The Trib’s Mighty Book Week
The New York Herald Tribune was the first broadsheet to morph from a 19th century news makeup into a late 20th century art directed newspaper. Peter Palazzo was hired in 1963 as design director for the foundering paper as it was planning to launch a collection of unique soft-news and views sections that would transform daily and Sunday newspapers and eventually become the launch pad for New York Magazine. Its other flagship, Book Week, one of the most celebrated newspaper book reviews.
Stan Mack was the art director for Book Week from mid-1963 to April 1966 when the Scripps-Howard owned New York World-Telegram and Sun merged with Hearst’s New York Journal American and the New York Herald Tribune to become the short-lived New York World Journal Tribune.
This was a world of giant Linotype machines, metal type and engravings locked together in wooden frames, and printed on huge rolls of cheap newsprint by union labor who were rightly worried about modernization, which ultimately reduced New York’s twelve newspapers to three.
After the merger, Mack became art director of The New York Times Magazine, where he continued the practice of conceptual photography and illustration that imbued Book Week with its elegant and intelligent visual persona. He also briefly art directed the Times Book Review before devoting himself solely to illustrations, cartoons and comics (“Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies,” for one discussed here). We recently discussed the legacy of Book Week, here is part of that conversation.
Peter (a big guy who looked to me like he should have been a cop in his home borough of Staten Island but was the most elegant of designers) had roughed out the basic format for the Trib, which was shockingly graceful for that world. But he was by himself in a place that didn’t have a clue what he was talking about—not to mention the paper wasn’t going to stand still while he designed it; it was on press every day. That’s when I walked into his cubicle with my little portfolio.
You used a lot of 3D “illustrations” what was your motivation for this?
To me, illustration created a stylistic distance between the reader and the story. But a photograph of a real foot standing in real sand had immediacy and impact. I felt that, for newspaper readers (and for me), the photographic image meant “real,” even if the photograph was being used as an illustration. I am also reminded of a point Pete once made. “After you come up with the object, spray it white. It becomes not just a foot, but a larger symbol.” I sprayed when I could.
As far as I can tell, there was no precedent for the design of Book Week. What inspired you?
I credit Peter’s classy design philosophy, the editor, Richard Kluger’s, adventurous intellectual spirit, my own interest in idea-driven illustration, and my awakened obsessiveness with type and layout, a trait that seems common among designers. (The big question, can designers leave their obsessiveness in the office, or will they make everyone in their outside life as crazy as they make their co-workers?)
The New York Times Book Review was published at the same time, like Book Week it was b+w (though it was printed rotograveur), did you look at the Times (which you later moved over to) for any cues?
I never looked at the Times for design. The Trib was the star. The Times was looking at us. As I remember, the Times Book Review was all gray, illustrated at boringly regular intervals with reproductions of great and semi-great paintings from museums and galleries.
How many worked on Book Week? You and who else?
I was alone, which was hell when I was sick or badly needed a break. Pete and a couple of assistants were busy with the greater demands of the main Sunday sections and of course the star attraction, New York Magazine (then an insert in the Trib). I had part-time use of a production guy who was the go-between with the printers and who saw me as a total nuisance. Not only did I drive him to distraction with my nit-picking on spacing (“it’s supposed to be a 6pt rule, separated by exactly 4 pts from the Caslon below it!”), but with the very idea of heavy black rules, which in his view (and that of many other news guys of the day) belonged only on the obit page.
You became a comic strip artist for the better part of your career, how did design and art direction fit into that calculus?
Unlike some of today’s talented comic strip artists who make brilliant use of design, space, and type, what I came away with from my time as an art director at The Trib and Times was a love of journalism, especially of the ‘60s and ‘70s thing called ‘The New Journalism,’ which was more personal, unconventional, participatory, story telling…like my “Real Life Funnies.”
What is the most memorable “event” at the Trib on Book Week?
My first day. I only had b&w samples (Climax magazine, where I’d been the art director, was mainly b&w) so the employment agency said there was only one place ‘way over on the west side,’ where that wouldn’t be a drawback. A talented art director was looking for help on ‘some newspaper.’ Upstairs on west 41st street, I walked past a line of fuming men (editors on deadline, I found out later) waiting outside a cubicle. Inside was an editor bending over the desk where Peter Palazzo was roughing out layouts—trying to quickly apply his graphic format to a zillion different parts of the paper. He took a minute to look at my portfolio, handed me a pad and pencil, and said, “You’re doing layouts for the book review.” I didn’t know anything, but no one did—nothing like this had been done on a newspaper before. What a time to be in newspapers–1963, a year of trauma and destiny for the United States.
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