The Baffler #56
Bimonthly US mag The Baffler presents a critical, liberal view of politics and culture, alongside short stories, poetry and art, plus daily posts online.
The magazine was redesigned in late 2016, by Pentagram’s Eddie Opara and team, and then art directed by Lindsay Ballant. When she moved on to The New Republic last year, she handed the mag on to Brooklyn studio No Ideas. The team there have continued the use of illustration on the covers, and issue 56—designed by Kurt Woerpel and published earlier this year, but only now available in the UK—caught my eye. I spoke to No Ideas partners Philip DiBello and Devin Washburn about how the cover came about.
When did you take on The Baffler?
Lindsay had asked us to art direct issue 53, she was moving on to The New Republic and needed someone to quickly pick up the issue where she left off. She was a professor of ours at the School of Visual Arts, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. We were excited and honored to be asked, and we’ve been art directing ever since then on an open basis.
Before No Ideas, Devin was the art director at Lucky Peach magazine (RIP). After starting the studio we worked with Adly Elewa, Bobby Doherty and the team at American Chordata to redesign their magazine. We’ve worked on a few book design projects with Abrams as well.
What does the role involve?
We commission the cover art, interior illustrations and lay out out the publication before it’s shipped to press. We stick fairly close to the beautiful system Eddie Opara defined in 2016.
We also get the chance to propose artists for a special section of the issue called ‘the exhibit’, where we work with a different artist to create a narrative ‘op-art’ piece surrounding the issue's theme. It's typically 8 full pages and meant to be a visual break within the issue. Be Oakley the brilliant mind behind GenderFail, also contributed the artwork for the exhibit in this issue.
We run the design studio and take on various projects from identity, to editorial, to interactive, etc. We like being multidisciplinary, it keeps us on our toes and excited about working on different types of projects and mediums. We art direct The Baffler alongside other projects in the studio.
How do you approach the cover designs?
We chat with Editor-in-chief, Jonathon Sturgeon and Managing editor, Emily Carroll about the theme of the new issue and discuss the pieces that they plan on running. Once we get the gist, we try to come up with a list of illustrators for each piece as well as some cover directions. The issue themes and subsequently the briefs are very Baffler, oftentimes abstract and with a sense of wit. They’re typically very open to ideas and pushing the boundaries, they’re such a smart and vibrant team to work with.
How do you select artists—is it on a story basis or do you have a list of artists to work through?
We try to internalize the theme and draw from that brief or description and our conversation with the editors. We’ll come up with a shortlist of artists, usually broken up into categories or visual concepts and discuss them with the team to narrow down and decide what’s the right tone for the issue.
An early rough for the cover by Kurt Woerpel
Why did you commission Kurt Woerpel?
The issue was about counterpublics and we were interested in working with someone who operates on the fringes of the publishing world. Kurt is a part of an independent publishing initiative called TXT Books. We liked how his collective is almost a counterpublic of the broader publishing community.
Another early rough by Kurt Woerpel
We also love Kurt’s work for Civilization among the other things he makes, and knew he could develop a strong graphic visual for the cover. We wanted it to have the energy of some of his work that is vibrant and sketchy.
What’s the story he’s illustrating?
We were interested early on in the idea of human microphones, and had a thought that the front (above) and back cover (below) could interact with one another. Kurt began playing with the concept of call and response, and landed fairly early on the speech bubbles and lips visual. This was one of many amazing sketches that Kurt initially proposed and we fell in love with it once we saw it.
Who proposed a hand drawn logo?
Kurt worked fluidly and fast, the whole process was very open and collaborative, and his sketches already had a level of refinement to them. Included in his “call and response” sketch was a hand-drawn Baffler logo.
When we proposed it to the editors we were lucky (and they were brave) enough for it to stick. After we settled on the direction, we had Kurt draw the logo a few more times in varying degrees of crudeness until we could land on one that everyone was comfortable running.
Editor: Jonathon Sturgeon
Art direction: No Ideas