CCI: It's Bat-Manga!

Chip Kidd brought his slideshow to San Diego as he presented "Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan" to the crowd on Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International. The slideshow presented a glipse at his "Bat-Manga!" book, due in October from Pantheon. Kidd seemed pleased at the turnout, which nearly filled the room. "I thought I was going to outnumber the audience," he joked. Kidd has been working on "Bat-Manga!" for 10 years, he said. The 400-page book, a celebration of Japanese Batman toys and, more importantly, long-forgotten comics, will be available in a limited edition hardcover and paperback. Kidd said that he didn't try to clean up any of the images or retouch any of the artwork, except for some translated word balloons he provided. "I tried to stay as close to the original experience of reading these things as possible," he said. Kidd went on to show a collection of images from Batman manga, including a cover illustration which, as Kidd explained, showed "Batman's aerial net strategy to capture the flying gang." The central focus of Kidd's slideshow, and presumably his book as well, was the work of Japanese artist Jiro Kuwata, creator of "8-Man." According to Kidd, 8-Man was "the basis for Robocop. They completely ripped off the concept from 8-Man."

Even though "8-Man" is well known, at least in Manga circles, "if you google Kuwata," said Kidd, "you won't find anything about Batman." But, as Kidd explained, Kuwata was in charge of producing the officially-licensed Batman comics in Japan. "It was basically seen as a failed experiment," said Kidd. "[However,] as much of a novelty as Bat-Manga is," added Kidd, "it's really, really good comics." Kidd showed an extended sequence from one of Kuwata's Batman stories, reading it aloud to the audience and poking fun at it, while clearly appreciating its quality. But, as he pointed out, "the color just changes for no reason." The story shifts from four-color to two-color without reason. As Kidd put it, "The money ran out and now it's blue." Although the Kuwata work is featured prominently in "Bat-Manga!" Kidd said, "The book's not just comics...I love the toys." "Rayguns, rayguns, rayguns," said Kidd. "How could you have a Japanese Batman book without Rayguns?" Kidd showed images of Batman holding rayguns, and Batman toys ranging from revolvers to leather holsters to Batman gas pumps to even a Batman toy tank. Kidd spent much of the remainder of the panel reading a Kuwata story to the crowd, showing the pages as reprinted in "Bat-Manga!" The story, entitled "The Man Who Quit Being Human" was pieced together over the years, as Kidd and his fellow Bat-collectors gathered bits of Kuwata's work and recreated the long-forgotten Japanese Bat-stories.

After whetting the audience's appetite with the cliffhanger at the end of the Kuwata story, Kidd revealed that when he showed the book proposal to DC Publisher Paul Levitz, Levitz said that he had never seen any of this material ever before. Kidd wrapped up his slideshow with a few more tidbits about the project, giving a brief glimpse of some Chinese Batman comics from the 1960s which he termed "Bat-Manhwa," and explaining that, throughout the book, they're "basically photographing it so it looks like the actual, archival comic." Overall, the book collects a large percentage of the available Japanese Batman comics. "In this book, we're going to represent maybe 40% of what was done," said Kidd. "Maybe." When asked why neither the Adam West "Batman" series nor the manga versions caught on in Japan, Kidd discussed what seemed to him the prevailing notion: "The theories that I've read say that the Japanese audience didn't 'get' Batman," said Kidd, "because it was ironic and satiric." He added, "culturally, they loved the form of it. The content, they had a hard time with. The whole camp factor was not what they were ready for."

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