Ken was founded in March 1938 by publisher David A. Smart and editor Arnold Gingrich, the original creators of Esquire. Paul Rand did layouts for the Esquire/Coronet Co., though he was reluctant to claim cred for the Ken logo (or Coronet layouts). The magazine had a strong anti-Fascist political bias, and with Ernest Hemingway as its correspondent, covered the Spanish civil war and the Nazi and Fascist aid provided to Generalissimo Franco in his fight against the Republican and Communist forces.
Along the lines of The Picture Post in England, edited by Stefan Lorant, Ken was known for its generous use of visuals and the caricatures and photographic essays that took the enemies of democracy—especially German leaders—to task. Its powerful illustrated covers, mostly rendered in airbrush by Wesley Neff, were sometimes menacing, and other times heart-wrenching in a Socialist Realistic fashion. The publication was investigated in 1938 for being Communist-leaning, however Gingrich rejected any such political slant.
The illustrations gave Ken its personality and rapier wit. Here are a few, including a brilliant caricature by Sam Berman, an anti-Fascist tableau by Derso & Kelen, a sobering overview of contemporary geopolitics by David Low, and a scathing satire of Nazi prospects for world domination by Richard and Peggy Yardley.
In the first issue, the editors noted that Hemingway was initially contracted to be editor but had, in fact, had no part in the editing of the magazine, nor in the formation of its policies: “If he sees eye to eye with us on Ken, we would like to have him as an editor. If not, he will remain as a contributor until he is fired or quits.” Hemingway felt that Ken’s politics might be “liberal-phoney,” and did not wish to be too closely associated with it.
Another frequent presence in Ken was advertisements for the pacifist organization World Peaceways, founded in 1931 as World Peace Posters Inc., before changing its name in 1932 to reflect the expansion of its media campaign beyond posters and billboards to include modern magazine advertising techniques and radio programming. One of the goals of World Peaceways was the establishment of a cabinet-level appointment of a Secretary of Peace; this effort was unsuccessful.
Ken ceased publication in the fall of 1939.
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