Esquire magazine has long nurtured exceptional designers and illustrators. David Levine (1926–2009), America’s foremost caricaturist, got his start doing spots at the head of front-of-the-book columns in Esquire. His linear style was developed to meet the reproduction demands of that small space. After Levine, the American modernist Rudolph de Harak took over. His work was totally and wonderfully distinct. Instead of drawings, he made small collages that illustrated the headlines while serving as a counterpoint, too. De Harak‘s spots were the quintessence of the modern aesthetic. With the black-and-white silhouetted photographic details, black space-defining bars, glyphs, and signets, these images told stories—they were at once panel-less comics and paint-less abstractions.
De Harak once told me, “Around 1950, I was particularly influenced by Alvin Lustig and Saul Bass.” These designers’ traits are visible in these spots. He noted that they “were poles apart.” Bass was a very content-conscious designer, who would get a strong idea and put together a beautiful design. Lustig was a strong formalist, much less concerned with content, but deeply interested in developing forms and relating the type to them. “I too went off in that direction and [became] dedicated to the concept of form. I was always looking for the hidden order, trying to somehow either develop new forms or manipulate existing form. Therefore, I think my work was more obscure, and certainly very abstract. Sometimes it was hard for me to understand why [my solutions] fell short. But one thing I did, was to sharpen my design sensibilities to the point that my work generally fell into a purist category.”
Here are some examples from one of Esquire‘s golden eras in the late 1950s and early ’60s.