My Week as Guest Editor of Illustration Age: A Look at Magazine Editorial Illustration

For the week of April 28-May 2, I was the guest editor of the Illustration Age website, at the kind invitation of Thomas James. The idea behind this special week of Illustration Age was to look at magazines that use illustration as a major component of their design and content. It’s rare these days to find publications that will not only put an illustration on the cover, but also use illustration as a dominant art form inside. Fortunately, there are still some publications that do this, and we highlighted one a day for the entire week.

The five magazines that we picked: Eight by Eight, Anorak, Reader’s Digest, The Baffler, and The New Yorker, represent a wide variety of genres, audiences, formats, and styles of illustration. But for all of them, illustration is an essential part of the visual identity of the magazine, not just a way to decorate or accompany stories, but an integral part of the regular conversation that is carried on with the readers. The editors and art directors of these magazines are passionate supporters of illustration, each with their own unique aesthetic.

For Illustration Age, we asked each magazine to send us one recent issue. All the illustration selections were taken from that single issue (with the exception of The New Yorker), which makes these collections even more remarkable. Thanks to all the art directors and illustrators who are a part of this week’s Illustration Age series.

Here’s a look at the five magazines, a sample illustration from each, and links to all the Illustration Age collections.

(Above): Illustration by Nigel Buchanan.

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Eight by Eight is a new soccer publication (that’s football if you live outside the USA), whose motto is “The Magazine the Beautiful Game Deserves.” It was launched in 2013 by the publishing team of Robert Priest (editor) and Grace Lee (creative director), who as Priest + Grace have been responsible for the design and creative direction of a host of top magazines. The magazine is bright, bold, and filled with engaging design and page after page of spectacular illustrations.

Illustration is an essential part of Eight by Eight, from its cover to the many full pages inside, it dominates the pages of the magazine like Barcelona star Lionel Messi slicing through a pack of defenders. Each issue (there have been two so far) has been an illustrative delight, filled with a rich diversity of styles. In addition to story artwork there are also a good number of illustrated graphics and charts. Eight by Eight comes with lush production values and nice paper and cover stock. It’s simply one of the best illustration showcases in the business. See the Illustration Age showcase on Eight by Eight here.

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Illustration by Diego Patino from Eight by Eight.

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01 anorak_marcusoakley

Anorak is a London-based kids magazine that reminds me of the old Highlights for Children that I grew up with. Published five times a year, it’s a rarity in today’s magazine world as a publication that is completely illustrated. Anorak is filled with picture stories, games, activities, puzzles, coloring pages, reading, and much more. And it’s literally packed with beautiful, delightful illustrations that are child-like but not childish. There’s a wide range of illustration styles, all fun, and often funny. The magazine is printed on thick matte paper that is perfect for coloring, drawing, and puzzle solving. I have a 10-year-old daughter who loves to sit down with Anorak and a stack of pencils and crayons. You’ll want to buy two copies: one for the kids to use, and one to save on your bookshelf.

Subtitled “The Happy Mag for Kids,” Anorak is the brainchild of Cathy Olmedillas, who launched the magazine in 2006 and serves as publisher, editor, and art director. The best of Anorak was collected last year in The Big Book of Anorak, and they also publish regular editions of the Happy Activity book, which highlights games, puzzles, coloring, and other fun things to do. Both are available through the Anorak website. Later this year Anorak will debut their magazine for teens, called Teepee. The latest issue of Anorak, The Dreams Issue, has just been released. As with earlier issues, this one is jammed with lovely illustrations that will make you and your kids smile. See the Illustration Age showcase on Anorak here.

(Above): Illustration by Marcus Oakley.

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Illustration by Zhang Liang from Anorak.

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01 RD Serge Bloch Cover

Reader’s Digest is a monthly magazine with a long and rich tradition of illustration. For many years the magazine was almost completely illustrated, featuring wrap around art on the cover and an extensive collection of artwork on the inside. In the 1990s, Reader’s Digest added photograph, but the legacy of illustration and cartoons is still very strong in the current iteration of the magazine.

Design director Dean Abatemarco and art director Marti Golon use a heavy dose of illustration each issue, with subjects ranging from the personal and heartwarming to light and funny. Humor is a big component of the magazine, so in addition to the many cartoons (Reader’s Digest remains, along with The New Yorker, one of the few remaining general interest magazines to run regular cartoons in every issue), there are lots of fun and funny illustrations. The styles are diverse and original, range in size from full pages to potent little spots, and the magazine uses both established artists and talented newcomers. See the Illustration Age showcase on Reader’s Digest here.

(Above): Illustration by Serge Bloch.

Collage map of the United States with religous symbols

Illustration by Colin Johnson from Reader’s Digest.

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01 Baffler David McLimans

The Baffler is an arts and politics publication published three times a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that describes itself as “the journal that blunts the cutting edge.” Published off and on since 1988, the current editorial team includes design and art director Patrick JB Flynn and editor John Summers.

Issue 24 of The Baffler is the sixth designed by Flynn, who was the longtime noted art director of The Progressive. In fact, many of the illustrators in this issue—Brad Holland, Melinda Beck, Henrik Drescher, David McLimans, and Jonathan Rosen, among others—were part of Flynn’s “stable” at The Progressive. The art is stunning, and is featured in numerous full-page designs. There is also a notable series of stand-alone full-page illustrations titled “Graphic Art.” See the Illustration Age showcase on The Baffler here.

(Above): Illustration by David McLimans.

03 Baffler Henrik Drescher

Illustration by Henrik Drescher from The Baffler.

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Unlike many of the magazines in this Illustration Age series, The New Yorker doesn’t need much of an introduction. As the magazine’s first creative director, Wyatt Mitchell has helped usher in a fresh look for both its design and imagery. There are three visual editors at The New Yorker: Francoise Mouly art directs the covers, Robert Mankoff edits the cartoons, and Chris Curry oversees the interior illustrations. Illustration editor Chris Curry recently celebrated her 25th anniversary at The New Yorker. In that time she has art directed well over 10,000 illustrations, and built the magazine’s reputation as the premier showcase for editorial art. From the small front-of-book images to large, lush, full-pages, the illustrations in The New Yorker are a constant delight. What’s so impressive about these illustrations is 1) there are a lot of them, 2) they’re so well-crafted, 3) they are constantly finding new talent , 4) they use known and unknown illustrators from around the world, and 5) they do it every week! See the Illustration Age showcase on The New Yorker here.

(Above): Illustration by Charles Berberian.

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Illustration by Victo Ngai from The New Yorker.

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Illustration Age editorial illustration showcase
Eight by Eight
Reader’s Digest
The Baffler
The New Yorker