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Soon Now, and I Shall Know: A Batman Memory by Chip Kidd

Soon Now, and I Shall Know: A Batman Memory by Chip Kidd

By Chip Kidd Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Whether you've been a fan since childhood or are relatively new to the world of the Dark Knight, we all have our favorite Batman memory. With Batman Day upon us, we asked celebrated designer and noted Batman fan Chip Kidd to share one of his.

At the risk of inducing much eye-rolling, allow me to suggest that it shouldn’t be ‘Batman Day,’ it should be ‘Batman Night.’ Right? It would make a lot more sense, and could be a lot more fun—like having Halloween twice within almost a month’s time.

But wow, for a life-long Batman fan of my generation (I was born in 1964), as a kid it would have been impossible to imagine an “officially-sanctioned” Batman Day. Or rather, I imagined it all the time, because I was a geek, but that’s all it would ever be: imagined. 

How things have changed in the last 30 or so years. At this point, Batman is part of the national (wait—global) conversation. And it is on-going. He has become so many things, to so many people, that there are dozens and dozens of versions of the character for every possible age, temperment, gender, race, and mood. 

I am often asked which is my favorite version, and I always default back to the very first year of his comic book stories from Detective Comics #27 through #37, appearing in 1939-1940, before Robin was introduced (not that I didn’t like Robin—of course I did, and wanted to BE him, but I won’t go into that here. You’re welcome.). 

The initial image and presentation of the ‘Bat-Man’ was so much weirder, scarier and cooler from what I was used to on 1960s TV, it seemed like I was seeing the actual, real depiction of him in these comic book pages from 1939. Also, the writing of the stories was very dream-like, in a strange, ‘we’re-still-trying-to-figure-this-out’ kind of way. I’ll never forget the first story page of Detective Comics #31. The logo was beautifully gothic and menacing, but more important, in the first three panels, the Bat-Man is leaping from rooftop to rooftop, in pursuit of something or someone. His dialogue in the second panel is “Soon now, and I shall know.” And as he says it he is assuming the first iteration of that classic Bob Kane origin pose, with his cape turning up as bat wings as he crouches, elbows skyward. Then he lands upon a telephone pole, and with his rope hauls up a man who is about to be—what, bitten?—by a beautiful woman (who turns out to be Bruce Wayne’s fiancee Julie Madison, but I get ahead of myself). 

Back to that bit of dialogue. Um, I wondered: soon now, he will know what? We never really find out what that was referring to. Yet it seems to portend so much. Could I have related to it a little too intensely? As in, soon I would know too? I certainly thought I wanted to.

The author (holding envelope), newly-age 7, September 1971, Lincoln Park, Pa. With best-friend Teddy Newton. Note Batman wrapping paper just below author’s knees.

Which brings us to the Bat-memory part, upon my impending seventh birthday, September 1971. I beseeched my parents for a Batman-themed party, and as always, they sweetly tried to accommodate me in this way. However, on every trip I made with my mom to various department stores in search of kids’ party goods, there was no Caped Crusader to be found. By that time the Batman craze of 1966 was a ripe five years old, and even by then had reached its shelf life, as it were. There were no Batman party goods to be found. 

So, I half-heartedly settled on what was available, and that was . . . The Banana Splits. Everything would feature Fleagle, Beagle, Drooper and Snork (Google or YouTube them, it was a charming and fun midday-kids show, but as un-Batman as it got). So that was that, I wasn’t thrilled, but I liked the Banana Splits just fine, grateful that there would at least be them. 

So then, on the day of the party, my brother Walt (two years older) said I had to wait in my room until all of the decorations were put up. I didn’t really see the point, but didn’t argue, either.  After about two hours, he came back and knocked on the door, saying something like: “Well, we’re sorry you thought we couldn’t get Batman party decorations,” and down the stairs we went, turning into the dining room, and then he said, “But we actually did.” 

And there they were—the centerpiece, the plates, the napkins, the tablecloth, the wrapping paper for the presents. All Batman and Robin. Somehow they had got them (See pictures). To this day I don’t know how they did it or where they found the stuff, it was all from 1966.  And to me, a miracle. 

The birthday table for Chip Kidd, age 7, September 1971, Lincoln Park, Pa. Courtesy of his parents, Ann and Tom Kidd.

It was one of the best Batman Days I’ve ever had in my life, thanks to my family. 

And right then, I knew.

—Chip Kidd, NYC, 9/2017

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