Face Up: Foreign Policy
Issue: May/June 2009
Editor-in-Chief: Moisés Naím
Publishing Company: Slate Group
Art Director: Bryan Erickson
In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Communism founder Karl Marx. Worldwide sales of his book Das Kapital increased noticeably, says Foreign Policy’s “The Big Think Issue,” with one German publisher selling thousands of copies.
The issue was themed to revisit previous debunked ideas. “We were tracking other [cover] concepts, but kept coming back to him [Marx],” says Foreign Policy art director, Bryan Erickson. “Because we used the coverline language, ‘The Big Think Issue,’ it was enough to let our readers understand that we were revisiting a number of topics, not only Marx.”
The cover, created by international illustrator Hanoch Piven, rethought Marx’s portrait with the traditional Communist lifestyle that the world associates him with, substituting white bread for the hair, rye for the beard, a potato for the nose, bread crust for the mustache, megaphones for the eyes and farming tools for the eyebrows. The black suit and red background were included in Piven’s original illustration. The cover features many of Piven’s signatures (he previously created Borris Yeltsin from lunch meats). His illustrations have appeared as covers (Fortune) and art in Time and Rolling Stone.
Almost as controversial as Piven’s work was the text surrounding it. A point of contention with the FP staff was Piven’s choice colors: a brightly-colored pink face against the red backdrop. “Even though they are two different reds, we loved [Piven’s] image so much that it was worth the small aesthetic sacrifice,” says Erickson. “At the very least, it’s a conversation starter.” The final vote left the illustration intact as part of Piven’s “pure approach.”
With the busy, partially-edible cover, simple, clean coverlines were a must. Erickson was eager to replace Foreign Policy’s signature sans serif lettering. Because it was ultimately “all about Marx’s face,” Erickson decided to hold off on this alteration so as not to dilute the overall impact.
“The art grabs you upon first glance. It is bright, bold and the use of bread and potatoes to construct Marx is very clever and smart. In some ways, it’s too bad the art just can’t stand alone. It seems to be a difficult piece to work text around, and the type ends up looking squeezed into what space is available with an awkward sense of hierarchy. (Plus, the use of ultra-condensed sans serif all caps strikes me as a bit dated and hard to read.) Some color in the upper right text (picked up from the bread?) might help set it back and quiet it, allowing the lower text to pop and connect with the art. The ‘Inside’ label could be lost, since where else is it going to be? It could also use a more dynamic sense of layering on the page; right now there are just two, the art and the type (which includes the nameplate and I might pop Marx over that).”
Andrew Skwish | Illustrator
“At first glance, I’m impressed with the aesthetics and prominence of the Marx creative. The large single image catches your eye with no distractions, and the contrast of colors works really well with grabbing your attention. After the initial hook, I feel lost because of the arrangement of text and how its weight fights for order and dominance. Perhaps the cover would benefit from a simple rearrangement, placing ‘The Big Think Issue’ horizontally (or some version of that) at the top in the red negative space, and moving the ‘Inside’ portion of type to the bottom right corner.”
Justin Heister | Co-Owner/Art Director | Focus Skateboarding
Have a unique “cover” story? Contact FOLIO: Associate Editor Vanessa Voltolina.