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Regulars / Printed Pages

Cover Stories: MacGuffin’s Kirsten Algera on the magazine covers that left a lasting impression on her work

To celebrate the release of Printed Pages SS18, we’ve asked a selection of influential people in creative publishing to choose the seminal magazine covers that they loved, and made an impact on them and their work. The magazines could be from any time, place or niche of the publishing world. In this series, they’ll tell us why these particular covers left a lasting impression.

Kirsten Algera is editor-in-chief of MacGuffin, a magazine celebrating “inspiring, personal, unexpected, highly familiar or utterly disregarded things”. Each issue is based on a single object: for example, issue one was The Bed, issue three, The Rope, and the latest, issue five examined The Cabinet, from all angles across a range of entertaining and beautifully presented stories. The magazine has won multiple awards, including the Stack Awards Magazine of the Year in 2016. Yet here, Kirsten explains how the process of creating its covers is often the team’s greatest challenge.

“Some background: we’re not really “coverjunkies” (we have a great Dutch colleague who operates under this name and knows much more about covers then we do; Jaap Biemans). I did work as an art director for VPRO magazine, which in The Netherlands is quite famous for its cover policy. And I loved my job as an art director, but making the cover was very much like solving a semiotic puzzle; a construction. If this puzzle comes together, like it frequently does at the New York Times Magazine, it’s wonderful. But I also like it when a cover is a little bit more ambiguous or illogical. This is why I think my co-editor at MacGuffin, Ernst van der Hoeven, is a very good cover art director: he always chooses the thing that the Michelin Guide calls ‘merite le detour’.

“At MacGuffin, we’re not so much ambitious cover makers, but more focused on the inside spreads; we’re good at combining text and images. The cover is always our most difficult delivery. I think we made more then 40 versions of the first MacGuffin cover. And our final choice was torpedoed by our distributors (of whom we were afraid at the time), because it showed pubic hair (of Juergen Teller as a baby in the arms of Charlotte Rampling in a Louis XV bed). Luckily we also had the photo with trousers on. This was the last time we relied on our distributors.

“We never followed any general cover rules (people, faces, masthead, et cetera), nor did the magazines we’re fans of (Migrant, The Real Review, Nest). But I have to say: independent magazines that have a way bigger print run then we do like The Gentlewoman, Fantastic Man, Apartamento, do. So maybe we have to have a look at our cover policy! What I think is strong about our covers is that they look like objects themselves: beds, windows, sinks; good representations of the magazine motto “The Life of Things”). In this way they’re distinctive, and the signature of our wonderful graphic designer, Sandra Kassenaar.

“While covers are not our main focus, I do have some (historic) covers that I feel very connected too. Not so much because of their aesthetics or world fame (those would probably be the Esquire covers with Mohammed Ali, or any Warhol), but because of the story that is hidden behind the cover, and our personal connection to it. Below some of those, chronologically ordered.”

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Eros (1962) and Fact (1964)

Kirsten Algera: These are from before I was born, but at the start of modern day magazine design: the first issue of Eros and the first one of Fact. Recently I was at a lecture of Alexander Tochilovsky of The Lubalin Center, that has an amazing collection of magazines, like Eros, Fact: and Avant Garde. The most famous Eros cover is the undoubtedly the one with the Marilyn Monroe photos on the cover (that she marked herself), but I like this one the most, as probably a lot of graphic designers will. It is a stunningly designed hardcover “magbook”. Eros was a collaboration between Ralph Ginzburg (editor) and Herb Lubalin (art director), and positioned itself as a quarterly magazine on love and sex in America. Authorities, however, didn’t take kindly to a magazine covering the sexual revolution in 1962.

When Eros published its fourth issue, Robert Kennedy, the U.S. Attorney General, indicted Ginzburg for distributing obscene literature through the mail and violating federal anti-obscenity laws (after Eros portrayed his brother and sister in law, Jackie Kennedy, in one of the most beautiful photo reportages I have ever seen). Ginzburg was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. After his sentence (reduced to eight months) Ginzburg started Fact:, which was largely founded in response to the treatment Eros received. Fact: magazine was a similar venture by the two that was equally controversial, although it shifted the subject matter from sex to culture and politics. The magazine was sued by presidential candidate Barry Goldwater for their publication of an article that said Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be president of the United States. I think the Fact: covers are classics because of their “non-design”. The inside layout was a simple, quiet, two-column, but the tone was set by the striking, bold and text-only covers. As Tochilovsky said: Ginzburg and Lubalin showed that a cover can also have attitude because the design takes a step back.

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De Poezenkrant (1977)

KA: I worked together with Piet Schreuders at the VPRO Gids for a couple of years. He is an exceptional Dutch graphic designer, design critic and publisher that captures 50 years of alternative design culture in The Netherlands. Since 1974, he publishes, edits and designs De Poezenkrant, “an irregularly appearing periodical indirectly concerning cats…”. He’s famous for his attacks of modernist design/Wim Crouwel in The Netherlands in the 1970s, that he called “criminal”. Of Crouwel, the Swiss-inspired founder of Total Design and a figure who loomed large over Dutch design discourse in the 1970s, Schreuders wrote in his pamphlet Lay In – Lay Out: “Where Wim Crouwel proposes ‘objective norms’ in place of ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, I stick to those two words and regard Crouwel’s work as personal, original, of its time – and, yes, ugly.” To stress his point, Schreuders, during the launching debate of his publication, metaphorically – and physically – tore apart one of Crouwel’s posters before the eyes of its stunned designer and an outraged audience. Piet Schreuders has been considered an enfant terrible ever since. But this provocative stance easily detracts from the serious undertone of Schreuders’ argument, that “design is like directing a film or mixing a sound recording, to make a whole out of diverse elements”. De Poezenkrant is a beautiful and ugly example of this, and an icon of Dutch alternative, vernacular design.

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Vinyl Magazine #11 (1982)

KA: This was the first thing I bought when I earned some money as a 13-year-old. I biked 25km to get to a bookstore in Groningen, in the North of Holland, where Vinyl magazine was sold, the Dutch equivalent of The Face. It was created as a kind of fanzine for new wave music, but it also explored art, fashion, design and technology. And like The Face, the publishers wanted the design to be as exciting as its subject matter. It even had a designed, multiform flexi-disc inside every issue. I loved it. The graphic designer, Max Kisman, was just as ambitious as Neville Brody in his ambition to redefine magazine design. He developed a new letterform and identity for every Vinyl issue, a hell of a job. This is a weird cover. It pretends to be digitally made, but consumer computers weren’t that developed in 1982, so it is faked as a digital print, in a beautiful way. It is so full of ambition. A trademark of Max Kisman, the graphic designer who just launched his drawn sex diary (at age 65).

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Nest, A Quarterly of Interiors (Spring 1999)

KA: After Vinyl perished end of the 80s I discovered another magazine in the 90s that mixed content and design in a fabulous way: Nest, A Quarterly of Interiors. Editor-in-chief and art director Joe Holtzman made the most exciting magazine and covers in the world, of which we thought, when first seeing them, “Oeh, they’re ugly!” (That’s always a good sign). Nest wasn’t just revolutionary because of its unusual design, but also because of its idealistic approach: Editor and art director Joe Holtzman believed that a prison cell could be as compelling as a room by a famous designer. On the right you see the interior of Kristin Kierig, a woman who made a home for 114 rescued cats. Designer Todd Oldham filled the cat litter boxes with sparkling copper ink. The first essay we printed in the first issue of MacGuffin was one about Nest, that printed its last issue in 2004, after Joseph Holtzman finished his six-million-dollar family fortune on the magazine.

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Club Donny #10 (2013)

KA: This is the last issue of the magazine that Ernst co-edited-in-chief, and I wrote for occasionally. Club Donny is a magazine that called itself (take a deep breath): “a strictly unedited journal on the personal experience of nature in the urban environment”. Shortly: an open source platform about nature in the city. It lasted for 10 issues. This is the final one, with a picture of Wolfgang Tillmans. It had a great editorial concept, that was based on a sort of community photography. You could upload your photos on a website, and once in a while the editors would make a selection that was complemented with personal stories by people who would normally not write: designers, road workers, gardeners, etc. Of course Tillmans’ photo was not uploaded, Club Donny invited him. But the rest was. I think the cover is a good example of the everyday life photography that is not standard cover work, but attractive by its ambiguity (see cover and back cover together).

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The Gentlewoman #13 (2016)

KA: One of the reasons we started a magazine (instead of a platform, or an exhibition space, or a website) is because of Veronica Ditting, the graphic designer/art director of The Gentlewoman. She is the embodiment of The Gentlewoman, although she stays behind the scenes. We know her from Amsterdam, where she lived before she moved to London, and together with Sandra Kassenaar (MacGuffin) she’s the perfect magazine designer: somebody who is not only designing, but is an essential part of the editorial team. And of course I feel very connected to this cover. I got it with a really special inscription from Gert Jonkers, the founder of Fantastic Man, The Happy Reader and The Gentlewoman. I won’t tell you what he wrote. Of course the cover design is magnificent; the simplicity of the design, the combination of the lemon-coloured border and black-and-white photo, the photography, the typography… a classic.

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The Real Review #1 (2016)

KA: We’re super happy that the editor of Real Review, Jack Self, will write a text for our new issue, themed The Ball (launch September 2018). Real Review does some great research and has a cover we can’t resist; it stands out from every other magazine I see in the shelves. With its striking illustration, great tagline of “what it means to live today”, and a unusual, newspaper-like format with unlimited spaces. The illustration has this strange in-between timezones quality. It could be made in the 60s, but also in 2018. It’s a wide magazine in content and design, disguised as a tall and thin one; the perfect gift for your post box. And a great example of research meeting good reads.