This week on the Gallery we turn an eye to a legend of a man. A man New York Magazine called a ‘pioneer, innovator, an advertising genius, Superman of Madison Avenue, America’s master communicator.’. The original Mad Man, George Lois.
Though Mr.Lois does distance himself from the comparison, ‘“Mad Men misrepresents the advertising industry of my time by ignoring the dynamics of the Creative Revolution that changed the world of communications forever…That dynamic period of counterculture in the 1960s found expression on Madison Avenue through a new creative generation—a rebellious coterie of art directors and copywriters who understood that visual and verbal expression were indivisible, who bridled under the old rules that consigned them to secondary roles in the ad-making process dominated by non-creative hacks and technocrats…It was a testy time to be a graphic designer like me who had the rage to communicate and, to create icon rather than con. And, unlike the TV Mad Men, we worked full, exhausting, joyous days: pitching new business, creating ideas, “comping” them up, storyboarding them, selling them, photographing them, and directing commercials.”
Amongst many things he is credited with turning round a failing MTV in the 80s, for introducing VH1 and for turning around the fortunes of ESPN. We though are interested in his most famous collection of work, the Esquire covers he designed from 1962 to 1972. Here are our favourites.
This cover depicts Ali as the martyr Saint Sebastian, a roman solider who survived execution by arrows for converting to Christianity. Ali at this time had rejected the draft to Vietnam based on his religious beliefs and had been sentenced to five years in jail and stripped of his licence to box.
This 1962 cover of a women shaving was a cheeky image designed as a comment on the women’s liberation movement and accompanied an article on the masculinization of the American woman.
The 1968 cover of Nixon before the Presidential elections that year referenced Nixon’s failure against John Kennedy in 1960 when TV debates were introduced. Those who watched the debate on TV believed JFK to have won, a much more comfortable performer in front of the camera, and those who listened on the radio believed Nixon to have won. Nixon’s campaign staff were furious about this cover, believing the inclusion of the lipstick to be an attack on Nixon’s masculinity.
At the time of this cover no other US magazine opposed the war in Vietnam, Esquire did and George Lois did many a cover speaking out against the war. Though this one is different, as George said himself of this cover, ‘this cover snidely took a shot at the anti-war activists, who were raising hell on campus. I rationalized it as a parody of the self-rightousness and self-importance of much of the growing antiwar movement. I depicted ‘campus warriors’ as long-haired nerds who were just trying to save their ass. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure what possessed me to do the cover until my rabbi, ex-Marine Lt. Harold Hayes, said “George, you couldn’t help it. You’re a pissed off Korean vet”. To this day I take heat for the cover from my wife Rosie, a fighter against McCarthyism, a young Korean war wife and a proto-demonstator against the Vietnam War’
A cover which called a fight. The issue contained articles and interviews about the upcoming World Championship Heavyweight bout between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. The cover depicts a black model the build of Patterson dead in the ring, the magazine was published before the fight. George Lois was convinced Sonny Liston would win as he did and took a chance. The issue was a sell out and is credited as one of Lois initial covers which helped turn round Esquire who were heavily in debt. Lois also meant it be a comment on how society treats losers, they are ‘left for dead’.