In the 1930s, the days of Life magazine's tenure as a humor magazine were numbered. The magazine, which suffered a decline in subscriptions ever since the end of the First World War, was eventually sold to Henry Luce, the owner of Time Inc., in 1936, who subsequently rebranded it as a photojournalism magazine. The photojournalism itself, which depicted such momentous and iconic events as John F. Kennedy's assassination, the Moon Landing, the British Invasion, the Great Depression, The Vietnam War, and World War II, was very well done, and could easily have made John Ames Mitchell (the original editor in chief, who sadly died of a stroke in 1918,) quite proud. But we still can't help but long for the days when creativity and an eye for the humor in everyday situations were the magazine's chief virtues.
As we draw the curtain on the glory days of Life Magazine, we will explore the top five covers from the 1930s.
5.) September 5, 1930: I heartily wish the signature were easier to make out, because I would have loved to give this artist due credit for his ingeniously humorous depiction of an everyday subject. This singer probably has a terrible voice, otherwise the microphone would not be backing away in alarm as she approaches to sing to it. (Or maybe she's trying to sing death metal into a microphone that is not built for those sorts of vocals...) But anyway, this is definitely an image we all can get a chuckle out of, since we all know that one person who is so bad at singing that we try to grin and bear it if we can--and sometimes we can't even do that!
Another thing that is worthy of comment is the deliberate use of light and shadow to round out and frame the composition. Without the shadows, there would be a lot of white space, which isn't necessarily bad, but in this case, filling out those white spaces helps to draw the viewer's eye toward the awkward singer and her apprehensive anthropomorphic microphone.
4.) August 22, 1930: Besides the fact that seeing people getting together and having a good time in the summer tugs at my quarantined heartstrings a little, I find that this cover makes excellent use of color and detail. Each individual bather was given a unique treatment as far as line, expression, and color, which is dazzling, to say the least, and certainly among the most detailed magazine cover illustrations I've ever laid eyes on.
And the composition is also very well done. The dazzlingly colorful umbrellas form a line going down the page, leading your eye from the magazine title down through the labyrinthine illustration.
3.) "Travel Number" April, 1932: With its simplicity, its pastel blue background, and its deliberately childlike execution, this magazine cover seems to suggest the childlike nature of pleasure travel. Vacations are a chance to escape from adult responsibilities for a predetermined amount of time, and for many of us, it's our chance to be a kid again, even if only for a little while.
Note: I had to crop this image, in light of some racist figures at the bottom which I only noticed as I was writing this entry. Unfortunately, these were the norm at the time, but as we are here to appreciate the aesthetic of earlier time periods, hate has no place in the conversation. If you'd like to see the whole image, warts and all, here is the link.
2.) December, 1935: One of the most intriguing aspect of any illustration is expression, and here we see lots of it. The facial expressions and body language of the figures appear to be telling an elaborate story. The story itself is anyone's guess, but that's what draws us in. We wish we knew, or could eavesdrop, because we are already enthralled by what we imagine each figure is saying.
The blue background is also an important element of this design, as it emphasizes the figures without clashing, and it harmonizes with the many uses of red, pink, and purple throughout.
Before I unveil my number one pick, here are some honorable mentions:
August 8, 1930, by Herb Breneman
"I know on which side my bread is buttered!" January 10, 1930, by Frances Edwina Dumm
1.) October 30, 1931, by Henry C. Heier: Who knew simple shapes could convey so much? In this image, we see shapes so simple they could have been cut from construction paper, and yet we see so much going on here. The postures of each figure, and the look on each character's face, alone convey so much that they make this image appear worthy of a caption. Would you like to try your hand at making one in the comments section? It would be interesting to see what you come up with.
And that's it for this list. Which of these covers did you like the best? Were there others you wish I had included? Please let me know in the comments, and we can get a good conversation going.
Till next time!