San Antonio Current

San Antonio Current The San Antonio Current is another alternative weekly newspaper featuring remarkable cover design and imagery created on a shoestring budget. Chuck Kerr is the talented graphic designer/illustrator/poster maker (and band drummer!) who has art directed the Current for the past four years. Kerr's cover designs, many of them featuring his own illustration and photo illustration talents, are graphic, playful, engaging, and very smart. The above Tex-Mex salute to Andy Warhol's Velvet Underground & Nico LP cover, which Kerr describes as "a fitting tribute to San Antonio's vastly underrated local music scene," is just one example of the intelligence and graphic power of the Current's cover design.

(Above): January 31, 2007. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr.

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(Left): October 8, 2008. Main photograph by Justin Parr. (Right): January 6, 2010. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr, stock images from Shutterstock.
The above left cover was a direct answer to the seeming flood of "Yes, I'm Gay" covers from People magazine and its counterparts. I wanted to elevate our LGBT community to "celebrity" status as well. The participanats are a cross-section of artists and activists who are out and proud. It wasn't until after the above right cover was published that I saw Tom Carlson's excellent Operation-themed cover for Riverfront Times. Art directing the Current was my first real graphic design job. I was working at the Current as a design intern while I was an undergrad. The editorial designer left the paper abruptly, I was brought in as a sub, and I ended up staying. I went to school on certain days or at night to finish my degree.

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(Left): March 12, 2008. Photo illustration and typography by Chuck Kerr. Nature photo by Greg Harman, stock fence and sign photos from Shutterstock. (Right): March 19, 2008. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr, duct tape and speaker cable photos from Shutterstock.
When I came up with the idea to turn the cover into a gig flyer, I decided it would be fun to simply post the flyer right over the previous week's cover. Hopefully eagle-eyed readers noticed the continuity and got a kick out of it. It was also fun coming up with cover text that went with the "gig flyer" theme, and to ditch the logo for a week. Our cover budgets were modest. We could afford to have a freelance photographer produce roughly one cover a month, and the rest were usually illustrations by me. Occasionally when there was extra cash or a nasty time-crunch, I'd hire a freelance illustrator.

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(Left): March 4, 2009. Homage to the Watchmen comic book, illustration by Alex Fine. (Right): May 13, 2009. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr.
Everyone is South Texas understands the "immigrant family crossing" sign. Taking that familiar icon and adding another layer--the large threatening hands--sells a complicated immigration story not on the details, but on an emotional level.

My philosophy about cover design is pretty simple: Sell the story in under five seconds. I like to think that every issue is somebody's first, and the covers were crafted to grab their eyeballs and convince them that the content inside was worth picking up and reading.

Since there's just a momentary window to grab someone's attention, I think that large, singular, poster-like images work best, especially if they convey an emotion, a mood, or humor, along with the general "who/what" of the story. The more complex the story, the more I try to create imagery that elicits an emotional response or plays off a well-known pop culture icon--anything to plant my idea in the reader's head as quickly and permanently as possible.

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(Left): December 26, 2007. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr. (Right): July 26, 2006. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr.
One of my first covers, and still one of my all-time favorites. The cut-out mask is life-size.

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(Left): November 5, 2008. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr. (Right): July 16, 2008. Illustration and design by Chuck Kerr. Robocop illustration by Beto Gonzales, stock images from Shutterstock.
Above left, a last-minute cover story, with no art and no budget. Again, this design is light on details but hopefully elicits an emotional reaction and curiosity that drives pick-up. The "Vote Robo" cover dealt with one writer's crusade to get Robocop immortalized in the Library of Congress. To add detail to the background I used pieces from past Current covers.

Chuck Kerr
left the San Antonio Current in January 2010. See more examples of Current cover design, as well as posters and illustrations by Kerr, here.

See a gallery of 20 San Antonio Current covers on the Robert Newman Design Facebook page.

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