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Interview: Chip Kidd and Saul Ferris - Page 2

Authors of Bat Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan

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Batman paper cutouts from Bat Manga! by Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, Saul Ferris - Pantheon Books

Paper toy cutouts from Bat Manga!

© DC Comics / Chip Kidd / Pantheon Books

Saul Ferris: The Batman manga stories appeared from 1966 to 1967. This coincides with the TV show's run. While the American Batman comics survived the demise of the TV show, the Japanese Batman comics did not.

Chip Kidd: On the one hand, so much Japanese Batman merchandise was produced at the time, and so quickly, that you'd think it was a huge hit. But on the other, it all came and went so fast -- which could indicate that it was something of a failed experiment. The fact that these stories are largely unknown today and almost never referred to (even on the Web) would seem to indicate the latter.

Q: What do you especially love about these Japanese Batman stories?

Saul Ferris: The love of art is very subjective. Either you love it or not. I love the manga style of clean, smooth lines, lots of action and unusual villains. The stories were written for children so don't expect Shakespeare or Twain. Nonetheless, the stories are quite entertaining.

CK: I also love the fact that at times stylistically (and because of the often crude printing) they tend to look like they're much older than they really are. Many pages look to me like they're from the 1940's, which I find particularly cool.

Q: So how long did these stories run in Shonen King?

Chip Kidd: Little more than a year -- May 1966 to April 1967.

Q: Chip, you mentioned in your first note to me that neither DC Comics nor the Japanese publisher of Shonen King kept archive copies of these stories. Why was that?

Chip Kidd: I have since learned from my friend David Mazzucchelli (comics artist, Batman: Year One, Rubber Blanket) that the Shonen King publisher, which is still very much around and publishing today, has an archive of all their back issues. So technically they have it, but have never done anything with it, and DC owns the copyright.

As for DC, their archiving system at the time wasn't set up for something like this, which was an unprecedented situation anyway. Plus I'm sure they were up to their necks in licensing requests, too much so to keep and store a copy of each of the hundreds of different Batman products that were being produced.

Q: So several years go by, and both of you discovered these long-forgotten Batman stories from Japan. Who discovered them first, and how did each of you find out that they existed?

Saul Ferris: I have obtained my toys and manga from several different sources including fellow collectors who sell or trade, dealers, toy shows, Internet stores, antique toy stores, antique malls and shows, flea markets and of course, eBay.

Chip Kidd: Saul's a magician with this stuff. It's like he waves a wand and it appears. Of course it's not that simple, but he makes it look that way. I'm just glad he's a force for Good and not Evil (!!)

I first heard of this material from the above-mentioned David Mazzucchelli, who is of course one of the best artists in the history of Batman and had done a cartoonist's fellowship in Tokyo in the early 1990s, whence he was told about it. But I hadn't actually seen anything until I lucked upon a vintage issue of Shonen King on Japanese eBay.

Q: Was it difficult to find these old issues of Shonen King? And, dare I ask, were they expensive to collect? Has the price for these issues gone up dramatically since you first started collecting them?

Saul Ferris: As time has gone on, it's been increasing difficult to obtain stories I do not have. Shonen King magazines are rare even in Japan. The prices can vary widely depending on a host of factors such as the cover, the story and how badly two people want the issue if it is on the auction block. I have bought issues for 20 dollars and some for 200 dollars.

CK: I have personally found this material nearly impossible to locate, let alone buy. On a business trip to Tokyo two years ago, I even took photocopies of some Batman stories with me to vintage manga shops in the Jimbocho district, and I was met with either blank stares or wide-eyed disbelief. And no luck.

Q: So one thing that I found especially fun about your story is how you two met -- as competing bidders on eBay for these comics. Can you tell me a little bit about how you went from competing collectors to becoming friends?

Saul Ferris: I emailed Chip to alert him that a toy he bought for a hefty sum was dishonestly altered by the seller which rendered it nearly worthless. Chip appreciated the gesture and recognized I knew my stuff when it came to Batman toys, so the conversations continued.

I greatly admired Chip for the magnificent gift he gave all Batman collectors, Batman Collected. That book was an amazing compilation of Batman toys presented in a stylistic fashion.

Chip Kidd: I would add that whatever competition we have is friendly in the extreme. We don't compete against each other on bids. If I want to bid on something I think Saul might want, I'll check with him first, and then bow out if need be. He also gives me the heads-up on things all the time. He's a real gent and I value his friendship far above any material object.

Q: How did it come to pass that you two got the idea to create this book?

Chip Kidd: Once I determined we had enough material for a substantial book, I put a 40-page visual proposal together and presented it to Paul Levitz at DC Comics, who gave it the go-ahead. Then I was able to bring it to Pantheon as publisher.

Q: What was Levitz' reaction to seeing these long-forgotten Batman stories?

Chip Kidd: He was amazed, but totally supportive and even grateful that we wanted to do this. And Steve Korte, my long-time editor at DC Comics, was key in making it happen. It really has been a privilege for me to do this. My love for it borders on the illegal.

Saul Ferris: We hope (Bat Manga!) is well received. It was a labor of love which should show through in the book. Chip and I both have a love for Batman and manga so this project was a perfect marriage.

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