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New Yorker Covers by Bob Staake

 

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The Lift Lane
(Unpublished: Intended for January 21, 2008)

 

Often New Yorker artists will be asked to start "thinking" about certain upcoming events, holidays and seasons for which covers could be built around. For me I always appreciate that sort of direction because it means I'm not shooting in the dark and simply winging it. Dn't get me wrong -- I'd like to be able to shoot from the dark and wing it with New Yorker cover ideas, but as the new kid on the block, I'm still trying to figure out what they're looking for, what works, sort of attitude to project in an image to give it the best change at becoming a cover.

The idea behind this cover is actually a variation on an original concept -- one misinterpreted by Françoise Mouly -- but her interpretation of the idea actually improved it. Françoise had asked if I could come up with winter and winter sport-oriented cover ideas, so I tried to combine both of those elements into a single, definitive idea. I first thought about the view one takes in of the Queensboro Bridge north of 59th Street. I have always loved how the towers of the bridge appear as a spiderweb of crossed steel girders and the manner in which its decoratve crowned spires rise upward into the sky. However, in my original sketch, the Queensboro Bridge was nothing more than a backdrop for a bigger idea -- one in which I converted the Roosevelt Island Skyway Tram cable into a chair lift being ridden by skiers. Once I started thinking about bridges, my mind moved south down the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge -- and I could not help but draw up a sketch that alluded to perhaps Charles Addam's most famously surreal New Yorker cartoon depicting a skier apparently passing through a pine tree, fully knowing that Françoise would likely never go for an idea like this, but probably submitting it to communicate to her my understanding of the magazine's history.

I was surprised when Françoise called to talk about another cover we were working on and saying she really loved the idea showing the skiers "on the ski lift running up the Brooklyn Bridge -- but we can talk about that idea later for winter".

Once the 'Santa's Little Schleppers' cover was finished and published, Françoise did call back to talk about the bridge idea. She thought the idea had real potential but New Yorker Editor David Remnick would likely worry about the timeliness of the idea if New York City turned out to experience unseasonably warm weather in late January and skiing conditions on the East Coast were less than ideal. "It's not really a global warming idea per se", said Françoise, "but it does have some of those elements in it." I argued that properly executed and titled, it wouldnt matter if come January 21 Manhattan was under five feet of snow or 50 degree sunny skies, but I had to mention a more crucial point to Françoise.

"You keep mentioning this as the Brooklyn Bridge, but it's the Queensboro Bridge", I said, "and that chair lift in the sky is where yu'd expect to see the tram going between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island." "I assumed the chair lift was a visual allusion to the suspension cables", said Françoise, "because the Queensboro is a cantilever bridge and Brooklyn is a suspension."

She was right. Creating a graphic metaphor between the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge and a ski chair lift did indeed work better than what I showed in my original sketch, so once I got my head around that change to the idea, I started working on the color illustration.

i'd never illustrated the Brooklyn Bridge before and this is an assignment that required me to look at photographic reference from a number of angles. HOW do those achorages sit in the East River? How do the verical columns orient skyward? How does thelight come through the bridge's side by side gothic arches and create shadow? The most interesting thing that the photos showed me was how the anchorages (particularly from the angle I was interested in) created an almost solid shadow for me in the lower right of the cover.

 


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In my original color version, I didn't include the vertcal cable stabilizers because I thought they might detract from the main suspension cable as "ski chair lift". It was also essential not to show the top of the cable passing over the crown of the bridge as it might cause some readers to pause and think "hey, it wouldn't work if it did that."
Françoise takes my original color art and indicates how the vertical cable stabilizers would be added. I agree with her that it's the right thing to do, so they appear and suspend the bridge platform in my final color illustration. You'll also note that we dropped the descending portion of the chair lift. In many ways this gives the cover a heightened sense of surrealism because the reader wonders where the skiers actually wind up.
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