After George Lois ripped the magazine industry this fall for "boring, adoring, butt-kissing magazine covers," Ad Age decided to try and find exceptions. This list was compiled with the help of a panel including Mr. Lois, former Esquire cover maven and "Eminence Grise" at Radar; Myrna Davis, executive director, The Art Directors Club; Richard Klein, publisher, Surface; Florian Bachleda, design director, Vibe; and Jesper Goransson, deputy art director, Ad Age. All final decisions-and therefore all your complaints-belong to Ad Age. All kudos go to the panel.
1 New York
If one celebrity story dominated this year, it was Tom Cruise, his engagement to Katie Holmes and his opposition to psychiatry and its medicines. New York takes the top spot for wrapping it all into one under a theme anyone in America would get this year: fame as madness.
2 The New Yorker
One cover that won nods from the panel was this New Yorker illustration that plays up rising water in the Oval Office, most recently at that point from the Hurricane Katrina disaster but also from the CIA leak case, failure to win changes to the Social Security system and violence in Iraq.
This cover, a compellingly grating reflection of the year's other big celebrity story, was labeled a "must" by Mr. Klein. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were, at the time, trying to keep a low profile as a couple-but the shoot had been set in motion before such considerations seemed important.
4 Texas Monthly
Aside from French accusations of doping, there remains hardly an ill word in the world for Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. But Texas Monthly worked a little texture, even skepticism, into its cover portrait by using the "Livestrong" bracelet as a halo.
Mr. Lois may be right that experimentation has largely departed from mainstream magazines, but for this issue on creativity, BusinessWeek bent its logo to fit on a box that readers could cut out and assemble. No doubt hardly anyone actually cut it out and built anything, but still.
Amid an ocean of single-person close-up covers, Paper stood out with this very pretty freakshow, created for its "radical fashion" issue. The overused "shock and awe" should probably be banned for a while, but Paper pulled it off here, we think.
If magazines must use shots of people's faces on every cover, let us stop and admire the occasional beautiful portrait. Let us doubly celebrate a portrait of people who don't already appear on covers every week. With this shot, Fader made the most of snagging The White Stripes' only U.S. magazine interview.
Jon Stewart appeared on almost every cover in America-before telling magazine executives during Advertising Week that the medium sits at the children's table. But this one, teasing a piece about the future of media, won the admiration of our panel. (Stuffing Jon's mouth with a remote may have played a role.)
It wasn't easy to comprehend, much less package, government officials' failure to adequately respond to Hurricane Katrina. But "System Failure" just about sums it up. And one suspects that even without the cover text, readers could have divined from the photo exactly what Time was talking about.
10 Vanity Fair
Yes, it's one of those Vanity Fair gatefolds, yes, it's that bloody show again, and yes, the "models" apparently tried to throw their (minimal) weight around during the photo shoot itself. Nevertheless it shows the VF folks haven't lost their ability to make a bit of an, er, splash.