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New Yorker Covers by Bob Staake


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Unclear On The Concept
(Unpublished: Intended for December 2007)

I haven't been working with The New Yorker long enough to know what's normal and what's not, and this cover is a perfect example of that.

The idea was originally submitted to Françoise (along with another 10-12 doodles) in December 2006, so when she called a year later and asked me if I remembered the sketch, I didn't. We talked on the phone, she said she was looking for a cover for the Winter Fiction Issue, and while we chatted I dug through a stack of rough drawings and finally found it. She thought this was something that would appeal to New Yorker Editor David Remnick, and could I give her a tighter sketch. She hung up and I faxed her a sketch and five minutes later she called me back. "I went downstairs for a slice of pizza", she laughed, "and when I get back there's a sketch." So we talked about it. I wanted to change the shape of the book from dramatically vertical to dramatically horizontal for two reasons; first, as a vertical book it looked like the monolith in '2001: A Space Odyssey' and second, I was trying to allude to a large widescreen tv set. We agreed there, that change was essentially, but Françoise wondered if the book should be open and the point of view was more from the floor rather than floating above. "How about if I go back downstairs to get another slice of pizza", she laughed, "and you could show me another sketch?".

Five minutes later she had the second sketch, and all it did was confirm what I knew would be the case. The open book looked too much like an oracle, as if the family was worshipping before a 600lb edition of the King James Bible -- definitely not the idea I wanted to get across.

We talked about shutting the book and sticking with that ground-level point of view, but I made the argument that doing so would only make it appear that for some odd reason the family had the world's largest Hershey bar sitting in their living room, a assumption only enhanced by the reader's inability to see the hinged spine of the book, a visual element essential in having on "read" the object as a "book". I was right, she said, so she asked how long it would take to get a color "sketch" of the idea -- in fact, she said, just go to finish on it as if it's the final cover. I stuttered a bit because I was in the middle of finishing a Golden Book for Random House, but if I held off on that and got cranking on the cover then she could have it via email in the morning. Remnick would then be able to see the cover in final form and he could decide then if it was a green light, or not.

The piece took me about 5 hours to complete, me working until maybe 2am while listening to some techno mp3s that my 20-something son, Ryan, had burned onto my harddrive (I tend to work best late at night). I didn't deviate too far off the tightened sketch, the only real changes being the deletion of the pet dog (he would have interfered with the remote control) and flopped the boy on the floor (so he woud be less obscured by The New Yorker's postal mailing label. I was happy with the cover and emailed it to Françoise who immediately wrote back saing "It's a beaut! But remember, the only thing that counts is to do right by your own lights, and you really did it here!". Why wouldn't David like it as much as me, as much as Françoise?

I went back to my Golden Book and forgot about the cover. Four days later, Françoise called in exasperation. Remnick said no to the cover. Hey, it happens, right? You pick yourself off, you dust off your mouse, you move on to the next thing -- and if you're lucky, you learned something through the process of creating the art.

In this case, the next thing wasn't too far off.

Françoise said she was looking for a cover for the December 17th issues of the magazine. "You remember that really fun cover with Santa and the little people that looked like ants?", she asked. "Do you still have that?".

"Go get yourself a slice of pizza", I told her, "and then check your email."

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