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‘Blown Covers’ shows uncensored, rejected New Yorker covers

“Uncle Sam” by Art Spiegelman dates from the George W. Bush presidency. It wasn’t a cover.
(The New Yorker, The New Yorker)

Long known for being genteel and charmingly indifferent to headline news, the New Yorker in recent years has earned a reputation of skewering political and cultural figures with its cover art. Barry Blitt’s infamous 2008 Barack and Michelle Obama fist bump cover poking fun at the perception of the then-presidential candidate, for instance, spawned countless satiric imitations.

With “Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See” (Abrams), art director Françoise Mouly gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the selection process. In the corridor outside Mouly’s Condé Nast office hangs every cover she’s published since beginning her tenure at the magazine in 1993. It’s what she has affixed to her inner office walls that she values dearly — the uncensored sketches and rejected submissions that never graced the front of the tony magazine, her laboratory of ideas, as she refers to it.

Some 290 color illustrations and drawings are assembled here, crafted by her core group of 30 to 40 artists composed of well-known artists and illustrators such as Blitt, Ian Falconer, Bruce McCall, Daniel Clowes, Maira Kalman and Mouly’s husband, Art Spiegelman. A mix of published and never-before-seen proposed sketches highlight and lampoon contemporary political and social issues from Bill Clinton’s gaffes to Tiger Woods’ shenanigans.

Although Editor David Remnick makes the final decision, Mouly sees her role as that of a mentor, to encourage and guide the artists. “I tell them to take chances and risks,” she said.

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As examples she cited Blitt’s 2007 drawing of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the toilet and his sketch of the pope replicating Marilyn Monroe’s “Seven Year Itch” skirt-blowing pose.

“The image we put on the cover is a statement by the artist, an op/ed piece in a way,” Mouly said. “We want the image to provoke thought about the topics cartooned by them.”

One of her most difficult tasks came after Sept. 11, 2001. Together with Spiegelman they created Ad Reinhardt-reminiscent black-on-black silhouettes of the twin towers.

The Paris-born Mouly studied architecture at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, worked for Marvel Comics and created Raw magazine with Spiegelman before joining the New Yorker in 1993 when Tina Brown was seeking to invigorate the magazine with new artists.

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“Because we have a reputation for being a serious magazine, it’s our duty to use humor to tackle serious subjects,” she said. The heated 1993 “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was one such topic.

Blitt, who drew a parody of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous V-J Day photo cover featured two sailors locked in a kiss in Times Square, thinks it’s dangerous to start thinking about the big picture and a national dialogue.

“I just try to amuse myself and Françoise,” he said from his home in Connecticut. “People in public office are cartoon characters. They are easy to draw and their foibles are just icing on the cake.”

calendar@latimes.com

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