There’s something about the commercial nature of magazines that makes a spectacular cover that bit more noteworthy. I’m a (selective) fan of magazines as a medium but even I have to note that as much as we may protest that some magazines churn out the same cover again and again (female, pretty, slim, young, white), the sharp retort to the double edged sword is that most magazines are only producing those covers because they are the ones that sell. Very quickly it becomes a finger-pointing game; is the creator of the message the one to blame, or is it the receiver who shuts their ears to any deviation? I’m not even sure it’s necessary to reference Alexandra Shulman’s recent quotes on the fact that most people don’t ACTUALLY want real people on the cover of magazines (at least, not to the point where they will part with hard-earned cash for them.)
But negativity aside, I want to celebrate two magazines that consistently publish strong, creative and statement-making covers. And heavens knows, in a world where Kim and Kanye are the best selling cover stars, we need that kind of celebration.
THREE CHEERS FOR STYLIST MAGAZINE! Each week a cover that is entertaining, or beautiful, or challenging, is thrown onto the streets of London, and countless other big cities. Now it might help that as a free magazine, their financial income is less tied up with having to persuade fickle consumers to lift them up off the shelves.
Nevertheless – Judy Garland laid out in a poppy field to signify drifting off in a world of film. Not one but two gorgeous and strikingly literal Nigella covers. A custom-made stained glass window to perpetuate the concept of a self-help culture as a new opiate of the masses.
This isn’t even to mention their frequent artistic collaborations – notably Tracy Emin, Quentin Blake and Rob Ryan who have all worked on custom projects for the publication. I remember hearing Collette Lyons, former Feature Editor of Stylist, explaining that one of the most simple tactics they used to convince potential stars to appear on the mag was to show them their past covers. And with a back catalogue as strong as this, who could blame them?
NEXT UP: NEW SCIENTIST. A magazine I know less well due to not buying it regularly (I wish every field of work within science fascinated me, but it turns out I am a fickle fan with specific tastes). Still, it is a publication always worth looking out for on the shelves just to see how the creative directors behind the knowledge have taken a key concept and injected it with imagination and art and visual splendor. Being able to reinforce a complex idea in a creative and accessible way is nothing short of a mind-blowing talent (and the team at New Scientist have almost always pulled this off).
What I like is that, despite being a mag-for-sale, New Scientist doesn’t seem to be afraid of being different and really going all out. Case in question: A kind of harrowing cover of a faceless being with holes where features should be depicted an idea about black holes ‘living’ inside people. It’s genuinely a little frightening, and most commercial businesses don’t make money by frightening their audience. Nonetheless, they ran with it anyway to great success – flick to slide 2 in this gallery to see the picture in question, as well as how the NS editors made some of their favourite covers.
Essentially, I know and understand that print magazines are businesses. They are not a public service and will not bend to the demands of a few loud and indignant members of the public when the quieter majority are scooping up issues and providing desperately needed revenue. Regardless, I tip my hat to those who manage to stay afloat and set creative trends instead of simply following the happy-consumer formula.
And on a final note, please see this cover from a seventies issue of New Scientist, that I love because it reminds me of a Michael Murphurgo book I used to read over and over. That is a fine orangutan.
See every back issue cover of New Scientist here.
And see all the covers of Stylist magazine over on their Facebook page.
All pics courtesy of the publications in question. Hope they don’t mind.