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The Many Covers of The New Yorker

First cover of The New Yorker with icon Eustace Tilley

You might have seen millennials sporting their canvas tote bag as they walk to the nearest coffee shop in Greenwich village. An elderly woman with her graying hair in a bun carrying her art supplies in the same beige tote bag. A man on the A train reading their magazine on the subway seat. I’m talking about The New Yorker of course.

Whether you have seen someone with The New Yorker’s recognizable canvas tote bag (that you only get after subscribing !) on their shoulder, or have seen someone reading their weekly issue on the train, this Manhattan-centric magazine has become one of the most influential publications in the world. After its establishment in 1925, this weekly-print magazine started an online presence as well in 2007. But there is nothing like receiving the weekly issue of The New Yorker in the mail or finding it in the nearest Barnes & Noble and drooling over the bright cover of that week. 

Having your artwork on the cover of The New Yorker is like eating a blueberry snowcone in under a second without getting brain freeze. It seems impossible but once you’ve done it, now everyone’s eyes are on you. “It’s like scaling Everest.” admits Brooklyn-based illustrator Jack Dylan. The magazine is one of the only prints left that features drawn artwork every week on the covers instead of photographs. 

It isn’t surprising that some of the most iconic covers on The New Yorker address tragedy or a world shift— political, societal, or environmental — that affected the people of Manhattan and the other 7 billion people in the world that week. Others might simply be images of people at the beach, reading books on the train, or carrying a Christmas tree up the steps. 

From the 92 years, The New Yorker has been existence, and character Eustace Tilley reappearing on every anniversary cover of the magazine’s publication, there might be certain covers that have stood out to you. As for me, there are thirteen covers that have a special place in my heart. I am no artist but pictures do speak a thousand words and the covers of The New Yorker prove that mantra true. The stone-cold journalism, short stories, poetry, and satire wrapped up by the cover of the week serves as a timeless reminder of our nation, and the people that fill it up. 

Now here are thirteen legendary covers featured on The New Yorker!

“The Kiss,” by Art Spiegelman, February 15, 1993
“The Kiss,” by Art Spiegelman, February 15, 1993

In 1996, artist and Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman drew a Hassidic man and Black woman embracing each other into a kiss on the cover of The New Yorker's Valentine's Day issue. The man's hoiche hat slightly tips over as he kisses the woman with blue eyeshadow and lots that resemble her lover's payot curls. 

The drawing stood as a commentary on the rising tensions between Jewish and Black people in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights area. Undoubtedly, Spiegelman's work received criticism from both sides of a racially divided community. Reverend Doughtery, a Black representative of Crown Heights, didn’t like that it was a white man kissing a black woman because once more “a white man was oppressing a black woman.” The Reverend then asked Spiegelman why he didn’t use a black man and a Hassidic woman over the radio. “I answered him, if I had used a black man and Hasidic woman, you’d be complaining I was once again showing the black man as a rapist and defiler of white woman.”

Spiegelman acknowledged that his portrayal is "knowing naive" and that the issues between Jewish and Black people in Brooklyn's Crown Heights area "cannot be kissed away." And to the Los Angeles Times he wrote  “But once a year, perhaps, it’s permissible, even if just for a moment, to close one’s eyes, see beyond the tragic complexities of modern life, and imagine that it might really be true that ‘All you need is love. ”

“Class of 2020,” by Anita Kunz, May 18, 2020
“Class of 2020,” by Anita Kunz, May 18, 2020

The Class of 2020 is like no other. They are entering an unsure world, in economic decline, and swirling in a gray haze of worry for the unknown. As they go off to college or work and find their wings to fly into adulthood it’s frightening to think about the road that lies ahead. Anita Kutz based these graduating students with such distinct personalities — eyebrow slits, pink hair, gold hoops —off of the students she teaches at her illustration workshops. “The students I teach come from a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds, so I wanted to honor their similarities and also their differences,” she writes. “And I feel compassion for them graduating at a time when there is so much uncertainty. It can’t be easy for them.”

She's right. It certainly couldn’t have been easy. But at least our personalities can still shine through, N-95 mask and all.

“9/11/2001,” by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, September 24, 2001
“9/11/2001,” by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, September 24, 2001

Art editor of The New Yorker, Françoise Mouly, reflected on this cover in 2011 in an article commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, “Ten years ago, my husband, the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, our daughter, and I stood four blocks away from the second tower as we watched it collapse in excruciatingly slow motion. Later, back in my office, I felt that images were suddenly powerless to help us understand what had happened. The only appropriate solution seemed to be to publish no cover image at all—an all-black cover. Then Art suggested adding the outlines of the two towers, black on black. So from no cover came a perfect image, which conveyed something about the unbearable loss of life, the sudden absence in our skyline, the abrupt tear in the fabric of reality.”

“Moment of Joy,” by Jack Hunter, July 8 & 15, 2013
“Moment of Joy,” by Jack Hunter, July 8 & 15, 2013

Artist Jack Hunter originally submitted this illustration to Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman’s Blown Covers project on Tumblr. The theme of that week was “The Gays” reflecting President Obama’s evolving views towards Gay Marriage and the Supreme Court's decisions on two landmark gay marriage cases that July. Bert and Ernie are cuddling on the couch and watching what seems to be the TV coverage of the court’s ruling. “While I’m certainly not the first person to speculate about Bert & Ernie’s more personal and private relationship, I thought they were well suited to represent how a lot of gay couples must have felt hearing Obama’s comments … after all, they’ve been together for almost 50 years … as “just friends” or otherwise,” Hunter writes

Fans of Sesame Street have long speculated that the two male muppets who share an apartment and bedroom were indeed partners, but Sesame Street Workshop has said that “they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.” 

Whomever Bert and Ernie are attracted too I think we can all say this picture lives up to its name, “Moment of Joy.”

"Under Control," by Brian Stuffer, March 9, 2020
"Under Control," by Brian Stuffer, March 9, 2020

It's almost like President Trump is ignoring the fact that Covid-19 exists and is pretending like nothing is happening! “We’re doing really well,” said Trump in a press conference as thousands of Americans dropped like flies each day. Crazy right? Ha. Ha. Ha. 

“Shelved,” by Roz Chast, October 18, 2010
“Shelved,” by Roz Chast, October 18, 2010

Looks like the books are feeling #used by this man in the chair. I can just imagine one of the blue books saying to the green book, "He could have had all of this and yet he chose that !" and side-eyes the cold gray laptop on the man's lap. I feel you books, I feel you. 

Roz Chast did a great job of capturing the neglect "old stuff" like books, CD players, and typewriters, have faced with technology taking over. The 2000s were all about the newest iPhones, social media, and discovering how these machines can make our lives a whole lot easier. Ironically The Social Network, the film about the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and his global empire, Facebook, premiered in theaters two weeks before this cover was released. Maybe Chast sat in a screening of The Social Network and came up with this fun idea.

You can even buy this cover in puzzle form. 

“The Low Road,” Art Spiegelman, February 16, 1998

I think in 1998 everyone would have killed to hear the stories told by President Bush's um ... you know.

"Don't Ask," Barry Blitt, June 17, 1996
"Don't Ask," Barry Blitt, June 17, 1996

"If the Internet had existed, I think my ‘sailors’ kiss’ cover [titled ‘Don’t Ask] would have become a scandal as big as my White House fist-bump cover,” said Barry Blitt. The cover of this June 17 issue is commentary towards President Bill Clinton signing the military policy informally known as “Don’t ask Don’t tell” in 1993. This new policy would allow lesbians and gay men to enter the military if they keep their sexual orientation private. Blitt's illustration places two sailors kissing in the center of Times Square, playing off of the famous Life magazine photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a World War II sailor happily kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. 

Fifteen years later “Don’t ask Don’t tell” was repealed and same-sex marriage was legalized in New York. In honor, Barry Blitt designed a cover with two brides crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on the way to City Hall.

"Summertime City," Kadir Nelson, July 23, 2018
"Summertime City," Kadir Nelson, July 23, 2018

"For some kids, the fire hydrant is the pool or the ocean."- Kadir Nelson

"Distant Summer," by Kadir Nelson, July 6, 2020

Artist Kadir Nelson has been a contributor to The New Yorker since 2013. His artwork has a running theme of the summer season, and more than once you can spot a child holding a popsicle in his illustrations. Nelson often draws Black adults and children and captures the beauty of their Blackness. Cresting an effervescent glow on their skin. Always radiating light and warmth. 

Summer 2020 is different from the other summer seasons that have flown by. “I think of its effect on youngsters, for whom the season will likely involve mixed feelings,” Nelson writes. “ And it could be a very lonely summer for children (and adults) who haven’t seen their friends or family for months, because of social distancing,” he continues.

Life is a flurry of worry with Covid-19, police brutality in the streets, and the protests all over the country. Nelson also illustrated the cover for the June 22, 2020 issue of The New Yorker featuring George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. In regards to how to actively fight against racism, Nelson says, “What’s most important is keeping the conversation going, around the world—whether through film, TV, literature, the visual arts, broadcasting, music, or social media… Racism affects us all. It will only be resolved if we can earnestly work together to obliterate it.” 

“Winter Break,” by Adrian Tomine, February 2, 2009
“Winter Break,” by Adrian Tomine, February 2, 2009

Because the ice cream truck man needs a break, too.

"Yearning to Breathe Free," Barry Blitt, July 2, 2018

Barry Blitt, known for his soft watercolor illustrations, combats this softness with a sad and fearful illustration of migrant children hiding under the robe of the Statue of Liberty. This cover comes shortly after the terrifying images of migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents and families at the southern border were released, sparking major outrage and disgust amongst media outlets. The outright unconcern for human beings other than himself was shown through President Trump and his administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. In their eyes taking children away from their parents and distributing them like meat amongst various detention facilities is fine. 

When Françoise Mouly asked Blitt how he stays on top of politics he replied, “Well, I can’t watch TV news anymore; it’s always people yelling at each other or—worse—people agreeing with each other. There’s always a background drone of outrage, it seems. Stories like this are different. The outrage and disgust are justified and real, and needs to be paid attention to.”

The cover art is called "Yearning to Breathe Free," a nod to the poem held by the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus's "The New Colossus", which reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

"Exiled,” Adrian Tomine, July 26, 2010.

The longing for home when you are in the car and off on a bumpy road trip is real. Maybe the little girl in this drawing is moving to a new city, she might just be off to a weekend at Lake Erie, but a feeling of summertime sadness withers in the air. 

Artist Adrian Tomine says he submitted a very rough sketch of this drawing to Françoise Mouly and she accepted it but explained, “that New Yorker Readers were sticklers for detail and we’d have to make sure the background was accurate.” After a considerable amount of research went on about the flow of traffic, and the view of the skyline, Tomine ended up with a background of the Kosciuszko Bridge from somewhere near Maspeth, Queens. Shortly after the cover hit the stands Tomine says The New Yorker received a letter that read, “Your July 26, 2010 cover showing a young girl going on vacation looking out the back window not safely strapped in is the height of irresponsibility. Should there be an accident the mother will not be smiling.” Ouch. 

Other amazing covers featured on The New Yorker :

(In order from Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

Adrian Tomine’s “Memorial Plaza”

Adrian Tomine’s “Last Straw”

Kadir Nelson’s “Say Their Names”

Kara Walker’s “Toni Morrison”

Grace Lynne Haynes's “Sojourner Truth, Founding Mother” 

Carter Goodriche’s “Everybody Who’s Anybody”

Thank you, The New Yorker. I can't wait to see the covers yet to come.

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