2016 brings with it what is, without a doubt one of the most colorful, surreal, and in my humble opinion, frightening presidential races in recent decades. While infotainment shows have long since taken up the mantle, what we’re still seriously lacking is a monthly magazine that offers us a satirical view of our increasingly scary and challenging world.
From 1986-1998 Spy Magazine did exactly that. The illegitimate offspring of Mad Magazine and The Harvard Lampoon, Spy was the brainchild of editor and journalist E. Graydon Carter and the writer and radio show host (Studio 360) Kurt Anderson.
They hired AIGA Medalist Stephen Doyle of Drenttel Doyle Partners to design the format, and brought on board another AIGA Medalist (and former president of AIGA New York) Alexander Isely, who had worked with Doyle at Maira and Tibor Kalman’s M&Co as art director. Collectively they set out to skewer the American media, entertainment industry, and the entire upper echelon of society.
The man who often topped all these lists was none other than real estate tycoon and current leading GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. An equal opportunity offender, Spy also took on figures from both sides of the isle; Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush served equally as grist for the mill. But Trump, who they referred to as “the short-fingered vulgarian,” seemed to hold a special place, appearing regularly throughout the years.
In addition to the premiere issue, Doyle designed Spy’s visual identity system. Drenttel Doyle Partners’ art director and designer (and fellow M&Co alum) Thomas Kluepfel designed the magazine’s mailing labels, which appeared to be laid over established publications’ existing labels, such as those for Vanity Fair and New York Magazine.
Isley filled the pages with humorous faux infographics and conceptually driven spreads that complimented the subject matter and also earned him gold and silver medals from the Society of Publication Designers. Among the most popular features, “Separated at Birth” displayed a humorous side-by-side comparison between celebrities, fictional characters, or animals. For example: Mick Jagger and Don Knotts, Tammy Faye Baker and an Ewok, and Joan Rivers and a baboon. The format worked so well it’s still used today, both online and in print.
In 1988, Isley left to start his own studio and B.W. Honeycutt took over as art director, maintaining the same high visual standard. The AIGA Design Archives holds several examples of their award winning work.
The original founders sold Spy 1991. It later folded, made a comeback, and then finally ceased publication in 1998. Where are they now when we need them most? We could all use more irreverent laughs at the candidates and media coverage alike—as opposed to dumbfounded response to the ever lower depths of media groveling.