New Yorkmagazine echoes the spectacular covers George Lois produced for Esquire decades ago.

Media criticism.
Oct. 14 2009 3:36 PM

New YorkEchoes George Lois

Famed Esquire cover designer continues to inspire modern magazines.

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Click here to view a slide show of New York magazine covers that echo Esquire covers by George Lois.

The stupendous Esquire covers George Lois created in the 1960s and 1970 have a way of returning, if not in museum exhibitions then on the covers of other magazines, including contemporary Esquire.

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But in all of magazineland there may be no bigger group of Lois enthusiasts than the team at New Yorkmagazine. In the last couple of years, New Yorkhas run a set of covers that—depending on your point of view—can be called homage, derivative, or robbery.

New York Editor in Chief Adam Moss acknowledges the magazine's debt to Lois in an e-mail. "Nobody's ever come close to doing what Lois did with a cover—and he scored pretty much month after month for years," he writes.

Shaving cream covers.

Moss regards New York's shaving cream cover (Feb. 16, 2009) an homage to Esquire's (March 1965) and concedes that in the creation of his magazine's man-applying-lipstick cover (Esquire, September 1966; New York, Sept. 21, 2009) that the master's work may have been "somewhere in our heads—though we absolutely didn't conceive it with that Lois cover in mind."

Of the sex (Esquire, February 1966; New York, April 30, 2007) and cancer covers (Esquire, June 1966; New York, May 28, 2007), Moss pleads innocent. "The only similarity is the photographers' perspective, and those two particular perspectives are used pretty often by lots of magazines (and they were both used often with old New York magazine covers)," he writes.

"The [Kennedy] tear we probably did get from Lois, but we could have gotten it lots of places—it's a tired old magazine cliché—just convenient visual shorthand," Moss writes [Esquire, June 1964; New York, Feb. 2, 2009].

"The comparison that amazed me was the 'Oh My God' since 'Oh my god—we hit a little girl' is maybe the greatest magazine cover ever—it would certainly get my vote [Esquire, October 1966; New York, July 16, 2007]," Moss writes. "Until I opened your e-mail I never realized that we had aped it. We just looked for the strongest quote in the Couric story, and that was it. But maybe the echo was why it looked right to us and why we used it. The unconscious is funny that way."

George Lois accepts New York's imitations as flattery. 

Lipstick covers.

"Usually, over the years, dozens of rip-offs were acknowledged by each magazine in the editorial page as an homage," Lois writes in e-mail. "At least the New York people are trying to do knock-out covers, which is a rarity these days. So I take no umbrage—in fact I applaud their efforts. (Although I bit my lip when I saw the Neil Patrick Harris lipstick cover.)"

Interviewed a couple of days before New York's Oct. 12, 2009, cover story about swine flu hit the streets, Moss worried that it would appear as though his magazine had lifted Lois's "Kids vs. Pigs" cover (September 1969).

"We didn't. But really, it's pretty hard to do anything original anymore," Moss writes.

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Mine is homage. Yours is derivative. His is plagiarism! What's your favorite Lois cover? The Lt. William Calley cover still weirds me out—in a good way! Send your nominations to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. I write the most original Twitter feed in the world. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.