A large public art installation greets Army National Guard members and the public in a new state-of-the-art facility in Easton, Maryland.
Publishers have taken a beating ever since the internet opened up free content access to consumers. As a young illustrator, getting a chance to paint a cover for a well-read magazine was rare and coveted. Through the 80s, publishing was king as news stands grew to occupy huge sections of pharmacies and five & dime stores across the country. Whatever your interest, there was a magazine or two just for you. It was a boon market for writers, photographers and illustrators who helped to fill each issue with content.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to get into several top magazines including Time, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Esquire, and other special interest publications. For the off-beat crowd, MAD Magazine invited me to join their “gang of idiots” to spoof new movies and mock celebrity foibles over two decades. Even with these great opportunities, there is only one cover for each issue which would encapsulate a featured story or focus.
Tragically, MAD Magazine announced it will no longer publish it’s once monthly and more recently bimonthly issue. The brand with the iconic Alfred E. Newman will continue but the red-headed, tooth-deprived spokesperson can hardly get away with his trademark expression, “What me worry?” MAD hung on long after it’s prime while many others faded away, making those rare covers even more illusive. But for those magazines that have adapted to today’s market, they carry the torch for an important part of American culture.
When I got a call from the art director at Variety to do an upcoming issue cover, I was both surprised and thrilled. This vanishing breed of work had resurfaced, and for a publication with which I had never worked. Many publications have moved to almost exclusively photographic covers which in many ways is probably driven by market demand. Illustrated, narrative covers take time to create and fast-paced schedules don’t always allow for all the pieces of written content and visual interpretation to coincide.
On a quick Google search, I found most of Variety’s covers feature a photo with a modern, edgy feel so my assignment was going to be a departure from the norm. In the back of my mind, I suspected a photo of John Stankey was in the cue, just in case there was a last minute change of heart by the editor. But low and behold, the illustration made it to the news stands, intact. A little humor nods to a corporate merger by showing painters rebranding the Warner Bros. water tower while a traditional portrait of Stankey taking his place as a stately presence.
This may have been a unique situation that only an illustration could address but whatever the reason, it felt good to be making art for a magazine cover again. The pendulum swings and all things return in some form or another. Perhaps this single assignment is a foretelling of what’s to come. I’m ready if that’s the case.
Deadlines often dictate the creative limits even when we push them but not every project is paced at lightning speed, especially when you just want to get it right. Penguin Magic took their time with a new playing card deck called Emperor, featuring a sophisticated penguin as their central character.
Creative Director Kevin Reylek teamed up with Mark Stutzman on a new deck that began two years ago after a brief meeting at a 52 Plus Joker card convention in Orlando, Florida.
“We had some quick chemistry,” explains Mark. “Talking about card design is effortless with someone like Kevin.”
Reylek mentioned his idea for a new deck that would showcase the company mascot for Penguin Magic, a place where he had begun to build a line of smartly designed decks. Stutzman saw an opportunity to infuse his illustration style into a signature deck with this quirky bird. After Reylek’s quick pitch, Stutzman was all in.
Things kicked off quickly as the two set out to fashion a back design, joker, ace, and tuck case that would create a complete package for card collectors and magicians. Stutzman worked up various penguin poses that personified the character in black & white attire. He also used snow flakes and decorative elements to lend a classic feel commonly associated with traditional decks.
Back and forth the creative process went before a final design was chosen and the wheels for a final product were set in motion. But that would slow to a glacial pace as other pressing projects took precedence for Reylek’s team. Two years forward and Stutzman gets word the deck would be launched on KickStarter with a full menu of extras to satisfy the most savvy collector.
“Kevin really outdid himself with the KickStarter campaign,” said Stutzman. “He took the basic deck design and turned it into a fully themed product line that included the cards, special packaging, coins, and even a lapel pin. I was quite impressed and pleased to see how he took it to the next level.”
In just the first four hours, the campaign reached 25% of it’s funding goal of $20,000. This promising launch has both Stutzman and Reylek excited about the reception. Several bonus options were made available right out of the gate which certainly helped with interest.
“The printing costs are high-ish due to adding in the limited gilded deck as a base goal rather than a stretch goal,” shared Reylek. “Comparing this one to one of our more successful campaigns last year, Emperor is outpacing the other one in the same amount of time, so I'll take that as a good sign.”
The campaign is now live on KickStarter with a video introduction Reylek and some of Stutzman’s working sketches of the preliminary back design.