Working at The Village Voice

[The publication of the last print edition of The Village Voice in September 2017 prompted this nostalgic look back at my experience working at the legendary weekly New York City newspaper. I served three stints at The Voice—as associate art director, 1986-88, art director, 1990, and design director, 1991-94. On August 31 the current Voice owner announced that it was shutting down all editorial operations.]

For as long as I can remember, my dream was to work at The Village Voice. I was living in Seattle in the late 70s-early 80s 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.

(Left): May 1992. (Right): September 1992, design by Kate Thompson.

In 1986 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 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)!

(Left): May 1992, illustration by Philip Burke. (Right): June 1992.

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.

(Left): February 1994, illustration by Sue Coe. (Right): August 1993, illustration by Eric Palma.

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. (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.

(Left): October 1993, illustration by Stephen Kroninger. (Right): November 1992, photograph by Eve Arnold.

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.

(Left): June 1992, photograph by Kristine Larsen. (Right): December 1992.

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.

(Left): September 1993, illustration by Steve Brodner. (Right): May 1993.

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 Kiernan 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 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….

(Left): August 1993. (Right): January 1994, illustration by Bob Eckstein, art direction by Florian Bachleda.

(Left): August 1992, photograph by Fred W. McDarrah. (Right): November 1992.

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