Archive for the ‘design’ Category

The genius of colour printing

June 19, 2015
Blighty pin-up cover for the popular men's weekly by MB Tompkins in 1958 (16 August)

Blighty pin-up cover for the popular men’s weekly by MB Tompkins in 1958 (16 August)

Colour printing has always seemed to me to be a bit of a miracle – seemingly every colour under the sun can be printed from just four colours, cyan (sky blue), magenta (a pinky red) yellow and black. The colours are abbreviated as CMYK – with K being black, the ‘key’ colour. In theory, the black is not necessary because the other three should merge to black, but in practice, the result is a bit washed out, more a murky brown.

In the 1950s, when this cover was printed, the colour painting of the glamorous dancer would have been photographed through a filter and a metal screen to produce a sheet of printing film for each colour. The screen would be a metal screen capable of showing 150 lines to the inch. The film would taped on to the other pieces of film of each colour for the rest of the page and then paired up with its partner page – the back cover in this case – and that assembled film used to make a printing plate for each colour. Each plate would have been wrapped around its cylinder on a four-unit press. When the paper is run through the press, each colour ink in its turn would have been passed from the printing plate on to the paper. The overprinting of the colours builds up the image.

Detail showing dots of printed ink from the lower face of Blighty magazine cover in 1958

Detail showing dots of printed ink from the lower face of Blighty magazine cover in 1958, Click on the picture to see it in more detail.

Look at the magnified detail here and you can see individual dots for each colour. In the bottom left, there are dots of pure cyan. You can see that the dots are in regular lines at an angle of about 10 degrees to the horizontal. In the darker blue areas, you can see black dots among the cyan. The skin tones are mainly magenta with yellow highlights. The red lips are a combination of magenta and yellow. The teeth are simply the white paper. You can make out some of all the colours in the black areas.

Blighty was a popular men’s weekly magazine published by City Magazines at 64 Fleet St, but it was printed 200 miles away by Eric Bemrose in Long Lane, Liverpool. The Long Lane plant closed down in 1991. The illustration was by MB Tompkins, an artist about whom I only know that he produced Blighty covers in 1958, and some pulp book covers.

MB Tompkins signature from Blighty magazine cover in 1958

MB Tompkins signature from Blighty magazine cover in 1958

 

Harry Rodmell’s Queen Elizabeth dreadnought

June 7, 2015
HMS Queen Elizabeth super dreadnought by Harry Hudson Rodmell on the cover of New Illustrated magazine (18 October 1919)

HMS Queen Elizabeth super dreadnought by Harry Hudson Rodmell on the cover of New Illustrated magazine (18 October 1919)

Today, RMS Queen Elizabeth is one the three great Cunard liners – the others being the Queen Mary and Victoria – recently seen performing tricks in the Mersey in front of the Pier Head in Liverpool. And HMS Queen Elizabeth is the title of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier.

The first warship to bear the name HMS Queen Elizabeth was a super dreadnought launched in 1913. When this cover appeared, the Queen Elizabeth had recently become flagship of Britain’s Atlantic Fleet. She had fought in the Gallipoli landings and would have an eventful future ahead of her – badly damaged by Italian frogmen in the Second World War, but repaired, taking part in action against the Japanese and eventually being scrapped in 1948.

The cover here was by Harry Hudson Rodmell, who had served with the Royal Engineers during the war.

Harry Hudson Rodmell signature

Harry Hudson Rodmell signature

Rodmell specialised in maritime paintings and, according to Hull Museums, his first published magazine cover was for the Craven Street School Magazine in 1912 (he would have been 16).

New Illustrated magazine was originally War Illustrated and changed its name at the end of the First World War. It adopted a colourful cover policy, with some excellent illustrators, from the Continent and US, as well as Britain. Initially after the renaming, much of the material was still martial in nature but it evolved to become a general interest weekly.

The publisher was Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press and the editor, John Alexander Hammerton. From 1905, Hammerton and Arthur Mee produced some the world’s best-selling reference works, such as the Harmsworth Self-Educator, the Children’s Encyclopædia and Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopædia. These were first published as magazines and later collected into multi-volume reference works.

The Lady – out of racy Vie Parisienne

May 7, 2015
Retro artwork for The Lady magazine from 27 March 2015

Retro artwork for The Lady magazine from 27 March 2015

The Lady promotes itself as ‘England’s longest running weekly magazine for women’, having been in continuous publication since 1885 (DC Thomson’s People’s Friend out of Dundee holds the British record, dating from 1869 – in fact, it lays claim to being oldest women’s weekly magazine in the world). Furthermore, The Lady tells me, the magazine is ‘celebrated both for the quality of its editorial pages and its classified advertisements’ (it has long had the reputation as being the place to go to find a nanny). The Lady is ‘for elegant women with elegant minds’.

I was reading the issue above as I sat in the dentist this morning (no more Punch or Reader’s Digest). I was struck by the cover. Clearly, an illustration that has been lifted from a magazine dating from a century ago, when women had the time to line the walls of their houses with bowers of flowers, or at least inspired by one.

Then, blow me down, this afternoon I come across the original manifestation, for the racy French weekly Vie Parisienne. It’s been flipped, put through Photoshop with the colours hardened up and the artist’s monogram (GL – Georges Léonnec) removed, but it’s the same cover nevertheless. The cover line has also gone, Renouveau – renewal, in keeping with the Spring theme.

Racy French weekly Vie Parisienne from 1926

Racy French weekly Vie Parisienne from April 1926

The issue dates from 1926, the days of Art Deco and Jazz. This was very much the heyday of Vie Parisienne, which was famed for its artistic pin-ups. It was founded in 1863, before even People’s Friend, but closed in about 1970. Although there is still a French title of that name, it’s now pornographic and bears no relation to the original. And, just as Le Charivari had inspired Punch, so Vie Parisienne inspired London Life.

There’s a long history of magazines using each others’ cover ideas, though what the stately readers of The Lady in 1926 would have thought of these men’s magazines does not bear thinking about.

 

 

 

 

A typeface for the Magna Carta

May 7, 2015
Detail from the Magna Carta embroidery at the British Library by Cornelia Parker

Detail from the Magna Carta embroidery at the British Library by Cornelia Parker

The British Library is running events to celebrate 800 years of is one of the most famous documents in the world, the Magna Carta. These include commissioned articles by experts, videos and animations, teaching resources for schools – and this embroidery by Cornelia Parker at the library’s main site between London’s Euston and King’s Cross stations.

Front page from Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, in 1911

Front page from Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, in 1911

One of the exhibits is this front page from Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which wasted by Emmeline Pankhurst, in 1911. The WSPU was one of the main campaign groups for women’s suffrage. The BL website explains:

By claiming Magna Carta to be the product of aggression, both the artist Alfred Pearse (1855-1933; under the pseudonym ‘A Patriot’) and essayist Joseph Clayton legitimised the suffragettes’ use of direct action. The front page image of King John was pasted into this scrapbook owned by the suffragette, Maud Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936). 11 months later, Sennett herself was prosecuted for breaking the windows of the offices of the Daily Mail, because the newspaper had failed to report the holding of a WSPU rally.

The suffrage movement pulled in its horns for the most part four years later and women played a vital role in the Great War, both on the Western Front – in some cases deceiving the authorities so they could tend the wounded close to the font lines – and at home, whether in munitions factories, on the land or as bus conductors. Pankhurst’s determination was noted in a 1915 postcard. It showed an officer telling Lord Kitchener, the secretary for war:

‘My Lord, it is reported that the Germans are going to disembark at Dover!’
Kitchener replies:
‘Very Well! Phone Mrs Pankhurst to go there with some suffragettes, and that will do!’

Afterwards, some women were granted the vote. It took another 10 years for all women to get the vote, however.

Women at War – as portrayed in magazines of the day

Self-referential covers at Christmas

April 20, 2015
A 1929 Tit-Bits Christmas extra issue with Santa delivering the issue on which he is depicted

A 1929 Tit-Bits Christmas extra issue with Santa delivering the very issue on which he is depicted

Two cheery Christmas covers from the 1920s and 1930s with the magazine in question being part of Santa’s Christmas Day delivery. Tit-Bits from George Newnes favours the cover referencing itself while the Amalgamated Press magazine Popular Wireless uses a different recent issue.

Christmas special issues in the form of colour supplements, issues covering two weeks or extra issues were popularised by titles such as the Illustrated London News in the Victorian era. The strategy is still followed today by magazines as varied as New Scientist, The Economist, Private Eye and Radio Times.

Popular Wireless has Santa dropping off a standard issue of the magazine from his sack while an expectant-looking boy watches from behind the door in 1933

Popular Wireless has Santa dropping off a standard issue of the magazine from his sack while an expectant-looking boy watches from the door in 1933

In computer coding circles, the act of a routine calling itself is known as ‘recursion’ and was popularised in home computing by BBC Basic in 1980. A similar ‘recursive’ illustration approach as Tit-Bits on a different title can be seen on a 1946 issue from John Bull.

The Science Museum has digitised the first issue of Popular Wireless.

 

 

 

 

 

Self-referential covers 3: the recursive John Bull

April 10, 2015
John Bull 1946 March 2 first edition in colour with a cover by Clixby Watson

John Bull 1946 March 2 – first edition in colour with a cover by Clixby Watson

This John Bull cover marked the 1946 relaunch of what was one of the biggest-selling magazines with a fresh editorial approach led by a full colour cover. Since its launch, John Bull had always been a monochrome weekly magazine, with advertising on the cover since the 1920s and throughout the war. It dated back to 1906 as the brainchild of the swindling MP Horation Bottomley. It may well have been the biggest-selling magazine until the great success of the BBC’s Radio Times in the early 1930s.

The cover was by Clixby Watson, one of the most sought-after illustrators of the era (and the only Clixby I’ve ever come across). Watson had illustrated Woman magazine since the 1930s along with many other magazines. As well as promoting the magazine, the image promotes the idea of actually buying magazines at a news-stand.

Scenes of buying magazines – on the street or at railway station stalls – was a regular theme on magazine covers in the first half of the 20th century.  Publishers promoted the retail buying and distribution chain – a link that is being lost today as even the biggest news chains focus on other goods and even charge publishers extra for new launches. The publishers have reacted by adopting the historical US model of focusing on subscriptions, or moving online.

In theory, the illustration is repeated ad infinitum in each cover – it is a recursive, self-referential cover. The composition of the image is very good, as is the the sense of light. Watson uses the angles and diagonals in the image – and the pointing pipe – to focus on the stall holder and everyone is engrossed by the sight of the magazine. Note that ink and paper were still rationed at this stage – and would be until 1952 – so the appearance of a new colour magazine will have made a splash.  The publisher was Odhams (later IPC/Time UK).

This 1946 holiday season cover from John Bull forecasts a web fate for the slumbering  gent

This 1946 holiday season cover from John Bull forecasts a wet fate for the slumbering gent

The second John Bull cover here is a twist on the self-referential theme. The cover of the issue that has fallen from the hands of the sleeping holidaymaker predicts the fate that lies in store for him – the tide is coming in and he will soon be up to his waist in seawater. Though at least his hat looks safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there are at least three types of self-referential cover:

  1. recursive – featuring the cover itself within itself: John Bull colour relaunch above and Woman’s Own colour relaunch in 1937. It’s interesting that these fiercely rival publishers – Odhams and George Newnes – should both use the same idea to mark relaunches;
  2. self-referential to other issues of the same title: Woman’s Own 1931 and 1935. What would be the criteria for the choice of cover? Obviously, you would want to to be strong visually, both the main image and the masthead in particular, but also a significant issue – perhaps a bestseller;
  3. self-referential with a twist, John Bull at the seaside, above.

 

Monroe brings glamour to Blighty price on eBay

April 6, 2015
1956 copy of Blighty with Marilyn Monroe cover

1956 copy of Blighty with Marilyn Monroe cover

A Marilyn Monroe cover sprinkled some stardust on the price of this 1956 copy of Blighty when it was sold on eBay recently.

Copies of Blighty – which was originally a free magazine for the troops in the First World War and then resurrected for WWII – are usually more likely to fetch £5 than £50, but this issue fetched a whacking £70.88 plus £1.40 postage on eBay. And, there were 31 bids from 6 bidders.

After World War Two, Blighty carried on being published, turning itself into ‘the national humorous weekly’ and then a popular men’s weekly. It later renamed itself Parade and became more explicit, ending up on the top shelf.

A rare colour cover by Arthur Ferrier to help Blighty magazine celebrate VE Day in 1945

A rare colour cover by Arthur Ferrier to help Blighty magazine celebrate VE Day in 1945

The covers were at first whole-page cartoons by the prolific Arthur Ferrier, but mono photographs of young starlets such as Joan Collins or Sabrina replaced these at the end of 1953 and then colour became a regular feature during 1954. Ferrier’s cartoons moved to page 3. One Ferrier cover for Blighty that did well on eBay marked the end of WWII and fetched £48.99 plus £3.99 postage (13 bids by 4 bidders). This was unusual for the time in being colour.

Here is a 1944 British Pathe film of Ferrier drawing a strip for his Sally cartoon in the News of the World based a live model, theatre actress Eileen Bennett.

A contemporary Marilyn Monroe cover will lift the price of most magazines, she being sought after by film and celebrity enthusiasts, and she is an icon for the gay community – an aspect encouraged by Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’.

 

Self-referential magazine covers 2: Woman’s Own

April 5, 2015
This is the cover for the relaunch of Woman's Own in 1937 as a colour weekly. Note this is a true self referential cover because the woman is holding a copy of the magazine she appears on!

This is the cover for the relaunch of Woman’s Own in 1937 as a colour weekly

Woman’s Own seems to have particularly fond of self-referential covers. It was published by George Newnes, yet its great rival Odhams never seems to have use the technique for Woman.

Although the cover describes it as ‘No 1′, this issue actually marked a relaunch of the five-year old woman’s weekly in the face of rival publishing group Odhams opening a new colour gravure printing plant in Watford in 1937. It was from this plant that Odhams launched Woman magazine. The two women’s weeklies are still published today, though both are now controlled by the same company: first IPC when Odhams and Newness merged in the 1960s, and now the UK arm of US group Time Inc.

This is a fully self-referential cover because the woman is holding a copy of the magazine she appears on!

Here are three more self-referential covers, all second world war issues, from 1941, 1943 and 1945. The second is like the one above in that the woman is again holding the cover on which she appears. Wartime covers on women’s magazines were unusual in that many of them depicted men, usually in uniform.

This photographic cover from 1941 shows the model reading another issue of Woman's Own

This photographic cover from March 1941 shows the model reading another issue of Woman’s Own – from December 1940

 

 

Another fully self-referential cover from Woman's Own in 1943

Another fully self-referential cover from Woman’s Own in 1943

 

 

Womans Own cover from 1945

Woman’s Own cover from March 1945. The issue she is holding looks like one from the start of February

 

 

The self-referential magazine cover

April 1, 2015
The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904

The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904

Self-referential magazine cover covers are a not-so-subtle form of marketing and are pretty rare, but they do crop up, seemingly more often on weekly magazines than monthlies. It’s a brand marketing strategy, though that is not likely to have been a term on anyone’s lips at the time.

This is the earliest one I’ve noticed, from 1904. It plugs not only itself but its sister magazine from publishers Cassell, the monthly Cassell Magazine, which cost 6d. This strategy of having a cheap weekly and upmarket monthly was common for publishers in the Victorian and Edwardian era. The Penny Magazine had been founded in 1898 as the New Penny Magazine, shortening the name in 1903 and continuing until 1925. The story-based sister monthly was published under various titles from 1853 to 1932. Other magazines shown or partly visible are three titles for children,  Chums (1892-1934), Quiver (1861-1926) and Little Folks, and Cassell’s Saturday Journal (1883-1924) again all from Cassell.

The black-and-white cover illustration with its red spot colour is not a particularly good example, but then most of these penny weeklies were pretty cheap. It is signed by E Lander. The quality of some of them improved as sales grew for those titles from the likes of Newnes and Harmsworth that were able to achieve very high sales.

The drawing portrays a railway bookstall of the kind run by WH Smith and Wyman & Sons. No actual cover is shown on the stall, just the magazines’ titles. The uniformed lad with his sales tray looks like he may be selling maps and guides. Note that the Penny Magazine describes itself as being for travellers and commuters – ‘for rail, road, river or sea’.

Cassell is a name that dates back to 1848, when the company was founded by John Cassell. The magazines were an offshoot of the book publishing and were probably regarded as a way of developing writers and promoting established names. Cassell ceased being an independent publisher in 1999 – a decade of concentration in book publishing – when it was bought up by Orion Publishing Group, itself owned by the French group Lagardère. Today, Cassell is an illustrated imprint of Octopus Publishing.

£10 to New York and the inflight magazine

March 17, 2015
Freddie Laker's Skylines magazine cover from 1981

Freddie Laker’s Skylines magazine cover from 1981

One of the most popular online stories yesterday morning was Jane Wild’s story about Ryanair working towards £10 transatlantic flights.

Such cheap flights from Europe to the Americas have long been a dream – most famously espoused by Freddie Laker with Skytrain in the 1980s. So popular were Laker’s flights that the US embassy in London had processed 300,000 non-immigrant visas by April 1981 – and was expecting a total of 1m for the year. This meant there would be as many Britons going to the US as US citizens holidaying in Britain – and the rise was attributed to Laker by the US consul. Yet, as Wild points out, no airline has managed to run a transatlantic service offering rock-bottom fares and turn a profit. Some went bust trying, including Sir Freddie’s Skytrain in 1982.

And for every airline, there is usually an airline magazine. The 1981 Skylines cover shown here summarises the typical contents for such magazines, then and now:

  • Dustin Hoffman – a dust of celebrity sparkle;
  • Wine without tears – encouraging readers to dip into the duty free and buy more drinks;
  • The Laker story (and the cover) – it’s marketing material after all;
  • Money wars – business and finance for the executive travellers they are keen to attract;
  • About your flight – answering the questions and pushing other services
  • Short story – for those who want to switch off.

But the 1980s was the era of deregulation, and by 1985, the US airline People Express and Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic were following Laker in taking the transatlantic fight to British Airways. And just as BA has been the airline to beat on that route, for the past 40 years BA’s High Life has been the inflight magazine – and for much of that time the contract magazine – to beat (I remember ‘whoops’ in the office when the InterCity magazine I was editing for British Rail beat High Life in the National Readership Survey).

Cover of BOAC's inflight magazine Welcome Aboard in 1970

Cover of BOAC’s inflight magazine Welcome Aboard in 1970

Before BA and High Life, there was BOAC and its Welcome Aboard, where the covers focused on encouraging exotic international travel and used relaxing poster covers devoid of cover lines. These days, High Life magazine ‘gets in front of over three million people every year, who spend an average of 36 minutes reading it’, says its customer publisher, Cedar. And it has spun off lots of add-ons, becoming more than a magazine, with a travel website, iPad app, social media content and inflight entertainment package.

High Life inflight magazine cover from November 2012

High Life inflight magazine cover from November 2012

Cedar also boasts that High Life uses ‘some of the best editors, writers and photographers in the world, including Michael Palin, John Simpson and Rankin’. And that’s certainly true of many customer magazines. InterCity was launched by former Nova and Observer Magazine editor Peter Crookston and former GQ editor Paul Keers took over when I left.

Magazines such as High Life and InterCity were key to the development of the customer magazine industry in the early 1980s, led by contract publishers such as BBC/Redwood and Cedar.

The first issue cover for Carlos, an inflight magazine for Virgin in 2003

The first issue cover for Carlos, an inflight magazine for Virgin in 2003

These days, inflight magazines for the budget airlines tend to be functional, with tit-bitty city profiles and short lifestyle features for their short-haul flights.

One magazine that set out to break the mould was the illustration-led  Carlos for Virgin Airlines. This thought of itself as more of a fanzine than an inflight magazine. It was loved by other editors and designers and won awards for its launch and design from the BSME for publisher John Brown. However, like earlier creative titles such as Town and Nova, it failed to make commercial sense for the airline, lasting just three years and six issues. It was replaced by Travel Notes in 2006. The Atelier Tally blog has a post of covers and details.

 


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