There are few fictional characters that can be evoked through just a symbol, but Batman is one of them, with the outline of his flying namesake, or a suggestion of the crime fighter’s black mask. Chip Kidd Presents: Batman Black and White: The Sketch Covers, currently at the Museum of American Illustration and Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art at the Society of Illustrators, has artists reinterpreting the Dark Knight.
Designer and writer Chip Kidd authored the first in DC Comics’ six-issue Black and White series, where different writers and artists illustrated short pieces on the character, with the first issue including a “Blank Cover Variant” that anyone could fill in. On view at the Society of Illustrators is Kidd’s impressive collection of artist covers, from Orhan Pamuk (yes, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist) sketching Batman considering a dark landscape, to a sparkly number by Gloria Vanderbilt. There’s also work from Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Stephen Doyle, Raymond Pettibon, Dave Gibbons, Seymour Chwast, Drew Friedman, Kidd himself, and numerous others, all installed salon-style in a red-painted hallway at the Society of Illustrators.
Some artists illustrated thrilling action scenes that could be dropped into the canon, but most transport Batman (often accompanied by Robin) into their particular worlds, like Bob Camp drawing Ren and Stimpy as the duo, or Roz Chast having the two consider a Laverne & Shirley-themed dream while they rest in recliners. Milton Glaser drew a whimsical Batman stretching his wings from the head of a cat, Ward Sutton has a Mad Men-inspired “Mad Batmen” worrying over the Joker “trying to steal the Lucky Strike account.” And Daniel Clowes imagined a “thrilling home school adventure” in which Robin is trapped by his oppressive father figure.
Ticket sales from a series of special events held during the exhibition have supported the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is devoted to protecting comic book professionals in the United States. Below are some examples from the various artistic renderings of the superhero who has been ceaselessly transforming since Bob Kane and Bill Finger created his now-iconic persona in 1939.
Chip Kidd Presents: Batman Black and White: The Sketch Covers continues through November 7 at the Museum of American Illustration and Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art at the Society of Illustrators (128 East 63 Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan).