car and driver: collision with post-modern magazines

Around the oval we go….This is a road test. Buckle up……

….”man, magazines have become so VISUALLY LAME. it’s like all those designers out there have totally forgotten they’re speaking a language, too. they sorta ape what they’re told to do and then others copy the ape. monkey see/monkey do. yeesh. gutless crap.—Art Chantry

Art Chantry ( :

Several of my old pals are doing these facebook™ page diary thingies showing “a history of..” and “look at cool…” magazine covers. In fact, those pages were an inspiration for my experiment here with this ‘show and tell’ thing i’m doing (if you want to see the others in my series, they are collected in my photo album page under “familiar quotations” (mostly in vol. 2).

I spent a long time in magazine publication. In fact I spent a long time in the same circles working on the same magazines as those guys posting those magazine covers. I like magazine covers, too. Unfortunately, the covers I like aren’t very mainstream and they aren’t very ‘new york publishing industry’ types of publications or mag covers. I like the crap I like (like those ‘famous monsters’ covers) and that’s always the wrong stuff to like if you want to be successful in nyc. Frankly, most of the magazine covers that one of those other pages is posting bore the bejesus out of me. They all look the same, just the picture is changed (to protect the innocent reputations of the art directors.) The impact is dull, the typography is predictable and strangled, the cluttered thinking speaks to business control rather than creative control – and THAT is what has become of magazine publishing. Today’s magazines are controlled by writers (pretending to be editors) and lawyers (pretending to be in control). Almost NEVER do you see the visual aspect of a magazine, the part of the magazine people actually SEE, being treated with any respect at all. The result is akin to HALF a magazine and those covers they’ve posted really show that off.

Art:but i digress. this is about that great mag cover and why it's so great in an environment like the one that exists today.

So, today, I’m posting a magazine cover i’ve saved in my scrap file for a couple of decades. It’s the december 1965 issue of ‘Car & Driver” magazine. i don’t know who the art director was, i don’t know who did that fabulous image, i don’t know anything about this – all i managed to save was the cover. so, it’s creative origins are a mystery to me.

But, MAN! just look at it! that is one GREAT cover. Everything about it speaks to the impact of a great designer/art director actually being LISTENED to. Things were way different back then and visual input was appreciated as part of the impact and LANGUAGE and IDENTITY of the magazine.

For starters, that is a terrific illustration. But, do you notice it’s ‘generic’? It simply depicts a slingshot dragster starting off the gate. Generic. It really doesn’t relate to any of the stories inside specifically. And the style is one practiced by dozens (maybe scores) of illustrators of the period. so, this is most likely a beautiful stock-style image created by some almost unheralded virtually unknown illustrator. Certainly, not a name most of us would be familiar with, at any rate.

It’s placed in a red field within a red border frame. I would never have done that. I always think in terms of contrast to create visual interest. Yet, this designer chose red, which normally would create a camoflage effect and bury the relatively small framed illustration. That frame is there to further encapsulate the image and confine it within a tight controlled area, like they were afraid of it and wanted to keep all that energy inside a safe airtight container. But, it has exactly the opposite result here. It somehow enhances that image instead and further magnify’s the explosive excitement of the image. It’s like the seams are starting to give and we&

7;re all going to be killed by the concussion of that dragster. magnificent! How did they see that?

And the type! every thing about this type is exactly the opposite of what editorial cover design does today. It breaks every lameass ‘rule’ decided upon by the editors, lawyers, clients and marketing/branding wizards out there. Yet, it does the job so much better than what those clowns could ever imagine in their feeble little fearful brains.

This wonderful little magazine cover, it’s authorship lost to time, it’s preservation obscured by archivists and garbage men, stands in mute testimony to EVERYTHING that contemporary magazine art directors are doing WRONG!

New York publishing world would do well to look to the past to see how visual language was done correctly. Magazines aren’t just words (writer/editors) and ads (salesmen) and fear (lawyers). They are a powerful language of imagery and design that can speak even louder without the words and with the trust rightly placed in the hands of visual experts (designers) who really understand what they are saying.

Contemporary magazines have become blinded by the light (of money).


Art: i was once hired by esquire magazine to do an illustration. i sent a (physical – on a piece of paper) b&w line art illustration. the art director had no idea what to do with it. he called me up and wanted to know what it was that i sent(!) he didn’t understand what he was looking at. he had never dealt with a b&w line art image on a piece of paper before….

Art:here's my "mag cover of the day" (or week, or month or whatever) feature (great magazine covers ignored by the mainstream world). this is 'famous monster of filmland' #40. the editor was forrest j. ackerman, the publisher/art director was james warren, the "layout" and lettering(?) was by harry chester (who also did 'mad'). but the illustration is by RON COBB. ron cobb was one of the very first underground cartoonists. he's credited by such luminaries such as robert crumb as being major inspiration to do underground comics. his features were a staple in the berkeley barb (i think. i forget those details) before even zap comics existed. he designed/illustrated the first jefferson airplane record "after bathing at baxters". he later started a comic book called "last gasp", featuring eco-funnies. all of his early work centered heavily on eco-issues (long before it was noticed by the masses) and he even designed the old "ecology" omicron-inspired logo that graced a bazillion 'green' promo items in late 60's/early 70's. it even became the logo for earth day. but, cobb also made living doing monsters. he did a number of cover paintings for famous monsters. he also did a large number of cheezy record covers with monster-style spooky music for a number of record labels. he was extremely versatile and prolific. nowadays he's a major hollywood scene "painter" and became well known for his work in that field by doing the matt painting (or whatever it's called these days) of the future los angeles in "bladerunner." ron cobb is one of my heros. and he paints a mean monster, ya know?

…after i got over my confusion, i told him to just ‘scan it as line art.” he paused and said, “yeah, i can do that.”

when it was published, it was a half-toned image of the line art illustration. it looked really bad and fuzzy and indistinct.

now, you’d think that with a magazine as old and famous and prestigious and wealthy (assumedly) as esquire, you’d have an art director who knew everything there is to know about the job, you’d have a real pro and an expert on all aspect of the gig. but, this guy knew nothing. he was a technical idiot and a computer hack pretending to be a visual artist. nothing more.

and that is what’s happened to magazines, too. an entire generation out of touch with the actual job of art directing. they think all you need is a download of a stock image you can tweak. they have no idea how to work with an actual freelance professional (at least those that are left). the real job of art direction/design is a mystery to them, or at best something they read about in school. at worst something that you do on a computer.

i’ve got a million idiotic stories like that. it’s all very common. and sad.

…another big complaint about magazine design: ever have difficulty determining which pages are ‘editorial’ and which are ‘advert’? that’s intentional. no joke. some idiot MBA from harvard or yale decided it’s better for the profit margin to confuse readers into thinking they’re reading an article when they are reading an ad. clever, huh?

man, i would have raised hell if somebody tried that on my watch. one of the big problems in the magazines i worked on was helping people differentiate what was important (the editorial – the reason they bought the mag) from crap (the adverts, the business greedheads trying to trick folks into buying the lousy products).

the blur started with usatoday. ever notice they sold their newspaper in boxes that looked like little TV sets? intentional. the pages were full of tiny little blurbs (called articles) mixed together in big mosh with ads peppered in. confusing and tricky. then they started applying that same to magazines. the beginning of the end. we live in a 3-second attention span and it’s intentional.

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