Wig Wag‘s 1988 launch came within a month of Spy’s, but the latter is better remembered. Spy is memorialized in books and on Web sites, it’s editors have gone on to successful publishing careers, and you still hear its name mentioned in magazine and design circles. Wig Wag has (arguably been)
nearly as influential, but it lives on (as far as I can tell) only as a brief Wikipedia entry and a few other scattered web references.
There are lots of reasons for this. Spy was the louder and brasher magazine—it cheerfully went about making enemies among New York’s rich and powerful. Spy’s editorial and design influences were more varied and harder to pin down than Wig Wag’s (which was clearly directly influenced by the New Yorker where the editor and many of the staff had worked). And, Wig Wag’s post-modern pages have not aged nearly so well as Spy’s. The specific visual language Spy pioneered live on in dozens of magazines including New York, Vanity Fair and Radar. Wig Wag’s impact is not seen in a few easily identified tropes such as Spy’s disembodied floating heads.
But, Wig Wag was equally ahead of its time. It took the New Yorker’s sophisticated news and and literary approach and used it to create a visual magazine in the contemporary sense-it used infographic conventions for literary storytelling, achieving an integration of imagery and text that was rare for its day, but has since become expected. Wig Wag’s methods are now visible in most large newsstand magazines—Wired, New York (again) Maxim and lots more.
Editor Lex Kaplen and Art Director Paul Davis saw graphic possibilities for a literary magazine that are still unequaled by the graphically fumbling New Yorker—which has successfully updated its art direction and writing but now seems awkwardly stuck between its storied typographical tradition and current fashion—publishing a design that is neither classic nor engaging to a contemporary reader.
[Editor’s note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos’ new book.]