Newsstand flasher

Earlier this year, the Museum of Modern Art in New York launched an exhibit, which runs through next March, on the magazine cover art of George Lois . (Featured at left is the magazine’s current editor, David Granger.) Lois was, for most of the 1960s, the art director at Esquire magazine – and he’s credited with single-handedly changing the way the magazine world looks at that pivotal front page. No longer just a place to plop an unused shot from a feature photo shoot, the cover image, as interpreted by Lois, became an iconic, provocative statement: about the magazine, but more generally about the issues and ideas germane to that magazine’s readership.

Since Lois left the magazine in 1972, a number of editors and art directors have tried to replicate his style – usually with only middling success. Even this magazine, in its own modest way, tried something Lois-esque with the July “Top 100” cover : a take (rip-off, if you will) on the Warholian soup can motif. The idea with this, as with all covers, is to make you stop: stop browsing the aisles at Chapter’s, or Safeway, or London Drugs, and look at the magazine. If we’re lucky, you’ll pick it up and flip through it. If we’re exceptionally lucky, you might even buy the thing. Mission accomplished – a successful cover.

But with over 700 magazines launched in Canada each year, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out on newsstands – soup cans and scantily-clad babes notwithstanding. Which makes the recent news from David Granger all the more intriguing. With its September issue, Esquire has paid an undisclosed amount to have 111,000 newsstand copies (out of a total circulation of 720,000) embedded with a battery-powered device that will flash the phrase “The 21st Century Begins Now” from the cover. “Magazines have basically looked the same for 150 years,” Granger told the New York Times. “I have been frustrated with the lack of forward movement in the magazine industry.”

Whether flashing electronic covers is, indeed, progress – an improvement on the work of George Lois and others – is a matter of some debate. As to whether you and I will stop and look – and maybe buy? There is no question.