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New Yorker Covers by Bob Staake

 

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Back To Cool
September 4, 2006

While this is technically my first New Yorker cover, it doesn't feel like my first. To me, 'S.S. Beach Cottage' seems like my first cover because it was the result of me submitting a single, finalized image -- and having it purchased by the magazine almost immediately. But with 'Back To Cool', I honestly could tell you how many different versions of that idea I found myself fumbling through. The cover was the result of an invitation by Françoise to submit ideas for The New Yorker's September 2006 'Education' issue, so when she asked if I could come up with some concepts, I needless to say jumped. In retrospect, it seems Françoise was being exceptionally kind and could have been inviting me to submit new ideas in light of the fact that the cover we both loved so much, the A.M.Cassandre-esque allusion that formed the basis for 'S.S. Beach Cottage' never did make it to print. She was in Paris when she emailed me requesting ideas and explained that we'd have to work faster than usual to try and come up with an idea because in six hours she'd be off to some isolated village in the south of France with little or no internet access. I riffed off maybe 12 pencil sketches -- all of them pretty much playing off the idea of grade school, and while some of them showed promise, Françoise selected one that she thought David Remnick would like -- if we re-worked it drastically. In retrospect, the touched on "education", but not in the normal way we view the topic. It was a side view of a middle age man's head, his brain broken down in phrenological style, the sections labeled things like "fire can hurt", "stalactites hang DOWN", "electrical appliances + bathing = bad", etc. The idea was that these were lessons -- things he learned at some stage of his life -- and they were now permanently embedded in his gray matter (ar at least until Alzheimer's kicked in). It comments on "education", but not in the expected way. Françoise didn't think the idea worked as-is, but there was something in it that made her wonder if we could alter it to make it work more from a kid's point of view. She wondered if we could take the same general presentation, but show a typical American kid and then fill his head with all the things that a modern 14-year-old boy is/was thinking about in 2006? We worked together to fill the boy's head with things like YouTube and Algebra, AIM and South Park, and I created a fairly tight color "sketch" that I emailed to Françoise. She thought we were on the right track but was concerned that the design of the boy was "too cold". I did version after version based on Françoise suggestions (hand letter the elements in his head, give the boy some hair, etc), but I was starting to lose any sense of direction and couldn's imagine how a New Yorker cover could come out of such a creative process of fumbling around. Additional tweaks and changes were made to another maybe 6 color sketches, all in the effort to create one image that could be shown to Remnickso he could give it a thumb up -- or a thumb down. What was complicating matters was that Françoise would be leaving Paris in a couple hours, so i had to just do my best to come up with something that she felt would be workable in the eyes of Remnick. I somehow managed to cobble something together and email it to Françoise literally minutes before she headed to the airport. The only thing left to do now was wait to her from her in a few days after Ramnick had a chance to look at it. 4 days later, an email came from Francoise saying that Remnick wanted the piece for the Education Issue cover. He wanted me to change a couple things (use Scarlett Johansson instead of Kiera Knightly), but that was it. I finally had the go ahead to create the final art, but there had been so many versions, so much input, so many small and large shifts that I didn't have a clue about which direction the illustration should go in. I did what I could with the art and was releived to get rid of that horrible, rough, qucik-and-dirty handwriting that I had used in the kid's brain and cleaned it up by hand-rendering all the elements in an elegant serif face (likely Bodoni Book) which was more in keeping with the visual style of a phrenological chart illustration anyway. I emailed the art to Françoise and then it was MY time to get to the airport. Not so fast. Françoise asked if I could fix the kid's chin so it was less round (she wanted him looking older) and she also asked if we could go back to the original, rough, hand-lettered type. Had I not had to catch a flight to San Diego, I would have spent time making the case for hand-lettered, phrenologically-accurate type, but there was simply no time. Back to the bad penmanship, and off with his chin. There's be other New Yorker covers down the road, I thought. Let's just get one behind your belt for the time being.

Still, there's nothing pretty about losing your virginity.


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