• Steven Heller

How Two Magazines Changed My Life

This is not a Cosmo-style true confession. It is, nonetheless, a recollection about how two important left wing politics, art and culture magazines from the late 1960s altered my perceptions, changed my convictions and provided models for my personal and professional life.

If nothing else, those of you who do not know much about Evergreen Review and Ramparts will learn a little bit more. (For more detailed information about Evergreen read Steve Brower here. For more on Ramparts read about art director Dugald Stermer here and my historical account here.)

I began subscribing to the magazines when I was 16, sometime during 1966. The mags were contraband in my prep school, but my liberal parents didn’t mind that I got them (even though my dad worked for the U.S. Air Force and was continually enduring security checks) — hey, I was reading something.

I wanted to draw cartoons and Evergreen was a big market for some wonderful cartoonists. I also wanted to be an illustrator and both Ramparts and Evergreen ran wonderful work. The following images from my collection recalls for me what I learned and how each issue impacted my work and life.

This was by no means my first issue of Evergreen, but it was one of the most memorable. Tomi Ungerer was ubiquitous on billboards and adverts around NYC. I so wished I could draw with his intensity.

I followed Rick Meyerowitz and copied his caricature styles without success. He later became the first illustrator I ever commissioned work from.

I was raised on the sweet milk of New York liberalism. Nixon and Wallace were evil, Humphrey, once a hero had become LBJ’s lapdog. Ed Sorel’s acerbic caricature shed comic light on the first election in which I could vote.

Evergreen opened my eyes to everything from Jane Fonda’s seductive charms to . . . .

. . . Tiny Tim’s pre-Weird Al Yankovic comedic pose, to . . .

. . . Lenny Bruce’s satiric brilliance and tragic victimization.

On three occasions I brought my cartoons to art directors Dick Hess and Ken Deardorf. Neither purchased any, but Deardorf was so kind.

Evergreen is where I first encountered the satiric art by Georg Grosz and the lyrical power of Russian revolutionary posters . . .

I further learned to distinguish between illustration meant to change minds and sooth souls. This deco-era image was so satisfying to behold.

I wanted to do graphic work – and art direction – that would make some kind of impact. Evergreen was doing it in clever and subtle ways.

With so many great cartoonists published in Evergreen, such as Frank Springer (above), I came to the momentous conclusion that my ability to make art was out of their league. I began looking at art direction as an alternative.

I began focusing on certain magazine art director’s work. By far, the best was Dugald Stermer (whose hand holding the burning draft card is second from right).

I haven’t said much about politics. In the Vietnam era, everything was about politics. Ramparts taught me to see how important conveying clear yet often ironic messages could help break through our dogmatic defenses. Carl Fischer was at the top of his game with this attack on war and the victims thereof.

Art and politics were so intertwined in the late 60s. When it was announced John Lennon was going to be in the anti-war film “How I Won The War” there was much anticipation over how convincing this outspoken Beatle would be in his comic role. This issue previewed the film. What a heartbreaking film still the above is on many levels.

War dominated all our lives. I made drawings for some anti-war groups, more as a tonic for me than any hope of making a dent of difference. Photographs told the story of the cost of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

I was not into psychedelics (although years later I became a follower of the classic posters). But there was something about this cover portrait of the poster artist Stanley Mouse, that sums up the new art and culture of that era. This simple photo by Bob Seidemann became an icon of hippie times and an indelible emblem.

Ramparts made us young naifs aware of the real heroes. Dugald Stermer took great pride in having convinced Norman Rockwell to immortalize Bertrand Russell, one of the founders of the British peace movement.

Ramparts began as a “liberal Catholic” magazine. It retained some of it roots in picture essays that forced readers like me to stop and think beyond the stereotypes mainstream media was feeding us.

Dugald Stermer’s portrait of Bobby Kennedy, whose mid-life conversion from Conservative to Liberal democrat was being questioned by left and right, showed me that stylized graphic characterizations could have strong resonance when in the right illustrator’s hands.

Is there a hero that could be more heroic than Muhammad Ali. Despite the propaganda designed to scare white people, his courage was also well documented and Ramparts was there to provide an alternative to the mainstream stereotypes.

As it happened, in 1969 I was hired to be the freelance, part time Evergreen art director. I was recommended by Ken Deardorf, who had followed what I was up to since I was 16 (and I thought he didn’t care for my cartoons). What a thrill to go through flat files containing the original prints and mechanicals that I’m showing above.

Late in the ’70s I began a correspondence with Dugald Stermer that blossomed into a full blown friendship until his death in 2011. He was one of the great ones.

These two magazines had such strong impact on my life that I’ve saved a handful of what I acquired at time, taking them from apartment to apartment as I moved from here to there. I was about to give them away last week and now I’m so glad I stopped myself from cutting away this heritage.

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