MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Japan doesn't just create popular new comic heroes. They have also reinvented a classic American one, "Batman." A new book called "Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan" introduces an East Asian take on the caped crusader to Western audiences. From member station KUSP, Rick Kleffel reports.
RICK KLEFFEL: Chip Kidd, best known for his striking book cover designs, got an early start on his collection of "Batman" comics and toys.
Mr. CHIP KIDD (Artist; Co-Author, "Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan"): So I was two years old when the TV show came out with Adam West. Believe it or not that's not too young to sort of get hooked into it.
(Soundbite of TV show "Batman")
Mr. BURT WARD: (As Robin) Gee whiz, Batman, dropping in on a drug store might have been easier.
Mr. ADAM WEST: (As Batman) Exercise never hurt anyone, Robin. We must always keep the element of surprise on our side.
Mr. KIDD: Whether it was comics or toys or whatever, I was a saver. I didn't like to throw things away, and I didn't like to, quote, "use things up."
KLEFFEL: Kidd's first book was "Batman Collected," which is filled with photos of his toys and memorabilia.
Ms. ANNE ISHII (Translator): Chip's apartment is, to anybody who doesn't know anything about him, a little scary. It's just filled with toys.
KLEFFEL: Anne Ishii translated the manga comics for "Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan."
Ms. ISHII: Lots of Batman toys, Superman toys. It's a little strange unless you know who Chip is.
KLEFFEL: Kidd continued to add to this collection, bidding for rare items on eBay. He heard from a friend that in the 1960s, Shonen King, a Japanese manga publisher, had commissioned manga versions of the Batman comics in Japan.
Mr. KIDD: And so this gave me some sort of new mission. Like, you know, I became like the Indiana Jones of forgotten Japanese "Batman" comics.
KLEFFEL: Kidd kept a watch out, but made little progress. In one bidding war on eBay, he sought a rare and very expensive Japanese Batmobile toy.
Mr. KIDD: As soon as I'd won it, I get an email from this person called I Collect Batman. The subject line in my memory was, you got reamed.
Mr. SAUL FERRIS (Lawyer): He bid on an eBay Batmobile, which I immediately recognized as being tampered with.
KLEFFEL: The man behind "I Collect Batman" was Saul Ferris, a lawyer in Chicago.
Mr. FERRIS: Specifically, some evil child had decapitated "Batman" from the Batmobile, and it had been replaced with a very common plastic "Batman" head, which to a collector renders the toy basically worthless.
KLEFFEL: Like Kidd, Saul Ferris is a collector of "Batman" toys and comics. He lives in a house where he's converted what was once a massive wine cellar into a vault for his impressive collection of "Batman" memorabilia.
Mr. KIDD: And so, you know, this like bromance started of, you know, a bonding over this stuff. And as it turned out, I had contacts in Japan for the toys. But in terms of like the comics, no. He actually had far more extensive and more effective contacts there than I did.
KLEFFEL: Chip Kidd proposed a sequel to "Batman Collected" featuring Ferris' collection of toys and comics. Geoff Spears would do the photography, supervised by Kidd. Ferris was unwilling to let the toys leave his house. But with over 300 pages to copy, he agreed to ship the valuable comics to New York.
Mr. FERRIS: I had to bite my lip and I gave Chip and Geoff carte blanche to crush the spine of these Shonen King magazines as much as they wanted to get the best possible image reproduced for the book.
KLEFFEL: Translator Anne Ishii was already familiar with comic book culture and the conventions where fans gather. But in this project, she became immersed in the books, papers, and toys of her collaborators. She learned the visceral power of nostalgia.
Ms. ISHII: Chip was showing one of the original manga anthologies that one of the episodes of "Bat-Manga" was in. You know, I've been in a lot of Comic-Cons, so I'm not totally unfamiliar with, you know, things that have a kind of faint smell of male sweat and tears and blood.
KLEFFEL: The compilation of these manga "Batman" comics is a vivid glimpse of a cross-cultural moment in time. The comics were aimed at an audience of 12-year-old boys, but still command the attention of the men those boys have become, according to Saul Ferris.
Mr. FERRIS: There were 12 issues put out in 1966, and that's the year that I love so much because it takes me back to my childhood.
KLEFFEL: Or as Chip Kidd puts it.
Mr. KIDD: Well, first, I'm a "Batman" freak. So, for me, literally discovering this material would be like being a Beatles fan and discovering an entire album.
KLEFFEL: "Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan" introduces once-unknown comics to a wider audience. Kidd and Ferris hope to release another volume, but the original comics themselves will continue to be objects of affection and bidding wars on eBay. For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.
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