Sep 19, 2013

Remembering George Delmerico, Longtime Art Director of The Village Voice

Longtime Village Voice art director George Delmerico passed away in early August in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 67.

Delmerico was a talented and eclectic art director who designed LP covers (most notably Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly), posters, books, alternative newspapers, and much more, but it was his work as art director of The Village Voice from 1976-85 where he produced the most memorable and influential imagery. Delmerico took over from previous art director Milton Glaser, and created a design that was notable for its studied elegance, spare use of color and typography, and bold imagery. Delmerico worked with and influence a generation of Voice photographers and illustrators, including Sylvia Plachy, James Hamilton, Walter Gurbo, Philip Burke, Stephen Kroninger, Mark Alan Stamaty, and many more, while becoming perhaps the most influential alternative weekly newspaper art director of all time.

The Voice in the 70s and 80s was a vital, pulsing document of the social, cultural, and political heartbeat of New York City, especially that part of it below 14th Street in Manhattan. If you were young, hip, gay, progressive, a feminist, The Voice was your source for news of all kinds. In those days The Voice was a newsstand-driven publication, and people would line up late on Tuesday  nights to grab early copies. Delmerico created the visual voice of The Voice that jumped off the newsstand. It was brash, funny, powerful, gritty, and always smart and elegant; the kind of newspaper cover design that has never been seen before or since. The paper was produced in the age of Atex and pasteup, but I still marvel at the sophistication and attention to detail that Delmerico brought to every page.

I was living in Seattle while 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. 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 copies those Voice covers!) from his work and applied it to numerous ragtag newspapers that I worked on in my early days.

Delmerico inspired me to work as an alternative newsweekly art director, and later to move to New York CIty (much thanks to Michael Grossman) and become an art director and later design director at The Voice. It was a dream come true. I would work hard on what I thought were great covers, and then would go upstairs to the production department and be humbled by the collection of Delmerico-era Voice covers framed on the walls. No matter how hard I tried, I could never duplicate that supreme cohesive quality that Delmerico brought to his covers, blending tough New York City tabloid attitude with cool, sophisticated elegance, creating a visual language that was compelling and engaging.

George Delmerico was the perfect art director for The Voice. He was smart and passionate, and a great visionary. What he did so brilliantly was to provide a venue for the many visual voices, the artists and photographer and image-makers of the paper, to speak. He gave them space and room to grow and connect with the readers. He brought visuals into the world of what was at the time an aggressively word-oriented publication, and gave them life. The Village Voice is woefully archived these days. With the exception of some scattered microfiche-based scans that live on the Google Newspapers site, it’s not possible to find a decent collection of Delmeric-era Voice covers. The good news is that we’ve collected 10 good ones on the Newmanology Tumblr page that will give you a sense of just how amazing Delmerico’s work was.

A memorial service for George Delmerico is being held in Santa Barbara on September 22. There’s a memorial page on Facebook with more information and memories of Delmerico’s life and work. And East Coast memorial will be held in Delmerico’s home town of Dobbs Ferry, NY, on October 12.

There’s a collection of Delmerico’s Voice covers, plus a set of remembrances by some of his Voice co-workers, on the Society of Publication Designers site. Photographers Sylvia Plachy and James Hamilton, cartoonists Stan Mack and Mark Alan Stamaty, illustrators Eric Palma and Stephen Kroninger, and many other folks talk about the influence and impact of Delmerico.