Design: Controversial Magazine Covers – through the years

The following major magazine covers were deemed extremely controversial for their time. Some now just seem silly, Ellen Degeneres’ coming out on the cover of Time, some extremely WTF – Time Magazines’ Man of the Year for 1938 – Adolph Hitler, and some downright screwed up – Time’s (wait I see a pattern developing here) photo-shopping of O.J. Simpson’s mug shot to make him darker and thus more menacing. So try to see these through older eyes because how else could the up-roar over the first black woman on Playboy make sense any other way.

In no particular order:

1. Hitler is Time’s Man of the Year – 1938 From the Time article “Greatest single news event of 1938 took place on September 29, when four statesmen met at the Führerhaus, in Munich, to redraw the map of Europe. The three visiting statesmen at that historic conference were Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, Premier Edouard Daladier of France, and Dictator Benito Mussolini of Italy. But by all odds the dominating figure at Munich was the German host, Adolf Hitler.” Ed. Note: JESUS H. CHRIST!


2. Time Magazines OJ Simpson – In 1994 OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The case has been described as one of the most publicized criminal trials in American history. The controversial TIME cover was heavily criticized for making OJ look darker and more menacing than the original mug shot, which can be seen unaltered and used by Newsweek magazine.


3. Time – Ellen Comes Out. When TIME received the exclusive on Ellen Degeneres’ coming out as a lesbian it was controversial at the time (1997). Upon the news many TV outlets had decided to pull her show from the air. At the time she was the only openly gay star on television. Ellen Gay? Really?


4. Playboy 1971 – The beautiful Darine Stern was the first African-American woman to ever appear on the cover of Playboy magazine. The photograph was taken by Richard Fegley and at the time of publication the choice to feature an African-American on the cover of a major American magazine was extremely rare. Men across America collectively sigh – “It’s about fuckin time”.


5. Vanity Fair – A Pregnant Demi Moore. Shot by famous celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, this 1991 Vanity Fair cover featured Demi Moore, who was the first celebrity to appear naked and pregnant on the cover of a magazine. The now famous pose would later be copied by other celebrities such as Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, (and the last time anyone gave a shit about Demi Moore).


6. Rolling Stone 1981 – John & Yoko. Even more iconic than the Demi Moore photo is Annie Leibovtiz’s Rolling Stone cover featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980. Apparently Leibovitz originally wanted to shoot (photograph) Lennon alone but he insisted his wife be included. The famous photograph was taken just hours before Lennon was shot and killed outside of his apartment building, The Dakota, on December 8, 1980.


7. OK Weekly – 2009 Michael Jackson’s Death photo. OK! Weekly was heavily criticized for publishing what it claimed was the last ever photograph of the late pop superstar Michael Jackson. The controversial image was purchased for approximately $500,000 and appeared on the magazine’s “Official Tribute Issue”. A fine tribute indeed.


8. National Lampoon – 1973. While not as controversial as many of the other entries, the cover did create a stir with its violent overtones of animal cruelty. Especially since the cover was run decades before desktop publishing and photo manipulation were the norm, such an image was unsettling to many. However the look on the dog’s face is hilarious.


9. Newsweek 2011 – What if Princess Dianna was 50?  This  magazine cover from last year featured a computer-generated image of Princess Diana with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Diana, who died in a car accident in 1997, would have been 50 in 2011. In April of 2011, Catherine Middleton married Prince William, the oldest son of Diana and Prince Charles. This really doesn’t seem all that controversial – just dumb.


10. Esquire 1968 – The Passion of Mohammad Ali. This was meant to represent how Ali was martyred for his convictions, – that being to become a conscientious objector and not go to Viet Nam. This was a stand that not too many people agreed with back in ’66. Ali was stripped of his title and jailed. The cover is a reference to the famous painting “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastion”.


11. Newsweek 2012 – The 1st Gay President. This Newsweek cover of President Obama featuring a glowing, rainbow halo and the words “The first gay president” came in the wake of Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage. The cover’s headline was perceived by some as an implication that the President himself was gay. It was more cheeky than controversial but it stands out nonetheless.


12. The New Yorker – The Twin Towers Sept. 24 2001. The cover created by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly for the September 24, 2001 issue of The New Yorker received wide acclaim and was voted in the top ten of magazine covers of the past 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors, which commented:

“New Yorker Covers Editor Francoise Mouly repositioned Art Spiegelman’s silhouettes, inspired by Ad Reinhardt’s black-on-black paintings, so that the North Tower’s antenna breaks the “W” of the magazine’s logo. Spiegelman wanted to see the emptiness, and find the awful/awe-filled image of all that disappeared on 9/11. The silhouetted Twin Towers were printed in a fifth, black ink, on a field of black made up of the standard four-color printing inks. An overprinted clear varnish helps create the ghost images that linger, insisting on their presence through the blackness.”

At first glance, the cover appears to be totally black, but upon close examination it reveals the silhouettes of the World Trade Center towers in a slightly darker shade of black. In some situations, the ghost images only become visible when the magazine is tilted toward a light source.


Thanks to


Posted on April 12, 2013, in Graphic Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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