Archive for the ‘self-referential magazines’ Category

On this day in magazines: Top Spot in 1958

February 14, 2017
Top Spot magazine with a self referential cover design for 14 February 1959

Top Spot magazine with a self referential cover design for 14 February 1959

The 1950s marked a period when men’s magazines began to differentiate themselves more strongly, a trend that is evident in this copy of Top Spot from 14 February 1960. Note that storyline across the top of the title – The paper with man appeal!

In fact, Top Spot was aimed at teenagers with a mix of fiction, strip cartoons, pin-ups and war and adventure stories.

Amalgamated Press offered ‘Pictures! Punch! and Action!’ from the first issue in October 1958, but January the following year saw pin-ups like that of Michele Manning above dominate the covers. The 14 February is notable for having a self-referential cover, whereby Manning is shown with a copy of Top Spot from the previous month.

Other features in the issue included a centre pin-up page of Mara Corday; several page cartoon strips, such as Slave Girl Tsarina, the St Valentine’s Day massacre and Fabian of the Yard presents Manhunt; and a back page pin-up.

New title design and a cartoon strip cover for Top Spot of 28 November 1959

New title design and a cartoon strip cover for Top Spot in November 1959

Top Spot‘s fortunes can’t have been helped, however, by the printing strike in the summer of 1959 when it would not have come out for six or more issues. It was bad news for magazine publishers, but the printers established the 40-hour week, which would become standard for most British workers over the next decade.

The pin-up strategy does not seem to have worked either. In October, it switched to a strip cartoon cover.

There were more changes for the November 28 issue, which had a new title design and a cartoon strip ‘The Day the Seventh Died’ about the US cavalry’s battles with native tribes. The emphasis was on ‘stories, pics and humour’. Unfortunately, this was no more successful and the last issue was in January 1959.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 


Self-referential covers: Queen and Elle

December 7, 2016
Queen magazine cover  from 1963 showing Elle

Queen magazine cover from 1963 showing Elle

Magazines that refer to magazines usually refer to themselves. This is a rare example of a magazine referring to another title. Today, this would not happen.

However, in 1963, there will have been no chance of Queen plugging a competitor, because Elle at this time was not published as an English edition – there was only the French original. So the special Getaway issue of Jocelyn Stevens’ Queen can afford to show a reader brushing up on her vacance in French. The idea adds a certain je ne sais quoit.

 

 

Magazine cover design – in search of the 3D effect

November 7, 2015
Picturegoer magazine cover design with 3D effect from 23 April 1953. Arlene Dahl is the film star model

Picturegoer magazine cover design with 3D effect from 25 April 1953. Arlene Dahl is the film star model

Nowadays, there are many technical strategies that can be used to give a three-dimensional effect to a magazine cover design, including holograms and lenticular stick-ons.

The first magazine hologram I’m aware of was one stuck on a Venture cover from Redwood Publishing in about 1985. Lenticular imagery has been around at least since publicity postcards for the 1968 film of Alistair Maclean’s Ice Station Zebra, and became popular on magazines in about 2001.

But before these, clever graphical tricks were the only viable approach – I’ve never seen a publisher try the red/green printing with plastic glasses on a cover, though it has been used freqently on inside pages since the 1950s from magazines such as Picture Post.

This cover design on movie weekly Picturegoer from 25 April 1953 is a good example. It’s a complex photomontage and is also self-referential with parts of 10 other covers shown as the background. The main photograph is of the hands holding a black and white publicity photograph of Arlene Dahl, described by IMDB as ‘one of the most beautiful actresses to have graced the screen during the postwar period’. The site lists no less than five of her films in 1953.

Note that the hands appear to be in colour. This is because the cover uses the second special colour for the title box as a tint to give a wash over the hands and a paler tint still over the background. The technique was common on gravure-printed weeklies in the 1950s.

All in all, an ambitious piece of work, though to my mind the title sitting over the photograph is a commercial compromise that destroys the overall visual logic – but then no publisher wants the title to be a subsiduary element when the magazine has to sell on a very competitive news-stand each week. However, as the Picturegoer magazine cover design below from 11 April 1953 shows, many issues did carry a much less prominent masthead.

Picturegoer from 11 April 1953 with a less prominent masthead

Picturegoer from 11 April 1953 with a less prominent masthead for a Kirk Douglas cover

Inside the Arlene Dahl issue of ‘The national film weekly’ from Odhams Press, the 3D theme continues with a review of Bwana Devil, described as Hollywood’s first full-length three-dimensional feature. The critic’s reaction will be familiar to many people who’ve seen any of the recent spate of 3D films (Gravity being the exception for me): ‘Picturegoers are bitterly disappointed in their introduction to Hollywood’s third dimension. They see a real danger in Hollywood’s giving them eye-straining technical tasters in place of sound, satisfying entertainment.’

>Film magazines

>>See my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

When magazines dropped like flies

October 24, 2015
Recycling paper in the war, as shown on the cover of Everywoman magazine in January 1942

Recycling paper in the war, as shown on the cover of Everywoman magazine in January 1942

It’s been a dire few years for the big magazine publishers with many closures. Yet, things could be worse – as they were soon after the outbreak of the Second World War. Just as householders ripped out their iron railings and every scrap of metal was collected up for the war effort, so was paper.

People went around recycling their magazines and newspapers – as portrayed in this Everywoman cover by Clixby Watson from 1942. Even local libraries donated their bound volumes. Another form of recycling was reusing – the public was encouraged to hand their old magazines in to Post Offices so they could be sent out to the troops, as had happened in the Great war.

By 1942, the amount of paper publishers could use was reduced to a fifth of what it was before the war! Page sizes were reduced, print runs reduced, the number of pages cut and weeklies became fortnightlies, but even this was never going to be enough.

So titles had to close. And dozens of them did. You can see a clue as to what was happening below the title on this cover Woman’s Pictorial cover from 1940:

Woman's Pictorial magazine cover from 1940 -wartime rationing had already started to bite

Woman’s Pictorial magazine cover from 1940 – wartime rationing had already started to bite

And this one,

London Opinion magazine's cover from September 1940 reveals that another magazine has closed

London Opinion magazine’s cover from September 1940 reveals that another magazine has closed

And another.

And even Tatler has swallowed upon of its venerable rivals. This issue is from 1943 but the takeover took place in October 1940

And even Tatler has swallowed one of its venerable rivals. This issue is from 1943 but the takeover took place in October 1940

Home Journal, The Humorist and Bystander. Just three examples of the many magazines that were closed by publishers in just six months so they could meet their paper ration. And, look back above at the Everywoman magazine cover and you’ll see it had swallowed Woman’s Fair. There’s a particular poignancy in the loss of the Bystander, for that was the magazine that introduced Bruce Bairnsfather’s Old Bill cartoons – a great morale booster during the Great War.

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. Such self-promotion seems to be lost of today’s publishers, who spent their value page space encouraging their readers to put the magazine and turn instead to their mobile phones or television sets.

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 John Bull cover above 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 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 snoozing 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.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

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 used the technique for Woman.

Although the cover describes it as ‘No 1’, this issue actually marked a relaunch of the five-year old women’s weekly in the face of rival publishing group Odhams opening a colour gravure printing plant in Watford in 1937. It was from this plant that Odhams launched Woman magazine.

The technique of relaunching a magazine at the same time as a rival’s launch, or some other attention-grabbing tactic, is known as a ‘spoiler’ in the business.

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. Easy to do with an illustration, trickier with a photograph, but not impossible, even before Photoshop made digital image manipulation so easy.

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