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Top Covers: Safe Bet?
On Oct.17, 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors unveiled its selection of the top 40 magazine covers over the past 40 years. NYRM asked some top designers—Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker; Colin Tunstall, associate art director of Esquire; and Steve Heller, senior art director of The New York Times Book Review—to weigh in on ASME’s picks.
by Wesley Wade
NYRM: What’s your general impression of the list?
Mouly: Most of the covers on the winners list, past the first few, are entirely conventional and, at best, good examples of the form. It’s unlikely that any of these images would have come to mind as “memorable” or “compelling” if one had asked just plain folks which magazine covers they remembered.
Tunstall: Overall, the picks they made are pretty safe.
Heller: These are mass-magazine covers. There are some powerful alternative covers that are missing. Maybe it’s apples and oranges, but maybe not. My interest is in covers that titillate, inform and otherwise grab your attention in a meaningful way. The Life embryo cover certainly did that for me when it came out, whereas the Harper’s Bazaar cover with Linda Evangelista certainly did not.
NYRM: Are there other covers you feel got the shaft?
Mouly: One of Tina Brown’s first covers for Vanity Fair—of the Reagans dancing against a white background. Paul Krassner did a few magazine covers for Hustler; one especially memorable one showed women’s legs being put in a meat grinder, and another showed a crucified bunny rabbit. But I suppose the Hustler staff is not part of the ASME judging panel.
Heller: There were some great Nest and Ray Gun covers, and Playboy had better covers than the ones that made the list. Also, I remember many more National Lampoon and New Yorker covers that were better than something like Esquire’s Clinton cover, which made the list.
Mouly: The problem was that we were limited to four nominations per magazine. Otherwise I would have nominated another cover by my husband, Art Spiegelman (in addition to the black-on-black WTC towers): a drawing of a Hasidic man kissing a black woman around the time of the Crown Heights riots. I’d have also nominated his drawing of a policeman at an amusement park shooting cutouts of people with a sign saying “41 shots for 10 cents,” which drew picketing cops to our building. And another New Yorker cover featuring a painting of a glass of orange juice, done in old-fashioned New Yorker style, half empty (or half full?), which was published at the start of O.J.’s trial.
Tunstall: [Art directors] Art Paul from Playboy, Fabien Baron from Interview and Harper’s Bazaar, Fred Woodward from Rolling Stone and GQ, and John Korpics from Esquire should have been featured more.
NYRM: But surely you still find parts of the list inspiring.
Heller: There are some powerful images. George Lois’ Muhammad Ali is brilliant, and the Lennon-Ono cover is great, as is the “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” Lampoon cover.
Tunstall: When you see a copy of the original today, like Esquire’s Ali cover, you know that it was a powerful cover then and now.
Mouly: It’s ironic to see that most of the top 40 honored by ASME are not photos of celebrities, which is what all art directors—and especially editors—today are demanding for their covers. Most of the memorable covers are idea- or concept-driven. Look at any cover by George Lois. And four out of the top five on this list that use celebrities are also making a point—using the image in the service of an idea.
To see the list of winning covers, visit ASME’s website: www.magazine.org/editorial/14408.cfm