Monday, January 06, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #6: Blown Covers by Francoise Mouly

A small industry has recently grown up of works that didn't appear in the New Yorker. First, Matthew Diffee edited two collections of cartoons rejected by the New Yorker -- The Rejection Collection, original and Vol. 2 -- and later re-edited them with some new material into a comprehensive edition of cartoons the New Yorker did not run. I'm not aware of any outlet running stories or journalism that was spiked by the New Yorker, but I wouldn't bet a penny that doesn't exist, somewhere.

And recently the New Yorker itself decided to get into the act of publishing things that it didn't publish, which is circular in some very convoluted way. Francoise Mouly, the legendary editor of RAW and art editor for the New Yorker for nearly two decades, has put together a book of covers that she almost ran on the the magazine, or that nearly were chosen, or otherwise came thisclose to being real magazine covers.

But they're not; they all got kill fees at best -- many of the ideas here are in sketch form, and so probably didn't even get that. (Of course, now all of those artists are getting paid -- I fervently hope -- for their appearances in this book. But that's not at all the same thing, and doesn't have the same cultural cachet as a real magazine cover.)

The covers here are nearly all topical -- with a few exceptions for areas that are always vaguely topical, like sex and race relations -- and mostly cluster in the last decade, from 2000-2011 (the aftermath of the Bush-Gore election and 9/11) on. Mouly organizes them into a half-dozen topical chapters, covering sex, religion, politics, celebrities, and so forth.

Blown Covers has a lot of commentary by Mouly, on the subject of covers in general, the kinds of topics and ideas that make good covers, and about the specific unused covers and sketches she's assembled in this book. There's a lot of work here from Mouly's husband art spiegelman, as would be expected, but probably even more from Barry Blitt, who has a great eye for the topical image and a zeal to tackle the biggest and most divisive news stories of the week.

(I should mention that Blown Covers also contains a lot of actual covers of the New Yorker, both in Mouly's introduction -- which explains her theory of covers, and something of the history of the New Yorker cover -- and in the thematic chapters, illustrating what Mouly did run with after she shows the also-rans.)

Since this is Mouly's book, it's entirely about her reign as art editor and the choices she made, but that's reasonable, since before the Tina Brown era (which was just shortly pre-Mouly), the New Yorker avoided topical covers almost entirely, and any details of the decision-making process for covers would probably be much less interesting. ("Well, for September 16 of '57, we wanted something autumnal, but not too autumnal, so Larry Horsehand's falling leaves over a covered bridge was just a bit too far.")

Actual and potential New Yorker cover artists have already scoured this book for any scrap of direction -- it came out in 2012 -- and diehard New Yorker fans probably already have their copies as well. But it's interesting even to non-diehards; Mouly is grappling with the question of how to tastefully illustrate and comment on the news, which is always going to be an open question in the media. And she does it thoughtfully, with some great examples.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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