January: Lady Gaga
You'd think Lady Gaga covers would be easy, given her natural grandiosity, but the potential she provides and, of course, the glut of competing Gaga covers probably make them harder than most. Although the newsstand edition of the January Elle showed a Gaga so normalized she could've been anyone, this black-and-white subscribers-only cover let the star's full-color persona come through.
May: Fat Nation
Marc Ambinder's feature used his own struggle with weight to talk about America, where he says four out of 10 people may be obese by 2015, increasing chronic disease and health-care costs. Alex Ostroy's image of an obese Statue of Liberty is a bit humorous, very direct and completely effective.
THE NEW YORKER
July 5: After Escher: Gulf Sky and Water
The M.C. Escher motif in this Bob Staake cover about the Gulf oil spill is visually clever. But it also pays off logically by illustrating the connection between the ocean and the span of the ecosystem that depends on its health.
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
July 9: Gone.
Here's a newspaper front page that actually outdid most magazine covers this year by invoking the classic George Lois-era Esquire aesthetic to bid LeBron James farewell -- and, a little angrily, point out his failure to bring Cleveland an NBA championship.
Aug. 2: Is James Franco for Real?
You must love this simple but surprisingly successful tactic for communicating that James Franco -- actor, conceptual artist and grad student -- is weird and kind of funny: run his photo sideways.
Aug. 9, What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan
The photo is harsh enough to make you wonder whether it exploits its subject or readers, or both. But the portrait -- of an 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced to have her nose and ears cut off after she fled her husband's abusive family -- reflects a reality that's harsh. "I would rather confront readers with the Taliban's treatment of women than ignore it," Managing Editor Rick Stengel wrote in a note to readers.
Aug. 9-Aug. 15: Back So Soon?
Great graphic design, which has become a regular staple of Bloomberg Businessweek covers, is on full display here as the magazine pitches a cover package on tax cuts from George W. Bush's era. When you're funny and visually arresting on a subject like tax policy, you're doing something right.
THE NEW YORKER
Oct. 11: Discovering America
A single sad image on the front of The New Yorker's annual Money Issue, depicting a couple stressing over bills while their daughter draws pretend money on the floor, was able to continue into a deeper vignette over two pages of a gatefold. The full comic by Chris Ware delivers a convincing portrait of this moment in the economy.
November: 100% Natural
Wired got plenty of criticism for using anonymous cleavage with the cover line "100% Natural" to tease a feature on breast-tissue engineering. Would it be so hard for Wired to put a woman on the cover for actual accomplishment in science, technology or business? But the art perfectly illustrated a look at using stem cells for breast repair and augmentation, hopefully a step on the way to improving and rebuilding damaged organs. The ensuing dialogue between Wired and its critics was a bonus.
December: Katy Perry
It's a striking cover in any case -- like Elle's Gaga cover from January, it's a subscribers' edition, which means that it doesn't have to cram in all the cover-line promises that a newsstand edition needs -- but it also evokes an iconic 1950 Vogue cover, a close-up of the model Jean Patchett. We're not sure Katy Perry's Swarovski-encrusted lips will become quite such a classic, but they're surely festive enough to light up a cover on holiday fashion.
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