for having stated, as a DC employee, that Finger co-created Batman, then DC’s not likely to change that policy today for a reprint that, as others pointed out, isn’t even strictly a DC publication.

    Evan: I think Kidd’s name might have some cachet for some buyers, though yes, the Caped Crusader’s the major attraction.

    Ephraim: If you’re making money at it, you’re not just a fan anymore.

  12. My comments about Kuwata’s contribution to his own work were meant as a bit of a joke. Although, it is my impression that manga can be as assembly line as American comics are/were/have been, with a number of folks doing a number of things. (One artist for backgrounds,..one artist for figures,…that sort of thing.)
    Chipp’s name on the cover is one of the main reasons I’m interested in this book.
    It is my impression that aside from being a fairly interesting book cover designer-type-guy, that he is also a Batman-related collector. No?

  13. “Actually, he’s not a great designer. Place all of his books on your coffee-table, side-by-side, and you’re see the cookie-cutter front cover designs. That’s just the beginning, and from there it goes downhill.”

    I completely disagree. Kidd is a fantastic designer and has done some great things for comics and their rich history.

    The only thing “cookie-cutter” here is the trumped-up drama and manufactured controversies of the usual pracing peacocks of punditry.

  14. blog-comment renegade ephraim doesn’t think a writer being unable to “write for shit” is “inherently a bad thing”? Merciless Pylons!

  15. The problem is that Chip Kidd and the others apparently thought their contribution was MORE important that the person who occupies 80% of the book. This is vanity. I’ve seen people before who believed that anything they did on a project was the most important part because they’re the ones who did it.

  16. “Your outrage is meaningless, your arguments are worthless, your complaints invalid.”-Chris Butcher

    Ha that’s GREAT! I wanna t-shirt with that on it.

  17. This is simply a matter of figures: what proportion of the book consists of pages by Kuwata? Above a quite low figure he’s a co-author: at approx 80% he’s the primary author – whether he’s credited as such or not.

  18. Kuwata created the stories for a Japanese Magazine. Chip Kidd created the book using those stories. The forward to the book gives praise & full credit to Kuwata. They even printed a full-page interview of him! The fact that some fanboys are crying over Kuwata not getting cover credit is kinda stupid. Yes, he drew/wrote the artwork/stories…but is it a book BY Chip kidd.

    On a side note I gotta say that the book is simply amazing! It’s extremely well-designed & a total pleasure to read. The fact that it also has many color photos of vintage Japanese toys is just a bonus. Overall, it’s a GREAT book!

    BATMAN FAN? Visit The Bat-Blog!

    Thanks, Tommy

  19. “The only thing “cookie-cutter” here is the trumped-up drama and manufactured controversies of the usual pracing peacocks of punditry.”

    Nahh … it’s the design that’s cookie cutter.

    Let’s magnify a comic panel 1000% so you can see all the printer’s dots. Ugh.

  20. Kuwata only drew/wrote most of the material in the book, so the book isn’t really BY him.
    Anne Ishii only translated it, so the book isn’t not really BY her.
    The toy makers only made the toys, so the book isn’t really BY them.
    The photographers of the toys only took photos of the toys, so the book isn’t really BY them.
    Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, and Saul Ferris only collected the material and editted the book, so the book isn’t not really BY them.

    Pantheon printed the book, so the book is BY Pantheon.

    No one else should have their names on the cover. Or inside the cover.

    All Hail Pantheon! Who produces books from aether!

  21. I think the catnip of “The Afflicted Cog vs. The Corporate Machine” meme is so irresistable to some that the familiar “X screws over Y” template is applied in increasingly random and reckless ways.

    If the name of Chip Kidd can expose more people to the work of Kuwata, while at the same time making it perfectly clear whose work the book reprints, what the hell is the harm?

    Honestly, toss the template and get some perspective. Surely there’s another Cog waiting for justice from the Pundit Posse.

  22. Actually, I think I agree that Chip Kidd and the other 2 names on the cover shouldn’t be there or it should be prefaced with an appropriate credit line. He didn’t write it; He probably did more than just collect whats in it; He probably did more than just edit it. Maybe it should say “A Chip Kidd Project” like “A Spike Lee Joint”. This way he gets credit for being the one who gave a shit to make the book in the first place, and he isn’t supposedly taking credit where credit isn’t due and can avoid being crucified for it.

    Either way it makes no difference to me. I’m not interested in the book or even Chip Kidd in general.

  23. Actually, this book reminds me of Chip Kidd’s and Art Spiegelman’s amazing book on Jack Cole and Plastic Man. Though it has a lot of comic pages it’s a book about the art and the artist and Chip Kidd’s contribution was intrinsic to its value. The interior page design directly complements Spiegelman’s words and it adds emotional weight to what you’re reading, to the point where the words and comics are both abandoned for Kidd’s trippy design work that makes your head spin. I love that book. What were we talking about again?

    Oh yeah. Chip Kidd made this book so he’s the author of the book, not the comics the book is about. Sorry. Everyone should go read that Jack Cole book, man-oh-man.

  24. All I know is that Jiro’s credited on the belly band of the HC back cover, which (for American readers unaccustomed to Flipping) is the first thing they’ll see when searching for credits: Batman shouting about how awesome Kuwata is.

    Not that I’m buying the HC, esp. not at $60. But it looks nice and does seem to give credit where credit’s due. Sure, the principle artist’s not the headliner, but damn… This has been something of an overreaction on almost all sides.

    Makes me wonder what Kuwata’s opinion is. And whether we’ll hear about it before the outrage fizzles.

  25. I’m a Superman collector with a bit of interest in obscure Japanese Superman items like Menko cards, so I was excited to see Bat-manga on the shelf at my local comic shop. However, I thought the book was really, really disappointing; too many manga and not enough pictures of toys and oddities, in my opinion. Maybe he couldn’t find enough to fill a book, but it just seemed wrong. I’m not all worked up about the lack of a cover credit, but it just seemed to me that the book was a reprint of Japanese Batman comics with some cool pictures interspersed, not the Batman Collected: Japan that I was expecting.

    Kidd’s design style really appeals to me, but I like pop art, too. There are times I wish, though, that he did something different; maybe he is, but I’m not exposed to it, but all I seem to see in his work, over and over are big close-up pictures of comics and toys and ephemera, showing the Ben Day dots and printing flaws and aging and visually conveying the sense of history and time and nostalgia and wonder. I get it. It’s a really good note he’s playing, but it’s still just one note. Kind of like Chris Ware.

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