Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (6 Apr 2018)
by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) Let’s delve into great media design from South Africa and around the world:
- Online: Magasins Genergaux is a catalyst that connects various creative types with businesses and the greater public in an effort to stimulate cultural growth
- International/print: Metropoli takes its cue from Steven Spielberg, cleverly playing with intertextuality, semiotics and visual appropriation
- Iconic: New Media was a once-off proto-punk precursor to neo-dada that helped define the avant-garde publications during the ‘70s
- Local/print: Stet deifies traditional perceptions of Afrikaanerdom during 1980s’ apartheid
- International/print: The New York Times For Kids recalls warm childhood memories from old comics and classic cartoons that are just as appealing to kids today
The New York Times For Kids (US), March/April, 2018
— NYT Magazine (@NYTmag) March 24, 2018
A very cool publication, this New York Times for children. The cover artwork is by Gary Taxali, who appropriates and updates old-school illustration styles, reminiscent of antique packaging design and advertising art from the mid-20th century, particularly the ’30s, mixed with elements from vintage comics and classic cartoons. Retro, animated and textured, Taxali’s work finds common ground with other contemporary low-brow street artists who’ve emerged into the mainstream of high-brow art and design, such as Barry McGee and Steve Powers. Great to see big publications display good taste in an accessible and approachable way.
Metropoli (Spain), 29 March–5 April, 2018
An interesting conceptual approach taken here by art director, Rodrigo Sanchez, with cover art by Josetxu L. Piñeiro succinctly illustrating the plot to Steven Spielberg’s ’80s-revival science fiction blockbuster, Ready Player One. The movie makes bold textual references to Spielberg’s earlier contributions, including Jurassic Park and Back to the Future. The cover is suggestive of the film’s story, a future where it is normal for people to escape their city-slums into a virtual universe, where one “can do anything, be anyone, without going anywhere at all”. It’s a video gaming reality, all remixed and mashed-up. Gaming nostalgia and a bunch of intertextual references from the ’80s, gaming culture, and science fiction are suggested here by a cleverly appropriated aesthetic, using similar visuals to the classic Nintendo Gameboy game, Tetris, with its pixelated, retro, 8-bit graphics, allowing the reader to enter a playful visual narrative.
Magasins Généraux (France), April 2018
Exploring the potential of creative cross-pollination as an effort to rattle the limbo that contemporary culture may be experiencing, Magasins Généraux (meaning General Stores) embraces the various ways that people may be connected. Stemming from a belief that everybody has an innate responsibility towards the development of culture, from businesses to creatives, the magazine advocates collaboration, with the help of partner institutions linking people to businesses and creatives based on their respective projects. The aim? To generate fresh cultural content not restricted to form or format, media or medium, consisting of a variety of different creeds, from artists and designers to dancers and chefs.
As a catalyst meant to connect various creative types with businesses and the greater public, Magasins Générgaux’s website is exemplary, sporting off-beat art direction, cascading layout, and content accented by a subtle use of parallax scrolling. Even the graphic and typographic tenets of the site maintain a low-brow frequency, seasoned with a smidgen of anti-design randomness. It allows one to gain access to all the elements that make Magasins Générgaux what it is, including events, residencies, publications and editions. That the cursor turns into a graffiti-like spray paint effect is a neat addition, giving the site an overall brutalist edge with a bit of bohemian design flare. French ad agency BETC is responsible for this platform.
Spotlight on the past
Stet (South Africa), issue 1, 1982
Deriving its name from a printing term meaning “let it stand”, Stet was an important avant-garde publication during 1980s apartheid South Africa. Oriented towards leftwing politics, Stet formed part of the resistance press and filled an obscure position within the ranks of Afrikaner orthodoxy, as it took an openly anti-apartheid stance. This ran counter to the dominant Afrikaner narrative of the time. Stet was a dissenting, rebellious voice written in Afrikaans, which emerged as an alternative stream during the ’80s, reconfiguring common reflections of traditional, Christian-National Afrikanerdom.
Edited by Gerrit Olivier and Tienie du Plessis, who also designed the so-called ‘little magazine’, Stet was in print for a decade, 1982–1992. Rooted in subversive literary traditions, Stet served to manufacture dissent, advocating reaction against apartheid. The masthead of the magazine was Du Plessis’ own handwriting. The cover copy for the first issue reflected the disillusionment that the editors had due to apartheid, which was largely supported by the dominant Afrikaner culture of the time. This tone is clear with statements on the cover such as “teen apartheid, teen sensuur” (meaning “against apartheid, against censorship”).
Stet was also a stepping stone for a young Anton Kannemeyer (of Bitterkomix fame), as it published a few of the earliest Bitterkomix comics, all with anti-conscription as their core message, undermining the apartheid regime from yet another angle.
Mixed Media (Germany), #0, 1969
Mixed Media was an avant-garde periodical based in Dusseldorf, Germany, during the late ’60s that injected an ad hoc parodic edge to the traditional newspaper format. Produced by German radio play author and artist, Ferdinand Kriwet, the publication exploited the sensationalism that newspapers still use to attract readers, rerouting this energy to shine a spotlight on various art happenings and concrete poetry. With its bold use of typography and its classic red, black and white palette, Mixed Media took a ‘readymade’ format and turned it into an anarchic gesture that pre-dates the improvised, DIY aesthetic of many of the neo-dada and punk zines during the ’70s.
Although the periodical had only one issue — because it was a parody, defiantly editioned #0 — and is hardly remembered today, its existence almost certainly influenced the production of later anti-establishment, anti-aesthetic, underground and avant-garde publications. Its subversive use of typography and layout design is important to mention, and could easily stand up to contemporary examples today. A proto-punk precursor to neo-dada, if you will.
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) is a designer, writer, and educator currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, working in the fields of communication design and digital media. He works from Gilgamesh, a small design studio, and is a senior lecturer in graphic design at Vega School in Cape Town. Connect on Pinterest and Instagram.
Cover Stories, formerly MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.
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