I Was Interview’s Layout Man

Filed Under: Inspiration , Article , Voice , typography

This article is not about me, but since I played a minor role in the early history of Interview magazine, I have a story to tell. Back in 1971, my name appeared on three issues of Interview’s masthead under the title “layout.” That year I redesigned Interview, and, if I do say so myself, it was cleaner and smarter than the dozen previous issues, which were grungy and messy. However, my contribution was a rather uneventful blip in Interview’s ultimate legacy—but more about that later.

When founded in 1969 at the legendary Warhol Factory on Union Square in Manhattan (just a few blocks away from Max’s Kansas City), Interview was Pop Artist and fame-monger Andy Warhol’s very own DIY magazine before the term “Do It Yourself” was officially coined. Actually, he didn’t really do it himself—he had others, like me, do it for him (and from such a distance that I never even met him). But his blithe spirit pervaded the entire enterprise.

The initial issues of Interview (with a logo that read: inter/VIEW) premiered a few years before Punk made DIY into a generational style, but they adhered to the slap-dash tradition of the late Sixties underground press—the granddaddy of all DIY. Given its art world pedigree, Interview may have also been influenced by George Maciunas’ Fluxus newspapers—although I never heard any Interview editor mention Fluxus by name. Yet all the same it seems a reasonable assumption. But I did see the editors frequently pouring over the cheap-chic newsprint fashion magazine, RAGS (published by Rolling Stone’s Straight Arrow Publishing Co.), which was somewhere between underground and middle-ground, so it may have had some overall influence. The editors also periodically glanced at John Wilcox’s Other Scenes, a sloppy underground tabloid edited by one of the founders of the Villiage Voice, who also wrote a politico-culture column for the East Village Other. Whatever its roots, Interview’s early issues, most produced as newsprint, quarter-folded tabloids (a larger tabloid page folded in half to create a magazine look), was consistent with the alternative media culture of times, but not unique in any exceptional way at the time.

Warhol rarely got his hands dirty with newsprint ink. He ruled Interview from a safe distance, many blocks from where I did my work, and was listed alphabetically as second on the masthead under co-editor and Chelsea Girls star Paul Morrissey.

Not only had I never meet Warhol, I was never even told that he (or Morrissey) saw or passed-on my redesign before it went to press. Instead Warhol was being channeled through “managing editor and art director” Robert Colaciello, an affable, stylish guy who became an editor, trend-spotter—friend of Jackie-O—and currently author of a book about Ronald and Nancy Reagan. As associate editor, Glenn O’Brien, long a witty and insightful cultural commentator who writes for various au courant magazines today, also had lots of input into the editorial mix. The three of us sat at my drawing board together as I sketched pages and pasted pictures of film stars and Warhol friends into place. And during these sessions I was vicariously excited by the little tidbits of gossip that Colaciello and O’Brien revealed about the chicest of the chic, from Mick Jagger to Marisa Berenson.

At that time I was also art director of a rock music tabloid and I thought I was hired to be the art director of Interview since all the type and graphic choices for the redesign were mine. Instead, Colaciello who selected all the photographs, in addition to writing many and editing all of the articles, assumed the a.d. title for himself. It was not an unpleasant relationship; Colaciello chose those images he knew would please Andy, but he never proscribed type or prohibited me from using my favorite two typefaces in the magazine. Which, in retrospect, was a big mistake.

At least Andy should have vetted my typographic choices for reasons that will become obvious. Before becoming America’s leading artist he was, after all, an accomplished graphic designer/illustrator (with a distinctive hand-lettering style) and should have been the first to realize that my pairing of art deco Broadway type for the nameplate Inter/view and the curvaceous Busorama typeface as the subtitle “Andy Warhol’s Film Magazine” was one of the dumbest combinations ever. In addition to being slavishly retro and therefore inappropriate for a progressive journal, the two faces lacked any harmony whatsoever. Add to that the heavy oxford rules I placed at the top and bottom of each page, and, if I were in charge I would have fired the designer. But no one uttered a displeased peep, and the magazine kept my logo for six issues, even after I voluntarily left for another job. Finally, with Vol 2 No. 10 the editors (or maybe Warhol himself) switched to a handwritten version that read Andy Warhol’s Interview. And it has more or less been stuck with it on the cover ever since.

This article already includes too much about my blip in the limelight, however, from my wormhole perspective I can offer some insight as to the evolution of a magazine that has become so endemic to late twentieth century celebrity, glitz, and fashion, as well as a significant outlet for photography and graphic design, that an ambitious, limited-edition, seven volume, thirty-five year anniversary collection, “Andy Warhol’s Interview: The Crystal Ball of Pop Culture” edited by Sandra J. Brant and Ingrid Sischy, is being published this year by Karl Lagerfeld’s 7L, Steidl Publishers. And this mammoth boxed set only covers only the first decade from 1969 to 1979. Oh I almost forgot, the entire collection is packaged in a “crate on wheels” and comes with a facsimile edition of the premiere issue (which originally cost 50 cents). Needless to say this new is quite a bit more expensive.

Interview evolved into “the definitive guide to the most significant stars of today and tomorrow,” say its editors and it was the first magazine to employ a unique question-and-answer format to delve candidly into the minds of celebrities, artists, politicians, filmmakers, musicians, and literary figures. In many of the issues, celebrities Interview other celebrities—a Warholian conceit that gave Interview its voyeuristic appeal. Yet it is the visual persona, beginning with the haphazard original design, the pseudo-Deco redesign that I perpetrated, and, ultimately, the introduction of mannered photo-illustration celebrity portrait covers by Richard Bernstein (1939—2002) that defined Interview’s graphic personality during the seventies, disco decade. Indeed the latter marked a truly unique approach to editorial cover design.

Bernstein’s covers had roots in sixties fashion illustration, but through his use of photographs heavily retouched with paint, pencil, and pastel he monumentalized subjects like nothing else in print. “Bernstein made the up-and-coming celebrities of the era, Sylvester Stallone, Calvin Klein, Madonna, even wholesome Mary Tyler Moore, look as sleek and sexy as our nostalgized memories of that era,” writes Frank DiGiacomo in a weblog article. He exaggerated their already glamorous visages through colorful graphic enhancements that made each personality into a veritable mask that hid blemishes while accentuating their auras. He made "Superstars” into “Megastars" (which was also the title of his book of collected Interview covers), because appearing on Interview’s cover meant more than just fifteen or even thirty minutes of fame.

The most memorable issue that I worked on was devoted to Luciano Visconti’s film version of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” (Vol II No. 4), and was filled with luscious film stills of Dirk Bogard, Silvana Mangano, and Bjorn Anderesen. as well as two nude shower scenes of Marisa Berenson. It was actually a stunning issue yet was among the last to use handout photos. Interview gradually shifted from relying on publicity stock to creating its own photo-sessions with the eminences of celebrity and fashion photography: Robert Mapplethorpe, Barry McKinley, Francesco Scavullo, Herb Ritts, Ara Gallant, Peter Beard, Bruce Weber, Berry Berenson Perkins. The editors note that these and other photographers were given the freedom to, “create their most unforgettable and original work.” Despite the continued use of yellowing newsprint, these photographs jumped of the pages and some are still iconic today.

Typographically, however, the first decade of Interview was functional and staid. Compared to Rolling Stone, which reveled in typographic exuberance, Interview’s interior format was fairly neutral, allowing the photographs to take center stage. It wasn’t until the nineties when Fabien Baron (and later Tibor Kalman) became creative director(s) that the magazine’s graphic attributes were totally integrated into a dynamic whole. During the seventies, Interview was still uncertain whether it should hold to its avant garde, alternative-culture root or lead the march from underground to fashionable mainstream. The evolution that is vividly chronicled in the celebratory new volumes reveals that Interview took the short march into the valley of ephemeral style. Yet the issues of the seventies are also documents, which through iconic pictures and candid Interviews examine a popular culture that continues to capture the imagination.

About the Author: Steven Heller, co-chair of the Designer as Author MFA and co-founder of the MFA in Design Criticism at School of Visual Arts, is the author of Merz to Emigre and Beyond: Avant Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century (Phaidon Press), Iron Fists: Branding the Totalitarian State (Phaidon Press) and most recently Design Disasters: Great Designers, Fabulous Failure, and Lessons Learned (Allworth Press). He is also the co-author of New Vintage Type (Thames & Hudson), Becoming a Digital Designer (John Wiley & Co.), Teaching Motion Design (Allworth Press) and more. www.hellerbooks.com