by Jesse Marinoff Reyes:
June, 1961 issue
Photograph: Mario Casilli (1931-2002)
Design and Art Director: Arthur Paul (b. 1925)
What is a Playboy? Here, Playboy spells it out on this cover design from a little over a half-century ago, and cleverly incorporates the issue’s contents into the dictionary definition string. For anyone, like me, who despises the cacophonous laundry listing of even the most minor content on the covers of today’s magazines—a practice the great George Lois has described as “#%@& stupid!”—I posit this as another rejoinder. From an era when it was common to adorn magazines with an expansive photograph and a line or two only of copy, another approach, like this one, was purely design-driven. Although it’s not all content copy. The concept of the dictionary description is consistent throughout with actual dictionary definitions that would follow the word, “playboy.” Think about it, even when you first glance at the cover you don’t fully realize the issue’s contents are detailed in the description. Playboy’s editors and art director trusted that maybe you’d catch it on a double-take. They trusted you to be smart enough to get it.
And this is what would have been seemingly derided as just a “girlie” magazine, just a bunch of naughty photos.
But Playboy was from its inception so much more than that—thusly the now-cliché response to having one tucked under your arm, “…I only buy it for the articles!” When Hugh Hefner was developing the magazine its original name was the more banal “Stag Party,” and in its proposed dummy-form (put together by cartoonist Arv Miller) it wasn’t too far off from the movie star gossip magazines and raunchy (but tame by our standards) pictorial magazines of the day. Hefner wanted more—something more innovative and sophisticated. Enter Chicago-based graphic artist and illustrator Art Paul. Paul had been a student of the School of Art Institute, and later after service in WWII, the Institute of Design (aka the “Chicago Bauhaus”) where he studied under Bauhaus master, László Moholy-Nagy. Hefner knew Paul through a mutual acquaintance and contacted him to help put together the magazine. Paul would be the creative voice of the magazine as art director and supervising designer for 30 years.
Early on in Playboy’s genesis, he commissioned many local Chicago artists and photographers to illustrate the magazine. These included Franz Altschuler, Leon Bellin who illustrated Playboy’s continuing ‘Ribald Classic’ feature, Roy Schnakenberg, Ed Paschke, Seymour Rosofsky, printmaker Mish Kohn, caricaturist Bill Utterback, and photographer Arthur Siegel. He would later expand its reach with New York art and photography talent, growing its impact and presence. Playboy won hundreds of awards for excellence in graphic design and illustration during Paul’s tenure and he has been credited for helping engender an illustration-driven revolution in publication design by insisting that “graphic design and illustration need not be ‘low’ arts but could, when approached with integrity and emotional depth, and in a spirit of experimentation, be as ‘high’ an art as any.” He wan’t alone, as the magazines of the late-1950s and 1960s were as arresting and as iconic as you could imagine.
Of course, I only buy Playboy for the naughty pictures.
(see link at end)…At t
eginning, Hefner and Paul were the only two employees and had what Paul describes as an ideal editor-art director relationship of mutual respect and flexibility. This was crucial to Paul for it enabled him to lead the competition in putting new ideas and experimental solutions in print. At Playboy, Paul was able to implement what he thinks every art director must have, a “grand plan of his own.”
Paul’s grand plan envisioned illustration that combatted the literalism of the day by capturing the mood of a text and not merely a situation within it. He saw illustration not as decoration but as a way to provoke and intrigue the reader. He hoped to “generate excitement through craftsmanship and innovation, without sacrificing appropriateness and relevance” and to prove that “mass communication does not mean production-line communication.” From the start, Paul avoided the sameness of illustration prevalent in the 1950s, a sameness, in Paul’s view, born from a commercialism which “cheated illustrators of their true sense of themselves and cheated the client and the public of first-rate art.” While illustration was stagnating, American painting was bursting on the 50s scene with unprecedented experimentation and vitality. Thus Paul’s ideas about editorial art were timely.
Art Paul led what Print Magazine called the “Illustration Liberation Movement,” and in so doing, made Playboy the most visually exciting magazine of the day. His greatest challenge in buying art for Playboy was to convince illustrators to free up and to persuade painters that they weren’t selling out. Finding this difficult initially, he reproduced his own experimental work in the magazine to demonstrate to prospective artists the kind of artistic freedom he was allowing and requiring. Paul blurred the distinction between fine art and commercial art. Yet he maintained that as illustration, the work of both must be honestly relevant to the material illustrated while “illuminating words with an added dimension.”
Not only did he vitalize the standard two-dimensional fare, he also introduced other media to magazine illustration, construction, collage, sculpture, and multi-media work. He developed working concepts that would be emulated by other publications. One of these was the layout of the interview page, which began with three photos above three quotes of the featured subject. Another was the use of visuals on the contents page where a detail of an illustration or a photograph from an interior page would be shown. Story copy was continued at the back of the magazine but headed with the same title typeface to make it easier to find. He also explored and helped develop what he termed “participatory” graphics such as die-cuts, pull-outs and pop-ups designed to enhance the editorial message as the reader turns the page. Read More:http://www.adcglobal.org/archive/hof/1986/?id=241