A NOTE FROM EDITOR WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY: To further celebrate our 10 years of annoying Portland, the Mercury is pleased to sing the praises of one of our most unsung employees: the art director. Make no mistake: The art director sets the visual tone for the Mercury, and if our words are the broken shards of glass rubbing into your skin, it's the art director providing the salt. I've been blessed to have worked with five of the finest art directors around, and here they return to reflect on what makes a great Mercury cover—while choosing the best and worst examples from their tenure. Oh! And check out all their great work this month at a gallery show at Powell's, featuring every goddamn Mercury cover ever made.
SEAN TEJARATCHI, 2000-2001
In the Mercury's early days, we shared covers with our sister paper in Seattle. The Stranger's art director, Joe Newton, would choose the art for both papers, and we'd plug in our material. I chose about half of the covers during my time at the Mercury. I liked bright colors, but more important was a design that had some kind of simplicity. I preferred first-time artists and strange stuff from established artists. The Mercury and The Stranger are still the only papers I've seen that routinely feature unrelated art on the cover. I loved that, and I'm glad it continues.
BEST COVER: I choose "Ducks with Buttholes" by Stanley Zappa (Aug 17, 2000). Everything works here: It's childlike, almost abstract, open, light, and colorful. Plus, the ducks have tiny pink buttholes! Note: This was 2000, long before Willamette Week began hiding a butthole on each of their covers.
WORST COVER: I choose "Hideous Tire Collage" by... a committee of colorblind stoners, apparently (July 27, 2000). Why is it sideways? Who's the annoying guy? Why the hand-drawn curved arrow? And sweet pepperjack Jesus, WHY the green, black, and red rasta bars? Ten years later, and this cover still fills me with rage.
Sean Tejaratchi is currently tolerating Los Angeles, taking care of opossums and working on his zine, Crap Hound.
JEN DAVISON WICK, 2001-2005
During my tenure, we struggled to delight the public with covers featuring whimsical creatures, birds painted on wood, and aloof portraiture. (Is it any coincidence that these people were never smiling? No! We are too cool to smile!) My best covers were unplanned, unexpected surprises. A faded family photo. A portrait of a long-haired young man with his favorite puppet. A scan from an old advertisement of a ham and egg sandwich. A Thai paperback cover. The Lou Ferrigno "Hulk" promotional photo. A sexy woman in waders holding a dead fish. Anything, for better or worse, can be a cover of the Mercury.
THE BEST: "Will G with Hamster" (July 8, 2004). That a photo of yourself—at 15 with your hamster (which you named Hamster)—could land in front of the art director, and then, within 48 hours, that same earnest, sweet, proud photo could be a gift to the city of Portland? That's what makes the Mercury cover a thing of beauty. The best things in life don't have to try so hard.
THE WORST: "Phil Busse's Phony Election Party with Mannequin Children" (May 6, 2004). One of the worst things a Mercury cover can be is straight-up boring. But what's worse than that? Well, remember when then-News Editor Phil Busse ran for mayor? I had to make a cover shot look like an election party on the roof of our building with only three staff people left in the office. Not enough people? Add in fake children and balloons. Pathetic.
Jen Davison Wick was art director during the great "bird zeitgeist of 2001-2005" and currently creates graphic greatness through her design studio in Portland, Oregon (jendavisonwick.com).
DEMITRI FREGOSI, 2005-2008
When I became art director at the Mercury, it was like a dream come true. The style and the personality of the paper fell in line perfectly with mine, so much so that it was pretty easy to figure out how I wanted things to look. The covers always needed bright colors. They had to have a sense of humor. I didn't want anything that felt old or played out, and as often as possible, I tried to get local artists on there. For some reason, I chose not to really worry much about what the image had to do with the stories in the issue unless absolutely necessary, and people generally left me alone. It was like working in a vacuum—but one totally custom made for my pop-art punk rock style.
BEST COVER: "Courtney Taylor-Taylor Buys the Mercury" (Dec 15, 2005). I love this cover. I'm not really sure if it's my best work—but it is my favorite. Like a lot of things at a weekly paper, I only had two days to get it done, but I like to think it doesn't show. A few years after it was out, I heard from a pretty reliable source that Courtney Taylor-Taylor himself (GUSH!) had it framed in his living room. I know he has no idea who I am, but I still like to think that, on some level, I won that round.
WORST COVER: "The Baby Issue" (June 8, 2006). I didn't have a baby. At that time, almost no one that worked at the Mercury had one either, and I would bet few of our target demographic were new parents. For some reason, though, we did a "baby issue." And while I have no proof, I am pretty sure we only did it so this particular baby could be on the cover. I won't name names or anything. (COUGH!EditorWm.StevenHumphreyCOUGH!) He knows who he is. You'll notice there has never been a second baby issue.
Demitri Fregosi currently works as a freelance designer/art director/sign maker. His work can be seen at popularmonster.com.
MARK SEARCY, 2008-2009
I arrived at the Mercury after running a successful art gallery and immediately took to the idea of curating week-long art shows using every street corner in Portland as my new venue. I enjoyed teaming up with local galleries and selecting art for the covers that was going to appear on a First Thursday or Friday during that month. Eventually the concept of how the cover interacted with the landscape of Portland evolved into a playful experiment. For example, during Snowpocalypse 2008, I put a Yule log on the cover for our last issue of the year, and during the two weeks that it was out on the streets it offered the effect of hundreds of warm and cozy fires roaring in all the newsstands across the snowed-in city. Then the show melted—a nice coincidence.
BEST COVER: "The Explosion Issue" (July 3, 2008). When this issue hit the streets it really did look like there were bombs in the newsstands! Does that make me a terrorist?
WORST COVER: "Megan's Quilt" (Aug 21, 2008). I was excited to feature one of Megan Sullivan's (meganmsullivan.com) photorealistic quilts on the cover of the Mercury, but when it was printed, all the elements that made the image recognizable as a quilt had seeped into the newsprint and disappeared. I was horrified to send a copy to her. It looked like a giant blurry photo of a brick wall instead of a time-intensive and intricately detailed quilt. Once again, sorry, Megan.
Mark Searcy is currently writing, designing, and independently publishing books as one of Portland's own Little Read Writers (littlereadwriters.com).
From selling art on the sidewalk of NE Alberta during Last Thursday's early years to doing good work for good clients at Wieden + Kennedy, I've always wanted the Mercury's art director's chair just so I could curate the covers. I try to use the covers to inspire our local artists to make better art—but mostly I'm just trying to stoke everyone's creative fire.
Best Cover: "Sex Issue 2009 (AKA the Skin, Wood, and Fur Cover)" (March 12, 2009). Photography by Tim Gunther.
I thought the concept—the fresh skin, the nipples, the headline and logo cut out of plywood—would be soooo sexy. I was wrong. The sexiest part of this cover is in the dog's eyes. Oh yeah, he knows you're into that freaky stuff, the stuff only your computer knows about. Yeah, that stuff!
Worst Cover: "Spring Fashion Issue 2010 (AKA Driving Over a Cliff in a Truck Full of Guns, Ammo, and Fashion People)" (May 6, 2010). Photography by Kyle Johnson.
It started out as a simple idea: fashion shoot with guns. Get it, fashion "SHOOT"? Anyhoo, by the time we got to work we had a bloated crew of nine people, a two-hour drive into the woods, a truckload of guns and ammo, a narrow and muddy and snowy and slippery and steep "road," a hairdresser who yelled, "I'm from Manhattan" before jumping out of the truck along with half the crew for fear of the truck (loaded with guns and ammo) going over a cliff as it tried to pull another truck full of guns and ammo out of the mud, a tiny dome tent full of very expensive clothes, an unopened 12 pack of Olympia beer, and the two seconds of sunlight that made the cover look totally effortless. Worst cover ever! (Or maybe the best?)
Scrappers is currently the art director of the Portland Mercury. Check his shit out at scrapperstown.com.
See All Ten Years of Covers Here >>>