Rejected and controversial New Yorker cover art: exclusive Boing Boing preview gallery


Cover-3 Françoise Mouly is one of my heroes. She and her husband Art Spiegelman published RAW, an astounding large-format comic book that was a big inspiration to me when I started bOING bOING as a print zine in 1988. (I'm still waiting for a full-size hardback that reprints the first 8 issues of RAW, Volume 1). For the last 20 years, Françoise has been the art editor of The New Yorker.

Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant To See is her new book. It's a collection of New Yorker covers that were either rejected, caused an outrage, or have an interesting story behind them.

Of the cover above, Françoise says, "In 1993, we published this cover by David Mazzuccelli as the trial of the four men suspected of the bombing of the World Trade Center got underway. There were bomb threats to the magazine, and the image was vehemently denounced -- at the time, most in the media were weary of labeling the men involved as Arab or Muslim terrorists."

Below, 11 more covers and cover concepts for The New Yorker, with commentary by Françoise Mouly.

We asked Chris Ware, who drew this week’s cover, “Mother’s Day,” to discuss the New Yorker covers that inspired him. He wrote a charming ode to the women artists of The New Yorker, where he confessed to having “a soft spot for Gretchen Dow Simpson’s blank observations of beaches, grass, and whitewashed homes -- the peopleless screen doors, walls, shingled roofs, and beach pebbles of the nineteen-seventies and eighties.”

Each cartoonist I work with has his own approach and understanding of what makes a good New Yorker cover. In 1993, Tina Brown, who was only the 4th editor since 1925, turned to cartoonists like Art Spiegelman to revitalize the magazine. This was Art’s published Mother’s Day cover at a time when tattoos were becoming widespread.

A few years later, Spiegelman offered this other sketch for a Mother’s Day image—it didn’t get approved.

Sometimes it looks like an artist is poking fun at the more sedate New Yorker covers. This was proposed by M. Scott Miller, years before Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. He claims that the inspiration for this jeté is an experience familiar to anyone who follows classical ballet.

Marilyn-1Cartoonists use clichés, but a good image will use clichés and well-known images to say something new. Harry Bliss make us realize that, sadly, time passes (left). When female bombers made their appearance in the news, in 2002, Danny Shanahan used the same trope to make an entirely different point (above).

“I have an idea for a back‐to‐school issue,” said Anita Kunz back in 1998, “It’s Monica Lewinsky sucking a 'Presidential' lollipop... It could be drawn in crayon, very child‐like. Please let me know if you can use it.” Once the artist has a good idea, she can strengthen her point with the style she uses to render it.

At the height of the Lewinsky affair, Art Spiegelman proposed this sketch titled ‘Clinton’s Last Request.’ “When a word like ‘blow job’, which you never dreamt of finding in the paper is on the front page every day,” he explains, “I had to find a way for my image to be as explicit without being downright salacious.”

In a sketch that Art Spiegelman proposed during George W. Bush’s first term, King’s dream becomes a nightmare as black leaders like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice provide cover for George W. Bush.

In the fall of 2005, videos began making the rounds showing what happens when pieces of Mentos candy are dropped into bottles of Diet Coke. Barry Blitt first tried his idea with two children or two businessmen before finding the right and frightfully funny combination—two Arab men. All versions make fun of terrorism, but only that one makes fun of our own fears.

As of this week, the Freedom Tower has now become the tallest building in New York City -- and the third tallest in the world. Speaking of my own personal fears, we’ll be moving into that tower in 2014. Back in 2002, when models of the projects for the World Trade Center site were put on display, Blitt sketched Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command reviewing the proposed designs.

When this image by Barry Blitt came in, David Remnick, the editor who makes all the final decisions was o on a trip, but he asked me to show it around. My colleagues, all word people, laughed heartily yet they concluded it didn’t ‘work’ because neither the Pope nor the scandals plaguing the Catholic Church had anything to do with Marylin Monroe. “Oy vey!” said the artist, Barry Blitt, and we moved on.

Buy Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant To See on Amazon


    1. A) They’re scamps.

      B) Talent in this case is subjective.  And IMO political cartoons are all about the message, the style is more than secondary.

    2. I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately. 

      –George Carlin

      1. Thats a great quote but I think you are misconstruing what I am saying.

        I didn’t say controversial is a bad thing, I just said these images rely a LOT more on controversy to sell themselves than any artistic quality.

        Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Dave Chappelle… shit they were all controversial but they were more than just controversial, they were genius and genuinely funny.

        This is a scrapbook of rejects, I personally wouldn’t waste my money. You can buy quite a few Carlin DVD’s for the amount this book costs and learn a lot more.

  1. Living my whole life in California, I don’t think I’ve ever gone past New Yorker covers to actually read the content of the magazine, thinking it is mainly just a collection of concert and events listings and local NYC commentary. Does it actually run features that would appeal to readers in non-NY states? – of course, the true classic New Yorker covers were drawn by Saul Steinberg. Bruce McCall has done some peachy ones, also.

    1. “Does it actually run features that would appeal to readers in non-NY states?”

      It certainly does. The art department at the New Yorker is stuffier than the editorial department, the writing is first rate and it’s worth reading.

      Give this current piece on the relationship of Stanford University and Silicon Valley a shot, my guess is you’ll find it interesting:

      I’ve been reading it most of my life, from California to Oregon to Connecticut. Most of the content, even the Talk of the Town, isn’t aimed at a local audience.

      1. I’ll try that article – I used to see the New Yorker in the periodicals reading room at school and somehow got the idea that it was a poetry magazine or something – I do have the MASSIVE New Yorker red collection of cartoons (with MASSIVE DVD), of which I’ve only made it up through the first 30-40 pages. At the very least, it seems that the New Yorker has maintained and fed the great American tradition of cartooning – – but, so much to read, too little time and patience!

        1. They have had excellent cartoonists but tend to be quite backwards in sharing. Their collections, DVDs, and their web presence sucks IMHO. However, the content of the magazine itself is excellent, full of meat, well edited, and timely. Another excellent writer who’s done stuff for them on predator drones and the Koch brothers is Jane Mayer. Not sure her stuff is still on the web but she’s one of the first ones to “out” the Kochs and their impact on libertarian, tea party, and now republican politics. I’ll be interested to know what you think.

          1. The New Yorker cartoon book I have is 650 pages with 2000 cartoons. That’s about all the comics sharing I can handle. If I read two cartoons a day, it would take me almost 3 years to get through them all – I like cartoons, but not that much – apparently the included DVD has cartoons with bad resolution, but I haven’t gone there yet. Any magazine that prints Sam Gross is probably alright with me (frogs legs anybody?)

        2. The journalism, profiles, film and book reviews are terrific; the political writing is laughably shrill.

    2. I’ve been reading The New Yorker for the past 60 years, first in California, then in Massachusetts and Arizona (while in the Army), then New York (while in graduate school), then Bangkok, Geneva, Phnom Penh, South Africa (while working for the United Nations and the World Health Organization), and now in Bonneville, France (in retirement). I’ve always found the magazine to be exciting, well-written, and informative and of interest to my frequent lunch partners from other countries. The New Yorker is a world-class read.

    3. How about John McPhee’s wonderful 3-issue essay “The Control of Nature” that dealt with the realities of Los Angeles geology? (It should have been subtitled “Men To Match My Mudslides.”)

  2. Can someone give context to the first image credited to Chris Ware (i.e., the solitary mother looking out over a playground with fathers and their children)?  I’m confused. Is this also a rejected image? Either way, the message is lost on me.

    1. It’s the cover of the current issue.  And I think you actually described the message quite well — a woman and child arrive at a playground where the other children are accompanied by their fathers (or other male caregivers), taking on a role once considered exclusively “woman’s work.”

      1. More context: it’s for the Mother’s Day issue, so it forces the viewer to reflect on what “motherhood” means in the 21st century.

        1.  Ah! Your comment provides the context I was looking for. Thank you for making sense of it for me. I originally had a different interpretation which suggested fatherhood was a “bad” thing… needless to say it left me perplexed.

    2. Further to others’ comments, the thought that first sprung to my mind is that archetypally, a father will take the kids off his wife’s hands for mothers’ day — hence all the men — which got me thinking that the uncomfortable-looking woman might be intended to “have no man”, as it were (be she unmarried, lesbian, widowed, whatever).

      Hence the picture could be interpreted to be pointing out that mothers’ day marginalises those who don’t fit into the hetero-normative atomic-family mould.

      1. …and sometimes a Baby Bjorn is just a Baby Bjorn.

        (Or, as they say in the Academy… something about hermeneutics, identity politics, and oppression.)

    1. I have a female friend who often travels to Saudi Arabia.  She has seen many women wearing very stylish clothes that are only revealed when they are inside either at home or among other women.  Whether the artist knew this or not, or what he might have been trying to say is of course a mystery. 

      1. Saudi women are dressed like any woman of their economic status would be in New York or Paris. I wonder what westerners think is under there – some Disney Arabian Nights princess outfit?

  3. Shared the sandcastle one had to be done.

    Love the style of the playground one… even if I don’t get it, love the style.

  4. Interesting that in the first cover (the WTC bombing one) the kid pretending to be an Arab terrorist is the only obviously white one (you can see red hair peeking out from under the towel), though the one with his back to the camera might be- I imagine he’s either Jewish or Hispanic if they’re supposed to represent New York’s ethnic mix.

    I wonder what this says about conspiracy theories?

  5. If I’m not mistaken Chris Ware himself recently became a father – it looks like he drew himself in on the cover sitting on the park bench at the left of the frame.

  6. Paid to see the cartoon editor, Mankoff, on tour a year or two ago with the rejected cartoons. Brutally funny stuff.

  7. I wonder if any submitted by Adrian Tomine got rejected. Some of his that got accepted rock.

    1. Fave: The woman receiving an Amazon package as the bookshop owner next door opens his shop.

  8. A friend once said to me, “You’ll know you’re sophisticated when you understand every cartoon in a year’s worth of New Yorkers.”

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