Sunday, 21 February 2010

10 magazines with great design (and content too)

The New Yorker

The New Yorker has always had close ties with the world of classic cartooning. Charles Addams, Gardener Rea, William Steig, James Thurber, Sempe, Peter Arno, Saul Steinberg...need I go on? However since Fran├žoise Mouly (the wife of Art Speigelman, co-editor of RAW and the fantastic Little Lit series) took over duties as art editor, we've been treated to lushious covers by some of comics modern greats-Adrien Tomine, David Heatley, Chris Ware, Seth, Joost Swarte, Dan Clowes Ivan Brunneti, Richard McGuire etc. I'm particularly fond of Richard McGuire's playful optical illusion covers which force you to interact much more with the cover, turning it upside down, searching for visual clues, he comes across a bit like a cartoon Escher in these instances.

Mad Magazine

Probably the most famous cover of Mad magazine (and a perfect example of classically simple design) is the infamous parody of Life magazine drawn by Basil Wolverton to which the editors of Life took considerable offence. Some other great feature of Mad are the fake adverts, Harvey Kurtzman's hand drawn borders and the insides of letters which are insanely and hilariously detailed. Artists like Kurtzman and Will Elder carried a great sense of design in their art (Harvey Kurtzman pre-mad comic 'Hey Look' is fantastic), Elder himself was fond of sticking about ten different jokes (with fake brand names etc) in per panel. His later work with Kurtzman on Playboy's Little Annie Fanny is pretty sensational too (being in full gorgeous colour). After Mad Kurtzman's Help looked a little more like your standard magazine (Kurtzman had always sought to publish a big budget magazine) with understated photographic covers instead of cartoons and bold but relatively straightforward fonts. However it did boast some brilliant fummeti's (photo comics for those not in the know) starring a young Woody Allen and John Cleese. The John Cleese one is particularly brilliant and stars Cleese as a man who becomes dangerously obsessed with a Barbie doll, and Kurtzman's then assistant Terry Gilliam directed the comic, sparking the first meeting of the two Pythons.

Comic Art

This magazine edited by Ivan Brunetti really upped the stakes in design terms with it's last two issues. Issue 8 featuring a wraparound cover by Richard Mcguire and a nice pocket size book by Seth, presented with his usual visual nostalgia (in the introduction to the book done in comic book form Seth tells us about discovering gag cartoons and in particular the early cartoons of The New Yorker which if you look at Seth' s work you can clearly see he is influenced by). Issue 9 has another great pocket book 'Cartooning Philosophy', this time by Brunetti himself, done in his stick figure style

Giant Robot

Aside from great covers Giant Robot lets us delve into the world of kitsch and cute, from toys to comics to Asian trends. But despite this Giant Robot is much more than just an Asian and American-Asian pop culture magazine, and as well as reviews of canned coffee drinks and instant ramen packs it has also featured historical articles on foot binding, the Yellow Power Movement, Asian-American gangsters etc. This brilliant magazine is in financial danger at the moment, and need your help, to donate click here.

Little White Lies

A nice little compact independent film magazine which often themes issues around a particular film and has great covers.

Electric Sheep

Now switched to a purely online version Electric Sheep is another independent film magazine which uses illustrators and comic artists to bring a sense of design. Tom Humberstone being one such contributor.


Graphic magazine is the kind of overpriced graphic design magazine that grows in abundance in London, but the new narratives issue I picked up (for a measly £18) features interviews with and reproductions of artwork by Killoffer, Matt Madden, and Jochen Gerner, and a great interview with one of the people responsible for the Orange adverts you see just before the start of a film in the cinema.


80's seminal anthology/magazine which came after Art Speigelman and Bill Griffith's Arcade. It had a changing headline each issue ('the graphic magazine that lost its faith in nihilism') and features never before translated comics by European and Japanese artists, and generally had a more artistic and in depth feel than Mad or some of the 60's undergrounds, yet didn't really loose it's satirical edge.

True Detective Magazine

Classic pulp fiction pin ups and painting 50's style, you can buy a big hardback book covering many of the main true crime magazines of this era here.

Mcsweeny's Quarterly Concern Comics Issue

Not exactly a magazine but this literary journal that comes in various shapes and sizes and always has a pretty strong design outlook came up trumps when it got Chris Ware to edit and design its comic issue. With a removable cover that folds out into a poster which is a mock up of an American Sunday comics supplement (the flip side is a poster by Gary Panter with extensive written references) it has gold leafing and the combination of its covers, end pages, title and contents page are down to Panter, Heatley, and Brunetti. The content is pretty spot on as well.

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