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New Yorker Covers by Bob Staake

 

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Bright Idea
July 2, 2007

Most often than not, when I'm sketching up New Yorker cover ideas I try to come at a single issue or event from numerous angles. My wife and I are very involved in recycling and in the Spring of 2007 we decided to replace all our incandescent lightbulbs with more energy efficient ones. I played with a variety of ideas based on lightbulbs -- the bulb going off over a person's head to signify the birth of an idea, the old-style incandescent form contrasted beside the corkscrew-like new bulbs, etc. I even considered how Charles Addams (a New Yorker cover artist and cartoonist whom I idolized as a child) would often show his Uncle Fester character sucking on a lightbulb that suddenly lit up. It's amazing to me how one little mental thought will encourage a slight twist on it, and that twist will engender a completely new idea -- it's a process shrouded in mystery and there's often no way of predicting when you'll get a GOOD idea, or when you'll simply crunch out a series of so-so ones. The night I worked on energy conservation-based ideas, I had nothing but fair ideas -- and right as I turned off the lights in the studio and headed to bed in the house, I got it; The Statue of Liberty with an energey-efficient bulb rather than her torch! It was so simple, so spartan, soooooo obvious. Even before I started working up a visual rough of the idea I knew in my gut that it was a New Yorker cover, but more important, if the magazine were to want the idea, I'd have to execute it with a very straightforward artistic approach -- no graphic exaggeration, no humorous characterizations -- just as close to the stoic image my parents would have seen in the 1940s when they entered New York Harbor by steamboat. I scanned a couple magazine photos, tweaked them, added the lightbulb, pasted on The New Yorker masthead and emailed it to Françoise. Three days later she emailed back congratulating me -- and saying the piece would be the cover of the 4th of July issue. It had never even occured to me to connect energy independence, torch of freedom and shining light to the nation's birthday, but because Françoise and David did, it definitely gave far greater depth to the idea the cover was attempted to project -- and even opened up the door for a much wider interpretation of the ideas behind the image.

It's interesting to look back on a cover and cosnider some of the titles that were (thankfully) passed over by The New Yorker. When I do an image I will usually have a title in mind, but many times I will not. When asked by The New Yorker what title I had in mind, these are actually what I (gulp) submitted:

Glow-To Girl
The Light Fantastic
Watt A Thought
Beacon
The Dream Beam
Dream Gleam Beam
Supreme Beam
Bright Idea
Independence Day-Glo
Glow Apropos
Hi-Beam
2007 Watts
Green Queen
Lean, Green, Forward-Thinking Queen
Watt, Me Worry?
Happy Energy-Independence Day
Watt's The Holiday?
Indewattage Day
HoliDay-Glo
Fourth of Defy
Going Fourth
Go Fourth
The Melting Watt

Yeah, they're all pretty scary. In the end they picked the title that makes me cringe the least.


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