Those Bob Gill Covers

Posted by on February 4th, 2010 at 9:14 AM

If the phrase “left Shachtmanite” rings a bell, then you have probably heard of a magazine called New Politics. Currently published twice a year by an all-volunteer editorial collective, the journal was launched in 1961 by Phyllis and Julius Jacobson. The magazine flourished in the sixties, with contributions by democratic leftists like Michael Harrington, Hal Draper, Martin Glaberman, Mario Savio, Herbert Hill, Barbara Garson, Gertrude Ezorsky, Murray Bookchin, and the Polish dissidents Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski. By the late seventies, the audience for an intellectual magazine of the left that firmly rejected Soviet and Chinese Communism, the Democratic Party, and various fashionable nostrums had shrunk considerably, and the Jacobsons closed shop. They revived the journal in the mid-1980s, and restarted the arduous work of recruiting readers, contributors, and editorial board members. At present NP‘s main editors are Betty Reid and Marvin Mandell, veteran socialists who have opened the magazine up to a new generation of writers. The magazine’s website may be found at www.newpol.org.

For a period of about fifteen years, from the start of the 1990s through the middle of the 2000s, I served on the NP editorial board, reading manuscripts, donating money, and recommending potential contributors. I also cranked out book reviews. Only a couple of its members were full-time academics, and the orientation was very much toward the general, non-academic reader. The project had an old-school flavor that I very much appreciated. Tragically, Phyllis suffered a debilitating stroke in 2000, and Julius passed away three years later. The magazine was subsequently revamped, but it retains the animating framework and sensibility of its earlier incarnations.

The magazine’s fiftieth anniversary is next year. Someone should put out a “best-of” collection, or at least bake the editors a nice cake. Looking back, my own contributions were modest at best – two or three articles on Labour in Britain, a short editorial on the Gingrich revolution, plus the aforementioned reviews – but I like to think I had a positive effect on the look of the magazine. Starting in 2004, I introduced a new feature at the very back of the magazine, “Words and Pictures,” that spotlights radical cartoonists. Over a dozen cartoonists have been featured to date, from Peter Kuper and Sabrina Jones to Ruben Bolling and Steve Brodner. The latest issue includes a piece on Tom Kaczynski (more on him later). Also, I recruited the legendary graphic designer Bob Gill to do the covers.

Here’s the last cover that used the old format, followed by the first Gill cover. The first image is a little small, but the distinction between the two approaches should be obvious:

Other Gill covers. This one imagines the techno-soldier of the future:

This one sums up the 2004 presidential election:

Raul and Fidel in close conversation:

The clenched fist:

Uncle Sam:

The man in the proverbial closet:

My personal favorite, to date. Clean, direct and nuanced, all at the same time:

So who is Bob Gill, you ask? Gill is the cofounder of Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, the forerunner to the design studio Pentagram; he has worked for numerous publishers and magazines; he has illustrated and written several children’s books; and he won awards for his art direction. He has also written several books on design, including Graphic Design Made Difficult (1992), Graphic Design as a Second Language (2004), and Words into Pictures (2009). He had a hand in putting together Beatlemania, the musical, and, according to both wiki and imdb, he directed Double Exposure of Holly (1976), starring Jamie Gillis and Annie Sprinkle. And he’s taught design at the Royal Academy of Art, Pratt, Parsons and the School of Visual Arts.

These days, most political magazines feature photographs, or artfully arranged text, on their covers. Gill’s covers are illustration-centered, with punchy images and bold, sans serif lettering. His visuals are invariably straight-to-the-point – a man in the closet, an economic arrow pointed downward, a gleeful-looking governor – but elegantly constructed. His NP covers are fun to look at.

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