In the first few months of 2020, magazine covers didn’t stray too far from the tried-and-tested formula of New Year’s resolutions, self-improvement and holiday planning. The news weeklies were preoccupied with Trump and Johnson and post-Brexit forecasting. But, as the coronavirus began to spread across the globe, the magazine agenda started to change and the first covers appeared with a focus on China.
Six weeks before the Italian lockdown on 9 March, Internazionale, the Italian weekly aggregation title and a bellwether for global affairs, was early to run the Covid-19 story: everything we needed to know about the coronavirus epidemic.
The image was of a person fully kitted out in PPE, wearing safety glasses that were steamed up and dotted with flecks of liquid. It was a warning from the front line and a concept that would become commonplace over the next few months.
On 7 February, Internazionale’s focus was still outside of Italy. It ran with a story about the Chinese economy grinding to a halt, using a bold typographic cover supported by photos of Chinese currency.
On 17th February, while Donald Trump played down the impact of the virus in the US, Time magazine focused on China and ran with an illustration of Xi Jinping wearing a face mask by Time regular Edel Rodriguez
Back to Italy and two weeks before lockdown, Internazionale’s cover reflected what was going on in the country with a clever illustration by Andrea Bozzo of Italia turrita (the national personification of Italy) coughing into her elbow, accompanied by the coverline ‘The Italian Patient’. The virus was now a global problem.
Time didn’t run another Covid-19 cover until the end of March, when the US went into lockdown: an illustration of a virus multiplying, and coverlines with a strong focus on the realities of lockdown. The pandemic has been on every cover since.
In the UK on Valentine’s Day, The Guardian Weekly used an enormous medical graphic of the virus with the coverline ‘Big bug’, which, in retrospect, played down the impact of the pandemic. The giant virus and the face mask became the global graphic symbols for Covid-19.
The New Yorker waited until 9 March to run its first Covid-19 cover, with Brian Stauffer’s powerful illustration of a shouting Donald Trump wearing a face mask covering his eyes. It was the perfect image to represent the magazine’s take on the American response to the virus. Stauffer’s image was immediately iconic, and quickly became a favourite theme in online image libraries.
By mid March, as most countries had moved to lockdown, magazine covers started to reflect the new reality of day-to-day life: The Guardian Weekly’s stark social distancing cover and The New Yorker’s beautiful illustration, by Eric Drooker, of an empty Grand Central Station being swept by a lonely cleaner.
Photos of formerly busy public spaces now empty became a theme. It was a shock to see famous streets and locations in cities deserted. Sport Illustrated’s haunting cover image of an empty stadium summed up the ‘new normal’.
Time magazine and The New York Times Magazine, although slow to run the story, have recently used dramatic reportage photography that shows the devastating impact the virus has had on people’s lives. Philip Montgomery’s photo inside one of New York’s hospitals was used on the 19 April NYT Magazine cover, and Christopher Morris’s photo of a health worker in full PPE made it on the split-cover 20 April issue of Time magazine.
The UK’s Grazia magazine struck a different tone. Skipping its usual celebrity focus, it commissioned Amit Lennon to take powerful ‘hero’ photos of front-line NHS health workers for four split covers. Glamorous locations were swapped for temporary studios in NHS car parks so the photos could be taken quickly and the professionals not kept from their work.
While it has become tricky to commission photography while obeying social distancing rules during the lockdown, illustration has become an important way to visualise covers. As people began to adapt to living through lockdown, many magazines moved to represent how people’s lives have changed.
Observer Magazine commissioned Paul Blow’s beautiful ‘Love in the time of corona’ illustration for 12 April. The artwork has become so popular that it’s now sold by the illustrator. Life has changed so dramatically that even Monocle, the global affairs and culture magazine, normally packed with exotic travel destinations and exciting lifestyle stories, has had to change tack and run a cover about embracing home living.
At Think, our editorial teams quickly reacted to how the pandemic was impacting our clients. In many cases we rebuilt magazines to reflect the rapidly changing situation. Before the lockdown, the Chartered Management Institute’s magazine used clever typography on the ‘Uh oh’ cover to illustrate how the best managers are alert to change. Be Healthy magazine reflected the lives of its readers with a cover on finding wellbeing indoors.
BEER, the Campaign for Real Ale’s member magazine, denied its usual focus around the pub and pub culture by commissioning Jason Ford to produce an uplifting illustration that featured friendship through a mutual interest in enjoying a beer together, albeit virtually.
And the latest issue of Therapy Today features a stunning Brett Ryder illustration that uses metaphor to depict the challenges counsellors are facing during the pandemic.
Over the coming months we are sure to see additional examples of creative teams dealing with coronavirus in creative, attention-grabbing and sympathetic ways. It’s important in all of this to remember the people who are experiencing the live-changing ramifications of this heart-rending pandemic.