Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cover story

From July ’61 to September ’74 Model Railroader published a large number of issues where the cover was simply a page-spanning, borderless photograph with only the magazine logo, tag line and price as textual elements. They contained no text blurbs to tell buyers what was inside. Covers of this type appear not to have existed prior to ’61, and seemed to have disappeared by the end of ’74. I’m not saying there weren’t striking covers outside that period, or that there weren’t covers in that period that integrated text and picture in dramatic ways, only that the textless covers of that era are the most daring that have been published. 

Daring because they put all the heavy-lifting of attracting buyers to the magazine on the picture, so the photo has to perform a serious commercial function all by itself without any support. Was that a successful strategy? I have no idea, but I applaud them for their audacity. I think those covers are confident and held out the promise that a model railroading magazine could be something more than a how-to journal. They almost issue a visual challenge to drop whatever preconceptions you have about the hobby and take a look. 

From July ’61 to December ’61, all covers were textless except for one, and although the July issue got the trend started, the most dramatic was saved for December.
On this one the model work is from Paul Detlefsen’s layout and the photography is by John Allen; a powerful combination of artists who delivered the goods with style. Inside the reader is treated to several more striking photos in The ride of your life, and an insightful accompanying essay by Lin Westcott. Not all the textless covers were this dramatic, but they were all strong images.

Maybe Railroad Model Craftsman and other magazines have run these sorts of covers, I don’t know. I was able to see this trend in Model Railroader because they have digitized their entire run - from which these images were sourced - so it becomes easier to recognize patterns and trends when so much information is readily available. If you have access to their archive, I’d recommend having a look at the ’61 to ’74 covers.

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