magazine meant a lot to me when it was around and I am very pleased to see that it is coming back into public consciousness by the publication of a new book called A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America
, by Peter Richardson. The New York Times
has done a review
of the book in the October 11 Sunday book review. I am also really pleased that the Society of Professional Designers (SPD) has published an interview with Dugald Stermer, who was the art director of Ramparts
during its heyday as a muckraking teararound. I am even more pleased to know that a complete gallery of the amazing Ramparts
covers is available on the Robert Newman Design Facebook page
You can read the entire interview
yourself but Stermer says the December 1967 cover was his favourite. He and the editors of the magazine burned their own draft cards (he's the hand on the left).
"This was my favorite cover, probably because it caused the four of use to be called before the Grand Jury in New York. They finally decided it wouldn't be good public relations to indict magazine editors, so after our testimony they let us go. However, the cover itself was pretty self-evident."
Stermer says he had near total freedom to design covers and the inside art. Commenting on a April 1966 Paul Davis illustration of Madame Nhu, he said:
"I think the main thing about the art was its irreverance. Ramparts combined big stories on serious topics with a kind of whimsy or irony that audiences found compelling. A famous example is the Madame Nhu cover. The story was about how the CIA used a Michigan State University program as a cover to train the South Vietnamese police in interrogation techniques, among other things. But the cover showed Madame Nhu, the Vietnamese leader's sister-in-law, as a Michigan State cheerleader. Instead of emphasizing the dark side of the story, or suggesting that the reader would discover a sermon inside, the cover invited curiosity."
He also said that they used lots of illustrations because much of the content didn't lend itself to photography. Most of the covers were done for $300, but he did pay legendary illustrator Norman Rockwell $500 to do a cover of Bertrand Russell.
"I called Mr. Rockwell (I couldn't call him anything else) and humbly asked if he had ever heard of Ramparts magazine. He said he had, perhaps to be polite. I then asked if he would be so kind as to do a cover for us, a portrait of Bertrand Russell. He said, "One old guy portraying another, right?" I bumbled on, and he said, "I'll let you know tomorrow." To my surprise, he called me the next day, and said, "I talked to my son, and he said, 'Dad, if you don't do this, you are truly old.' So okay. How do you want me to paint it. I've been doing some looser work lately." I said, 'Any way you want, just one thing...." He said, "I know, just sign my name large." I said, "Uh, yes."
If you want to read about the rise, and fall, of Ramparts in a hilarious memoir, I recommend you search out a copy of If You've Got a Lemon, Make Lemonade
by Warren Hinckle III. Hinckle was the editor who worked most closely with Stermer and who set the irreverent tone for the magazine.
The whole enterprise was preposterous and hugely influential for a generation of magaziners.
Labels: art direction, design, illustration