The Village Voice: An Art Directors’ History
[On August 31, 2018, The Village Voice announced it was suspending all editorial operations. Although its last print edition was published late last year, The Voice had continued publishing in an online format. A version of this story originally appeared on the Society of Publication Designers website to commemorate the final print issue of The Voice.]
Since its founding in 1955 The Village Voice provided a venue for a wide array of visual voices to speak—photographers, illustrators, cartoonists, artists, and designers who were given space and room to grow and connect with a larger community. The Voice visual aesthetic not only went on to influence newspaper design—both daily and weekly—but also mainstream magazine design. Former Voice art directors went on to direct the visual directions of Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Saveur, Real Simple, Details, Vibe, Fast Company, Wired, Fortune, Lucky, Mother Jones, and many more.
Starting with Milton Glaser, who redesigned The Voice in the mid-70s, the paper has been the home to a stack of talented art directors and design directors, including George Delmerico, Michael Grossman, Wes Anderson, Kim Klein, Robert Newman, Florian Bachleda, Jennifer Gilman, Lisa Steinmeyer, Audrey Schachnow, Ted Keller, Minh Uong, Ivylise Simones, John Dixon, Tom Carlson, Andrew Horton, and Ashley Smestad Vélez. Two other creative talents who contributed mightily to the look of The Voice were longtime picture editor Fred W. McDarrah and art director Jesus Diaz. Diaz has been the Minnie Minoso of The Voice, working in various roles over five separate decades (he started young), and in the process becoming an inspiration to countless creatives, and many would say, the soul of the paper.
We reached out to former Voice art directors and design directors to get their impressions and memories of life and work at the paper.
[Art director, 1976-85. Delmerico passed in 2013.]
This commentary on Delmerico’s work at The Voice is by former Voice design director Michael Grossman:
I never had the privilege of meeting George, but as one of his successors as The Voice design director, I always admired his bravely counterintuitive approach to the paper’s design.
During an era when many high-profile newspapers—and certainly most alternative weeklies—were exploring the extremes of their newfound color and type capabilities, he kept himself in a visual straitjacket, barely using more than one typeface (the oh-so-unhip Plantin), and almost no color (black, the blue of the logo, and usually no more than a single element in red). But within that tight constraint, he managed to celebrate the paper’s wildly disparate content brilliantly, in a quilt of headline blocks, where butting elements might be as dissimilar as stories can be. Dead serious next to whimsical; snarky next to earnest; traditional next to avant garde; investigation next to cartoon illustration—he deftly balanced the demands of the paper’s then- constantly bickering internal factions.
At a time when The Voice‘s voices were anything but harmonious, George charted a daring arrangement that somehow let everyone solo, side-by-side.
[Design director, 1985-89. Currently co-founder, Factr.]
For some people it’s their college classmates that feel like their lifelong cohort. For me it’s my Voice coworkers of the late 80s. I was there early in my career, and I’m in awe when I think of all the amazing talents that toiled for a spell in that crazy warren of an office. The Voice felt like the scrappy farm team for all of publishing (hell, pop culture). Through all the years since, it seems every publication I pick up, every credit scroll, every best-seller list features at least one former VV colleague.
When I came to The Voice, I found myself in a job like nothing I’d ever seen or heard about. The storied array of editors were definitely a team of rivals. Absolutely everything was a debate. I was a punk 20-something who didn’t know how much he didn’t know.
I naively thought when I came to the paper that I’d do a normal front-to-back redesign. But that era’s constant territorial tug-of-war among the editorial fiefdoms didn’t permit more than incrementalism. Even standardizing the size of the bylines in the paper was a fight, and one that wouldn’t stay won. You’d like to think there were other reasons, but the brief return of the legendary Pete Hamill ended the week after we failed to faithfully reproduce his (very nicely sketched!) logo for “Pete Hamill’s New York,” featuring his name at twice the size of the other columnists.
I naively thought I’d revamp the cover, making it more visual, less newspapery, more magazine-like. I was wrong. When it came to committing to a single powerful cover story/image that revolution-by-evolution would take much longer. The Voice‘s cover (or front page, or page 1, even what to call it was a controversy that pitted the newspapermen—and they were mostly men—against the arts and culture editors) was a fight every week. The result was some Solomon-like division. With rare exceptions, the main story stayed boxed into a territory comprising about 40% of the page. It would be the better part of a decade before The Voice—under Ted Keller—fully completed the transition to single-story covers.
It’s amazing to look at an old VV cover now, and recall the convoluted process of creating them. Thrashing out the design in a meeting while sketching variations on a note pad, trying to make every stakeholder think the story for which they were advocating wasn’t getting short-changed. The result was a box-fest, with no single story or image getting more than half the cover. Then scaling the pictures with a reduction wheel, and carefully drawing it to scale in pencil with specs on a blue-lined layout sheet. Then coding and sending the (unseen) type on an Atex terminal. Then mocking up the colors with prima color pencils. Then walking from 842 B’way down to Cooper Square to see if the type had emerged okay. Then maybe having to re-spec (or—gasp—reword) something for fit. Then building the mechanical, adding instructions for the stripper at the NJ production plant (super-imposing type over a photograph was a MAJOR deal). Then being car-pooled to said NJ location, all of us delirious from lack of sleep, at the crack of dawn the next morning.
Though the paper looked marginally different when I left, I felt pretty defeated. But when I look back now I feel a little better. I feel like I was the general manager of a team that didn’t make the playoffs, but put together the roster that won multiple championships later. Certainly I inherited a great crew and great traditions from George Delmerico. But then we had some really good drafts. The ranks of our illustrators and photographers swelled with new talent, and the next couple of Voice design directors were designers I’d first hired.
On the illustration front, we injected new life into a promising legacy. The Voice had a long history with established editorial illustrators like Ed Sorel, David Levine, Jules Feiffer, and Stan Mack. George Delmerico had a foothold in something more contemporary with Mark Stamaty, Stephen Kroninger and Philip Burke. I’d done a stint at the National Lampoon (where I had first worked with Stephen Kroninger—on a story by Mimi Pond!) and had more of a contemporary aesthetic. So we set about getting more people in that world: Lynda Barry, Gary Baseman, Melinda Beck, Barry Blitt, Charles Burns, Steven Cerio, Jim Christie, Sue Coe, Paul Corio, David Cowles, Isabelle Dervaux, Henrik Drescher, Bob Eckstein, Josh Gosfield, Matt Groening, Ron Hauge, Pamela Hobbes, Kaz, JD King, Peter Kuper, Catherine Lazure, Ross MacDonald, Mark Marek, Mark Matcho, Mark Newgarden, Gary Panter, Jonathon Rosen, Ward Sutton, Wayne White, Mark Zingarelli…and many more.
Photography was a well established tradition and we merely had to add new faces who lived up to the tradition set under Fred McDarrah by James Hamilton and Sylvia Plachy. There were Amy Arbus, Robin Holland, Lois Greenfield. Then the younger shooters who flowered during the late 80s: Marc Asnin, Chris Buck, Michel Delsol, Elaine Ellman, Lori Grinker, Anne Hamersky, Kristine Larsen, David Lee, Sylvia Otte…
But I think my greatest source of pride was the design talent we assembled, staffers and freelancers, so many of whom went on to bigger and better things at The Voice and elsewhere: Hilton Als, Wes Anderson, Florian Bachleda, Liz Betts, Skip Bolen, Jeff Christensen, Susan Conley, Jennifer Gilman, Melanie (Pitts) Green, Joe Heron, Kim Klein, Calvin Lowery, Mark Michaelson, Bob Newman, Helene Silverman, Darryl Turner, Lisa Steinmeyer, Linda Vessup… and I’m probably forgetting a few.
Hey, if my VV stint is remembered for nothing else, it brought Bob Newman to New York, and gave Florian Bachleda his first job!
[Associate art director, 1986-88, art director, 1990, design director, 1991-94. Currently creative director, This Old House.]
For as long as I can remember, my dream was to work at The Village Voice. I was living in Seattle when George Delmerico was art director, and I would rush every week to get one of the handful of copies of The Voice that were sold at the Read All About It newsstand in the Pike Place Market. I would study everything about the design, right down to the little photo and illustration credits on the side of the pages. I marveled at Delmerico’s ability to create diverse, engaging, surprising, and provocative covers week after week. And I found inspiration (heck, I just plain copied those Voice covers!) from his work and applied it to numerous ragtag newspapers that I worked on in my early days.
I was working as the editor of The Rocket magazine in Seattle when Voice design director Michael Grossman reached out and pulled me across country to work with him and art director Wes Anderson. Wes was another former Rocket designer, the first of a steady stream of art directors, illustrators, photographers, and even a music editor (Ann Powers) who would move from The Rocket in Seattle to New York and infiltrate The Voice. I ended up working off and on at The Voice for almost eight years, leaving twice for other gigs, but always coming back. And I never seemed to leave–even when I wasn’t on staff I was in the office designing the Rock & Roll Quarterly supplements and anything else they’d let me touch. Working at The Voice was powerfully addictive—in a very good way. And it didn’t hurt that everyone there was so young and good-looking (and cool)!
Michael Grossman’s covers and inside pages were elegantly refined, polished and layered. Looking back, I still marvel at how precisely they were done, pushing Atex typography to previously unseen levels of sophistication. Fortunately, Michael had a swarm of skilled and amiable pasteup people and the the deft hands and eyes of Patience Pinky Pierce, who lorded over the cover production. In his covers you can see the pop sensibility and brilliant editorial graphic engagement that would explode with Michael’s work at Entertainment Weekly in the early 90s, and influence a generation of magazine design.
As design director at The Voice I was blessed to work beside Jennifer Gilman and Florian Bachleda, two visual muses who were infused with talent, creativity, and grace (and also, briefly, the highly-talented Lisa Steinmeyer). (They were later joined by Kate Thompson, another ex-Rocket art director.) The Voice editor, Jonathan Larsen, was an art director’s dream: smart, visual, a cover provocateur who gave plenty of space to rise (and also to fail, which I did with depressing regularity). Heavily influenced by street graphics, gigposters, and especially the graphic design of Art Chantry (yet another Rocket art director), we developed a cover look that was big, bold, direct and graphic. At the time The Voice was still sold on newsstands, and we wanted the covers to scream, to feel like the left-wing equivalent of a NYC tabloid. Our production values were funky, to say the least, and we stuck to simple type and a very limited palette of colors, basically black, red, and the blue of The Voice logo. We had a tag team style of cover design, with Jennifer, Florian, Kate and I working on different potential cover stories simultaneously, and trading pages back and forth.
Empowered by the introduction of desktop computers, we could churn out huge quantities of cover variations, much to the delight of Jon Larsen, who loved having options (good training for many of my future jobs!). He and I would sit jamming on covers in front of the computer for hours in the mornings while The Voice offices were deserted (work didn’t generally start at The Voice until 11am…or later.) I think there was a direct connection between the small size of the Mac screen and the increased size of cover type. The fact that we could only print in black and white probably helped limit the color palette, too.
The greatest joy of working at The Voice was being surrounded by an endless array of creative talent. There was legendary picture editor Fred McDarrah and his army of talented interns, and photo editors Edna Suarez and Tom McGovern, and staff photographers and staff cartoonists, and people just hanging around the office waiting and hoping that their number would get called. Florian was a master at assigning illustrations, and he attracted a big crew of young and hungry artists, who work work in every spare corner of the office, late into the night when the paper was closing. Liberated from the chock-a-block cover design of previous eras, The Voice cover became a venue for brilliant young illustrators like Steve Brodner, Sue Coe, Philip Burke, Eric Palma, and my lifelong comrades Stephen Kroninger and Scott Menchin.
Producing The Voice was an adrenaline rush. We’d stay up late Monday night (or was it Tuesday morning?), and the paper would hit the streets Tuesday evening. A big thrill was getting up for the early morning edition of In the Papers every Wednesday on the NY1 cable channel. Host Pat Kierman would hold up that day’s papers, and I liked to think we designed The Voice to rock off the TV screen. Then I’d walk around the East Village and see how the paper looked on all the newsstands.
The Voice was an exhilarating, passionate, creatively stimulating and flat-out fun whirlwind; it was everything I imagined it would be and more. I’m ever grateful to Michael Grossman for getting me in there (not the last time he would pull me along with him on a graphic magazine adventure). I made some lifelong friends (and some lovers, who didn’t last as long…), and made connections that would get me jobs for years to come. The future was bright, and I imagined there would be a boundless future designing magazines like The Voice, but with more money. Little did I know….
[Art director, 1990-91. Currently a freelance television producer and graphic artist.]
In 1990 I was working as the art director for a small weekly newspaper in Minneapolis, when our staff photographer went to The Voice to show his portfolio to the art department. Wes Anderson, the design director, saw my layouts and asked who I was. Wes called and said, “Come to New York, I’ve got a job open.” Really? I booked a flight 20 seconds later, went there the next week, met everyone in the department and was hired. Flew home, packed up, and was working at The Voice within a few weeks.
To this day I don’t understand how I got that job with the multitudes of astounding art directors living in New York. Since high school, I wanted to work at The Voice; what an amazing set of circumstances got me there. There is nothing comparable to living in New York and having the immersion into the city and culture that working at The Voice gives you.
What I loved most were the brilliant beyond-interesting people, the never-ending friendships and support, freedom, purpose and creativity. Thanks Wes for making that call to me.
[Designer, 1987-88, and art director, 1991-94. Currently working as an artist, architect and educator.]
I cut my teeth at The Village Voice in the late 80s and early 90s. It was my first real design job, and it was my first job in New York City. It was a great way to enter the city, surrounded by a scrappy group of intelligent, curious, and independent people all committed to their own creativity and something larger than themselves. It’s hard not to idealize that period as the halcyon days, because there was nothing else like it, but it wasn’t ideal, it was a hot mess. It was a lively, fun, fierce, chaotic, life-changing, hot mess.
I count myself lucky I was taught early that designers, illustrators and photographers are visual thinkers, conceptual artists, provocateurs, activists and journalists, not just decorators. Bob Newman, who became a long-time mentor, insisted that it wasn’t enough to make something look cool; the design and art should add meaning and nuance to the text, and create an overarching identity for the publication. The job of the visuals is to tease, provoke, expose, emote, to exclaim, to expand.
Because it was my first experience, I assumed it was just the way it was done, but more than once, at later magazine jobs, editors said with surprise, “You actually read the piece, (and wrote a headline)?!”
I took that perspective with me to other publications (and used it as a litmus test to avoid some others), and eventually to a new career in architecture and art, where it’s just as challenging to realize, and just as important to try.
Another other vital thing I learned at The Voice is that any job is mostly about the people you work with. If they are not smart, and funny, and generous, and committed to a larger mission, then don’t bother.
[Designer, 1989-90, associate art director, 1990-91, senior art director, 1991-94. Currently creative director (NYC) at Godfrey Dadich Partners.]
It could be the nostalgic memories of being 23 years old, but in 1989 it just felt perfect to be at The Village Voice.
The excitement of landing one of your first jobs out of college at a publication you devoured religiously for years.
The surrealness of being able to actually assign and work with illustrators who were your heroes.
The satisfaction of designing influential stories you truly believed in.
The adventure of working with a wildly eclectic group of colleagues you categorically admired.
I will always be grateful I had the opportunity to be a member of a Village Voice team, to be a part of that incredible progressive legacy. It will always be the first home.
[Deputy design director, 1994-96, design director, 1997-2007. Currently design director, Fast Company.]
Growing up in Texas, if you were progressively inclined there was always the sense that the best you could hope for was living on one of a few blue islands (the bluest being Austin) in a sea of red.
I went to school in Houston with the assumption that ad agency work was the way to go (not much magazine culture in Texas aside from one obvious behemoth, Texas Monthly), but after hitting a local-recession wall and watching advertising gigs dry up, I stumbled into a little alt-weekly startup–and for the first time found myself in a place where my cultural values and political viewpoints were in the majority.
Amazing! But at best it was a tiny deep-blue speck within a then-purple city, which meant that the isolation felt even more acute, since there was no center. It was just…us.
Except there was a center—a thing, a place we could look to that helped us feel like we were part of something larger after all: We could pick up The Voice at the local bookstore each week and instantly feel a connection to a culturally vibrant, economically and socially fair-minded, politically progressive community.
And when I later got to The Voice, it really was like that! The place contained freaking multitudes.
You really could go harangue Robert Christgau about some ancient album review you disagreed with (and he would tell you why you were still wrong). Or marvel at the jenga-like mountains of paper covering every inch of Nat Hentoff’s office. Or wander by the conference room and catch Greg Tate practicing with his band. Or get yelled at by Wayne Barrett and think, I should be paying you for this.
So much fun.
And the design, illustration, and photography all had traditions within them over decades, just like the writing. Pazz & Jop, Rock & Roll Quarterly, the Jazz Supplement, the freaking Comics Issue! It was all just as cool to look at as it was read.
All I ever really wanted to do was help extend that. But of course you can’t help being a product of your era and your associates, so….
As much as our editor-in-chief Don Forst, loved the mayhem The Voice was capable of, he had very refined aesthetic sensibilities. He didn’t really like comics (he called them “drawings”) and as a longtime daily newspaper editor couldn’t be swayed by photojournalist cliches, no matter how worthy the subject matter.
The solution we came to was to use illustrators that wouldn’t normally be associated with alt-weeklies (Kinuko Craft, Alex Ross, Tim O’Brien) which actually allowed us to push the concepts into even more absurd or intense territory without potentially alienating people. Over time the photography became less strictly journalistic and—particularly on the covers—morphed into more imaginative and conceptual imagery thanks to Greg Miller and staff photographer Andre Souroujon.
From a pure design standpoint:
When I arrived The Voice it was transitioning between major editorial regimes, and there was an airy, almost fussy typographic style being applied that didn’t seem to play to the strengths of the publication.
Around that time two major magazine trends were on the downward slope:
* A skeumorphic city-magazine style in which each feature had typography and design so specific to the story type—a circus font for a story about circus performers, then film noir poster for some local crime tale—that it would look like pages from different magazines pages randomly pasted together
* And the post-Raygun / Émigré / Cranbrook Academy glitchy-font approach that made everything look like a Nine Inch Nails feature story
What they both had in common was texture. Godawful, pointless texture.
I was looking for a way to cut through that clutter and get as close to NOTHING as possible.
I always had a love/hate response to early 90s Voice design director Wes Anderson’s work. It could be so spare it felt unmoored, but also had this weird compelling power, and it offered a clue. From that I remembered the stark but ferociously structured forms of Exxon annual reports.
A trip to Gallaghers put a 1971 Graphis Annual in my hands, and a plan was hatched. A really-uncool-at-the-time plan, but what was there to lose?
The first time I tried it on a cover, one of the staff writers (James Hannaham, who had also worked as a designer in the art department) poked his head into my office and said, “Helvetica?!”
[Art director, 1995-2006. Currently visual editor at The New York Times Business Day section.]
While working at The Voice, I never realized what a small, idiosyncratic, mom-and-pop operation it was. I had little experience when I started and it was only after I left that I was able to compare it to a professional newsroom like The New York Times. Yet I did some of my best work while I was the art director there. It helps that in Don Forst I had an editor who appreciated the fine art of illustration. And I had the pleasure of working with some of the best illustrators in the business. Together we created memorable images and really pushed the envelope of what was possible and, maybe, even tasteful.
One of my most memorable experiences was during the Bill Clinton era. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was big news and when the Starr Report came out, it, revealed the salacious details of the affair. The Voice decided to devote a whole feature package to the story. My editor told us he wanted “fellatio art.” Hmmm. I pondered that assignment and came up with an idea. Instead of taking the obvious path, I took the high road and called David O’Keefe, one of the best 3-D caricaturists around, and asked him to illustrate our cover. My concept was this: I wanted him to create a portrait of Clinton made entire of an assemblage of women’s breasts and buttocks. But when Dave declined my commission—he and his wife were big fans of Clinton—we came up with a compromise. I asked him to sketch out his ideas, but insisted that somehow or other, Clinton’s portrait would have to include a quantity of flesh. A few days later, Dave turned in a masterpiece made out of clay. The bikini tan lines in Dave’s piece, which he called “Clinton in the Flesh,” were the icing on the cake.
[Art director, 2008-10. Currently creative director, The Huffington Post.]
I was a 24-year-old Miami transplant when I became the art director of The Village Voice.
I’d just started my career, and suddenly it was my job to come up with a cover that all of New York would see on a weekly basis.
I recognize that my two years there probably seem like a blip in The Voice‘s 62-year legacy, but the place left an indelible mark on me. I was given a chance to create visuals for stories by some of the greatest journalists and muckrakers this country has seen. I got to work with Wayne Barnett, losing count of the Bloomberg and Giuliani photoshops. I had the absolute pleasure of transforming Michael Musto into Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Lindsay Lohan in photoshoots. I got to put an illustration of actual dog shit on a cover for Lynn Yaeger.
They all taught me how to be loud and fearless, how to not underestimate the power of those dirty newspaper racks. I think Rob Harvilla, former colleague and VV music editor said it best: “The Village Voice scared the hell out of me, and I loved it, and I’ll never forget it, or live up to it.”
There was no greater honor than to have been part of The Voice—and to have it central in my finding footing as both an art director and a New Yorker.
[Editorial design director, Village Voice Media/Voice Media Group, 2011-16, art director, Village Voice, 2013-16. Currently creative director, Euclid Media.]
It was never my goal to art direct The Voice. I was the long-time art director of Riverfront Times, the alt-weekly in St. Louis, and had been made the editorial design director for the parent company of both papers. As such, I walked into an art director/editor war that resulted in the art director getting the heave-ho. Then, almost right away, the editor also left.
My deal was to art direct The Voice from afar to until the budget was under control and then I could hire someone new. But after several months, my RFT partner-in-crime, editor Tom Finkel, took The Voice editor job and tried to coax me to move to New York with him. Nuh-uh. But the company liked the work I was doing and did a little math and figured it was more economical to split a St. Louis salary between two papers than to hire an AD at The Voice at Big Apple rates.
During these years, I was never actually put in the staff box as art director, but was doing the job, dropping in on the NYC gang a couple times a year, and getting dinner, drinks and watching some sportsball with Jesus Diaz, who’d been at The Voice almost as long as I was at RFT. In March 2015, Riverfront Times was sold to Euclid Media Group, but I wasn’t included as part of the package, so I continued with my corporate duties and working on The Voice from a home office in Webster Groves, MO, and finally made it into the staff box.
During this time, negotiations were underway about selling The Voice, too. When the art director at Phoenix New Times gave notice in July of that year, it was suggested that taking that position might be some sort of job security. And, indeed, in October, just as the Best of NYC issue was being put to bed, the sale of The Voice was announced. And I moved to Phoenix. As part of the sale, there was a continuing support agreement, meaning they could take their time replacing me. So, for a couple more months I was art directing two papers at once—again. Then in January, Finkel was given his walking papers, the editor that had previously walked out was back (clue: he didn’t last long) and I was free.
[Creative director, 2016-17. Currently freelancing and looking for the next big thing.]
I remember poring over Bob Newman’s version of The Voice when I was a college newspaper editor in Australia and wondering who the hell this Giuliani bloke was. The energy and distinctively gritty typography struck me and informed my own take on The Voice 23 years later.
One thing that I was determined to do with my tenure was to expose as many new photographers possible, to remake The Voice as a crucible of young talent. We got great photography out of Amy Lombard, David Urbanke, Sean Lowe and many others who are now springing up in much bigger publications. We backed that up with a murderer’s row of illustrators including Steve Brodner, Paul Pope and We Buy Your Kids. The objective was to make sure the issues were as cool as we could make them with our very small staff (I was also the photo director for 3/4s of my time there).
I didn’t always agree with some of the directions I was given in my time (adding lots of fashion to the book; make The Voice upscale!?) but I have nothing but praise for the long-suffering Jesus Diaz and my deputy, Ashley Smestad Velez, for their hard work in continuing to put out the book right to the very end. I just wish you all could have seen the very cool redesign Luke Hayman and I were working on: The Voice as a Berliner! That would really have had people talking.
Ashley Smestad Vélez
[Deputy art director, 2016-17, art director, 2017-18.]
I have the unfortunate honor to say that I am the last print art director at The Voice. As the staff numbers increasingly dwindle, I’ve learned to assign stories, manage editors, and produce our cover and feature layouts on the same day they shipped. It was all a labor of love; we weren’t there for the egos, the money nor the traffic numbers measured in monthly uniques, but simply to put out one of the most iconic print alt-weekly newspapers left in the world. I owe all of this to Andrew Horton who, a bit over a year ago, brought me on to The Voice roller coaster ride I love so much, and Jesus Diaz, who showed me true passion towards the news section and staff writers, in addition to teaching me all about the past illustrators and art directors who made The Voice what it is now.
As I look back at the past year while closing the the last issue of The Voice, I can recall all the illustration giants I worked with, especially Steve Brodner, Victor Juhasz, Lauren Weinstein and Zohar Lazar, to name a few, who helped channel our angst and frustrations during the 2016 presidential election. Luc Kordas, Celeste Sloman, Justin Bettman and David Williams truly elevated The Voice‘s aesthetic as a new generation of young photographers capturing New York City. One of my favorite issues we worked on this year was the Neighborhoods issue. I spent a long time on the phone with Eric Drooker discussing what New York neighborhoods mean to him and mean to me, and how each is perceived by our fellow city dwellers.
I can’t go without saying how immensely grateful I am to my photo editor, Andrea Maurio, and contributing art director, Parker Hubbard, who have gone above and beyond their duties while still making sure the print issue looks great no matter how limited our time and resources are.
[Designer, associate art director, 1993-2018.]
The road to the art department at The Village Voice was a strange one for me, one that took me through Mexico City.
Hired as a messenger in 1976, I ended up writing about sports while working various jobs. Pete Hamill, who failed to get the editor’s gig here, decided to head south and call the shots at the Mexico City News, an English daily. He liked my boxing writing. He asked me to come along. I landed in Districto Federal in January 1988. Hamill was gone two months later. I survived the purge and ended up “designing” the sports section on Harris computers for the next couple of years. Designing? What’s that? I mastered the proportional wheel and learned do not fuck over folks in production—they will make you suffer.
Fast forward to 1993. I’m in Bob Newman’s office for an interview for a junior designer job. Knowing my way around a 32-pound Mac helped. But he slaps down a few Voice covers. He asks what I think of them, knowing I could be trashing one in particular. I reply in Spanish. I get the gig. And now, that gig has come to an end.
Only war stories remain of enduring those 3am closes, slipping on rubylith, laughing my balls off the night Thomas Goetz believed he bit on a piece of white chocolate (past-up wax), and of getting too close and personal with visionaries: It was hard to ignore George Delmerico’s passion during those early days—and the cigarette smoke in his office. His outbursts with picture editor Fred “Don’t forget the W” McDarrah were legendary. Designers Ernest Lynk and Stephanie Hill will back me up.
Michael Grossman? I knew him from a distance, but after he left, we found a big box of correspondence letters to the editor-in-chief. This man had a game plan. Grossman, that is. I missed out on Wes Anderson, but considering the sources, this was a talented, good man. There’s Newman. One day I’m going to ask him about his “costly” trip to watch the Bills drop one of their Super Bowls instead of … Well, I can’t say. He’s editing this. There’s Jennifer Gilman and Florian Bachleda. From her, I learned the subtle art of direction. All the boys and girls loved you, Jennifer! From Florian? I learned to deal with people in charming ways. Thank you, Flo. A life lesson! Audrey Schachnow showed wisdom by bringing in Ted Keller from Texas. With Minh Uong, another fruitful period of design was born. We learned to frustrate Minh through foosball. Ted and Minh, seriously, that 9-11 cover may be the best of them all.
Speeding up a little, I had the pleasure of also working for Ivylise Simones, John Dixon and Tom Carlson during the rough and tumble New Times era. With the cowboy egos and the three-digit art budgets, it’s a miracle good work was produced. And there was good work. Here, I learned to respect Dixon’s dislike of photos showing guns and knives, and the Carlson Regimen: five covers a week without complaint. A warrior. Andrew Horton showed up at Maiden Lane with that Puerto Rican accent (he’s Australian) to launch a rocket ship to the moon while attending another meeting. He terrified me. “Diaz,” he snaps, “I got two words for you: Don’t fuck up.” But when his daughter visits, there’s Mr. Softee. And of course, Ashley Smestad Vélez, the last of the print Mohicans. She stepped in, midflight, exhibiting great patience, and continued the good work—the highest praise possible in this department.
For me, the greatest joy was always working with our great illustrators, too many to name. Before the internets—before I forget, Fuck You, Web—we had weekly portfolio meetings. There was one I really liked, Ward Sutton’s. Soon, he was sending me a pitch with an idea he was excited about. This always set the wheel in motion, trying all the tricks of the trade to get that green light. Fortunately, the greens won out. And there’s working with M. Wartella, who drove Keller crazy with phone calls. Ted punted to me. The year which followed was full of great laughs and wonderful work. And Wartella was the guy who crashed The Voice picnic and drew about it for some other rag. Sutton, Wartella, I bow my head.
Right now, I’m in a tussle with my dear friend Mark Alan Stamaty. Today’s phone call with him reminded me of all the many phone calls I have made. They were always the same. The first chat started with, Hello, this is Jesus from The Voice. You then tell the stranger you love their work. We talk about the assignment. We talk about the deadline. We talk about the size and shape. We talk about color or not. We talk about the deadline for the sketch and the finish. Maybe there’s a back-and-forth exchange of ideas. And you repeat the deadlines. After a few phone calls, the stranger is now a friend. We get through the preliminaries quicker and talk about this and that. The back-and-forth exchange is longer and joyful. We talk about our lives. Then we talk about price. We laugh and laugh. We talk about this and that. We agree on a price. We say until next time. We hang up the phone.