On The Cover #1: Fresh Snow, Fresh Fruit, Fresh Meat

If you can’t judge a magazine by its cover, it’s not doing its job. This month, major magazines work hard for the money:

  1. Rolling Stone released a very iconic Barack Obama cover. Just him and his flag pin. No name, no slogan and no eye contact. Pure faith and devotion. Compare to their last Obama cover, which made him look like a wax dummy of a superhero.
  2. Again Obama, this time as an illustrated character on the cover of The New Yorker, sporting his Al-Qaeda gear and giving his sidekick, Angela Davis Michelle, the fearsome terrorist fist jab. The best comment on the controversy surrounding this cover comes from Gawker: “this obvious and heavy-handed satire has enraged Democrats and liberal media critics because now they are pretty sure this nation of child-like imbeciles will believe it to be an un-retouched photograph from the FUTURE.”
  3. Predictably, this cover of Psychology Today caught my eye. Some nice use of type, but guess what? She’s wearing the corset backwards. How could something like be allowed to happen in 2008?

See, we’ve been thinking about magazine covers a lot over the past few months. Deciding together as a group on the cover of Coilhouse Issue 1 was a very intensive process. That decision’s been made, but to help myself think about what makes for a good cover in the future, I’ve started compiling a personal list of favorite covers, which I now share with you. I’ve excluded the undisputed heavyweight champions (John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol in a Campbell’s Soup Can, etc.) from my list. It’s going to be a Top 9, with the first 3 being posted today as part of a series. Enjoy!

9. Russia! Magazine, Winter 2008

This cover of Russia! Magazine is sexy, sexy, sexy. It’s also a cheeky remix of a controversial banned photograph titled An Era of Mercy. Two of Russia’s top male models were employed for this shoot, with real spacesuits on loan from the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. The hip new Russian culture magazine also does a great job with its cover lines: Issue 2 has a bear dancing with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and entices you with the promise of “Eight More Bears Inside.”

8. Meatpaper Magazine, Issue 1

Excellent use of white space, composition, fatty tissue and type. It was a close tie between their Issue 2 cover, which featured the words “So We Meat Again” rendered in Value Pack, a custom meat alphabet created by designer Robert Bolesta.

I first learned of Meatpaper and its coinage of the term fleischgeist from Warren Ellis, and am the proud owner of the sold-out Issue 2. I confess that, when initially leafing through the pages of the finely-printed issue, I thought “this is great, but for how many issues can this theme go on?” As they stand poised to release Issue 4 (which covers, among other things, “animal cannibalism in the children’s books of Richard Scarry”), I must say that they’ve made me a believer. This scanned Bust article from their Press section has an excellent interview with Sasha and Amy, the ladies behind the meats. And speaking of Bust…

7. Bust Magazine, Feb/Mar 2006

I like my Bust covers colorful and slightly retro – among my favorites are Gretchen Mol, Beth Ditto and their latest for Amy Sedaris.  But nothing floors me like this cover for Peaches. It has everything: iconic presence, symmetry, humor, charm and honesty (if this were any other publication, you can bet they’d slim down her waist). There’s also a great relationship between the image and the type.

I also love Bust for rising out of the ashes. The magazine started out as an independantly-owned publication picking up where Sassy left off in 1993. When they ran out of money, the editors were forced to sell the magazine to Razorfish Studios, an interactive design firm, in 2000. Shortly after the dot-com bubble burst, Razorfish laid off the entire staff and shut down the magazine. But Bust bounced back. The editors actually succeded in buying back the magazine from Razorfish and, with the support of their readers (and, apparently, some wild fundraising parties), relaunched it once again.

Fast-forward to 2008: the branch of Razorfish that owned Bust went out of business, and Razorfish itself was bought by SBI, which was bought by aQuantive, which was bought by Microsoft. On the other hand, Bust remains independant and more popular than ever. The magazine celebrates its 15h anniversary this month. Happy birthday, ladies!

To Be Continued.

17 Responses to “On The Cover #1: Fresh Snow, Fresh Fruit, Fresh Meat”

  1. Mark Says:

    Some interesting choices there, Nadya – as someone who’s been responsible for publication design too, I’m hugely conscious of good subbing and (typo)graphic work when I browse a shelf.

    Not sure I’m with you on the Bust cover – I don’t especially like the fonts, and I feel Peaches’ pose is so ‘iconic’ that it feels a bit too safe. I think it’d blend in on the shelf. I LOVE the beautifully stripped-down Rolling Stone Obama cover you highlight before the jump, though – so breezy and confident, it’s downright cheeky! :)

    For sheer technical bravado, I remember being pretty impressed when I first saw this Stern cover online last year (don’t feel hugely moved by much else on that list, mind).

    Moving away from super-glossy photoshop trickery, I guess in terms of a single shot it will always be tough to beat that dazzling National Geographic cover of the young Afghan refugee girl, although the rest of the layout there is hugely dull.

    I still think my favourite of recent years, though, was the post-9/11 New Yorker cover. I saw it in person, and it really did look solid black from a distance – which, after all, would’ve made sense at the time. It wasn’t until I had it in my hand that I realised there was more to it, and at that point it stopped me in my tracks. It noiselessly screamed at you, and the silence was deafening. A real goosebump moment. Totally inspired.

  2. Tequila Says:

    The Obama cover is iconic for all the wrong reasons though.

    It’s a forced level of pushing everything people expect of the man into one image…reminds me alot of covers from movie rags. I’m pretty sure there was a Tom Cruise shot like that for Entertainment Weekly at one point.

    The backwards corset thing…it seems to happen quite a lot. I gotta admit though I kinda prefer it at times…some just look better visually that way. Then again I like seeing the lacing :P

    Gonna have to get that Peaches cover though…agree on all fronts about it. Didn’t know the history of the mag though so thanks for the history lesson.

    Side Note: We need a Coilhouse drinking game that revolves around the mentioning of Warren Ellis…like…1 drink if he’s mentioned in an article and 3 if he comments.

  3. la mome neant Says:

    I wonder how the 1st Coilhouse cover will look like. I hope we’ll can order it from abroad, too!

  4. Tanya Says:

    Nadya, good choices!

    I picked up that issue of Russia from Green Apple books a while ago. It’s too bad it’s a quarterly – I’d get a kick out of reading it on a regular basis. The cover definitely caught my eye, but I absolutely *love* the diagrammed two page spread of a Russian New Year’s Eve table (with an acoustic guitar propped up in the corner, and “herring in a fur coat” sitting ominously on a centerpiece plate).

    Meatpaper definitely seems like a great development in the world of food publishing. As a regular subscriber to Saveur and Gourmet magazine, I appreciate their sumptuous photos and informative recipes & articles, but they’re a bit more classic. Meatpaper seems a little more cutting edge.

    BTW, speaking of Meatpaper: There’s a tasting party happening in SF this Sunday at the restaurant Perbacco. It’s hosted by two mags – Meatpaper and Gastronomica. For anyone reading this right now, I did the write up for it on Flavorpill and you can check it for details. There’ll be food and booze tasting, and lotsa good shmoozing with other foodies.

  5. Vivacious G Says:

    Sigh. I do love magazines. I’m dying DYING of suspense to see Coilhouse in print!!!

    Ok, so I’m not dying. Well, maybe a little.

    On the inside.

  6. David Forbes Says:

    A few of my friends were absolutely enraged over The New Yorker Obama cover. Maybe it’s just being jaded from working in the media for a little while, but I just don’t see the big deal. It’s heavy-handed and not particularly great satire. I have trouble believing that the masses are going to be swayed by a New Yorker cover of all damn things. What? The New Yorker shows Obama loving Osama bin Laden and his wife toting an AK-47?! They’re doing WHAT with their fists?! Ah hell, it’s McCain all the way now.

    Speaking of Obama covers, the Atlantic actually had pretty good one a few months ago — and it actually tied in well with the accompanying essay.

    I’m still not sure whether the backwards corset on the Psychology Today cover is a straight-out ignorant fuck-up or a almost-too subtle play on the whole “Twisted” theme. These are psychologists, after all, ergo they’re probably kinky in some form or fashion (I’ve never met anyone involved in that profession who wasn’t).

    All of the three you featured are great, though the Russia! cover is my personal favorite. Simple, effective, and to the point. Everything a great cover should be. I can’t wait to see the others.

  7. curves Says:


  8. Io Says:

    Arghhh! I saw the Psychology Today cover last week and was ever so slightly annoyed at the backwards corset shot, how did they not figure that one out?!?! I’m sure it had a busk and all.

    That said, right with you on the new Obama cover, it’s wonderful and yes, iconic.

  9. Nadya Says:

    Lots of great responses on this which I’ll answer tonight, but first:

    AAAARGH! I was reading these comments on my iPhone, and accidentally pressed something on the screen which deleted a comment. Paul Blume, was it yours? My sincerest apologies!

    It was a great comment, too. :(

  10. Ornith Says:

    Several months ago, the corsetmakers community on Livejournal had several posts concerning a magazine shoot with a corset in it.

    Because they’d put it on the model *upside down*.

  11. Nadya Says:

    Mark: I love that Stern cover… in general, Stern seems a progressive magazine based on what I’ve read. Never seen a copy in person. I agree, the New Yorker cover you linked to is very unsettling – even for someone who’s been exposed to sappy WTC imagery quite a bit. And, of course, the National Geographic cover you refer to is brilliant. I remember reading a story about how they found that same girl and photographed her again:


    That was 2002. I wonder where she is now.

    Tequila: I think it’s what Rolling Stone feels is needed in order to sell him. Our culture loves celebrities more than boring old politicians – Rolling Stone knows that and uses it to the Obama campaign’s full advantage. And why not?

    la mome neant & Vivacious G: Soon… all will be revealed.

    Tanya: Wow. says it’s sold out! Sounds like a fun event. Wish I could go. Also, I suddenly want ribs. Also, next time I’m in SF, you have to show me your copy of Russia! Mag.

    David: You don’t think it’s great? I think it’s great. Perhaps the fact that so many people didn’t “get it” means it’s not so great, after all. Interesting Atlantic cover… they should’ve put the text at the bottom though.

    Ornight: LOL!! Want to see.

    Sorry again for the accidentally-deleted comment. No more clumsy iPhone pawing for me.

  12. lucylle Says:

    Excellent choices… I love the Russia! picture, the setting and the styling make it look like a movie cell but the action itself is so spontaneous… and, as a carnivore, I dutifully drooled out on Meatpaper.

    So, while waiting for the Coilhouse cover to showcase online (and possibly on my doorstep as well), I’ll leave you with a couple of my personal favourites:

    Not particularly a fan of I-D, as its style is too much of a trendy mish-mash, but I love this Cate Blanchett’s cover:

    Also, you mentioned Rolling Stone… I think this one is possibly the nerdiest cover EVER made by them, so I can’t resist passing it along:

  13. David Forbes Says:

    Nadya: I understand its point, but I just think it’s overkill in a way that damages the effectiveness of the cover. There wasn’t just Barack and Michelle Obama dressed up doing the fist jab, they had to add the Osama portrait and the burning American flag in the fireplace. The New Yorker has done some amazing covers before, and they usually make a simple point with a simple image or have something a good deal more subtly witty.

    Perhaps the cover would have worked on a different magazine, but it just seems hideously out of place for The New Yorker’s tone and image. Also, considering that the piece inside was a 15,000 word analysis of Obama’s political career, it doesn’t really fit the tone of that either. Call me prejudiced, but the writer in me likes it when cover and story come together perfectly, one reason I admired the Atlantic cover (misplaced type aside).

  14. Mark Says:

    Lucylle – ahahah! That SWvRS cover made me *gleeeeeee* way more than it should’ve. Ooh, I don’t know what to do first – cricket with Wicket, breakin’ with Vader or beachball with the Gammorrean? Oh, hang on, Leia needs more Factor 50…*drifts off into work-ruining geekazoid reverie*


  15. Peter S. Says:

    I suspect the New Yorker cover would have been better executed were the drawing to have been more realistic, then add a Fox News frame and bottom text crawl bar.

    As for Bust, I have to go with Amy Sedaris. Mostly because I always have to go with Amy Sedaris.

  16. Sarah Les P Says:

    I bought Russia! based on the cover, totally loved it. There is nothing better than gay astronauts (.. cosmonauts).

  17. daniel.yokomizo Says:

    Just here to say that the RSS excerpt was very well done, it showed enough to see what the article is about but not enough to fill the need for more Coilhouse.

    Also sexy, sexy, sexy indeed.