The Art Direction of Musician Magazine: John Korpics

The Art Direction of Musician Magazine: John Korpics For much of the 1980s and 90s, Musician magazine served as a home for creative art direction and imagery. It was a place where art directors learned their trade while producing cool covers and feature spreads. Art directors during this period included Gary Koepke, David Carson, Patrick Mitchell, John Korpics, and Miriam Campiz.

This is the second part of our month-long celebration of the art direction of Musician, featuring the work of John Korpics. Korpics was the design director for 11 months, in 1992. Before that he had been the art director at Regardie's magazine in Washington, DC. After Musician, Korpics went on to be the design director of Premiere, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, and InStyle. He is currently the design director at Fortune.

(Above): John Korpics: "My favorite Musician cover. I always hated the logo though. It was the ugliest logo I've ever had to design with. It was like putting a big turd on my covers."

John Korpics: My time at Musician was by far the worst 11 months of my entire life. I had just left my job at Regardie's magazine in Washington, DC because it was teetering on the edge of closing down, and I needed a job fast. Patrick Mitchell had left Musician and as far as I could tell it was the only job open, so I took it. I moved to New York, took a pay cut, and set up shop in a corner cubicle in the Viacom building. I was completely alone on the creative side. I was the designer, photo editor, and phone answerer. I took two days every month to return all the art with tear sheets. I made every assignment, bought every font, installed every application, changed paper and ink, designed every page, and paid every bill.

To my immediate left sat a guy who farted all day, chewed on his ponytail, and practiced drumming on a drum pad. To my right was a guy who talked incessantly and practiced guitar licks all day. When I was in the office late at night, I used to move the cubicle dividing walls one or two inches into their spaces. I ultimately gained about an extra two feet of cubicle space this way.

I had never worked on a Mac before, so I had to learn Quark on the job. I hired my own IT guy to come in and fix my Mac IICX (the slowest Mac ever built), and I did every issue on a budget of $7,500. Honestly, I knew so little about Quark that I never really cared that much about the design. I was just desperate to learn the new technology as fast as I could.

What I did learn a lot about while at Musician was photography. I was exposed for the first time to photographers like Jim Marshall, Neal Preston, Anton Corbijn, Alfred Wertheimer, Danny Clinch, and many more. I also figured out that most photographers would shoot pretty cheaply if the subjects had resell value, which musicians do. At the very least, the record label would usually buy out the take if they liked it, so I was assigning a lot of pictures for flat fees of $150 or $200 and then reducing our embargo time to next to nothing so they could resell the stuff pretty quickly. This made it possible to bring in people like Sylvia Plachy, Frank Ockenfels, Robert Lewis, Karen Kuehn, Stephanie Raussser, Deborah Samuel, and Nigel Parry, which meant that even if the design was horrible, our pictures made us look like a real magazine. I spent hours on the phone talking with many of them, researching the historical stuff, and poring over archives. Jim Marshall in particular used to like to scream at me on the phone about past covers that I had nothing to do with, and then he'd send me random prints to hold on to in case I ever needed them.

It was 11 months of my life that I would never want to repeat, but it taught me a lot about running an art department, and it gave me enormous appreciation for the rich history of music photography.

4979255741_45e968542a_b.jpgThe Cube! This was before digital retouching so I had to send this image out and get a retoucher to airbrush the image of the zipper onto Cube's mouth. I think it took about a week.

I was at Musician for 11 months and I did three Pink Floyd covers. And this was 1992! I think I threw the Dark Side of the Moon logo on the top just because I liked it. It had nothing to do with the cover.

Punk! Or at least my weak interpretation of punk. With so much amazing design being done around the punk scene for bands like the Clash and X and Sonic Youth and the Sex Pistols, in retrospect this is a pretty lame interpretation of the genre. At the time, I probably thought this was the greatest thing I'd ever done!

A direct Rolling Stone ripoff I used a Dennis Ortiz-Lopez-designed font. He had done all these custom fonts for Rolling Stone, which I always coveted. It was hard not to be influenced by Rolling Stone at the time, especially when I was doing a music magazine. I just thought of myself as the dumb student who sat in the back of the class and every two weeks my new issue of Rolling Stone would show up and I'd see what I could learn. Nice rose clip art in the background....yikes!

This design was a horrible ripoff of things that Fred Woodward was doing at Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone. I even used Keith Carter to shoot it, who was a regular at Texas Monthly in Fred's days. What can I say? I was young and alone at my Mac and I was looking for inspiration. Evidently I also thought that woodtype ornaments could truly MAKE a layout. I'm not ashamed to admit I did a lot of Fred copying in the early days. He was and still is an absolute artist. I also listened to a lot of Bob Wills during this issue, who I still love to this day.

The infamous Def Leppard cover where I flopped the image. The one-armed drummer standing in the back has the wrong arm. The true test of how many people were reading the magazine was that we didn't get any letters about it. Not even the band complained.

defleppard044.jpg[Editor's Note]: On further review: John Korpics says it was actually the inside feature spread of Def Leppard that he flopped, not the cover. Here's that spread, with photographs by Michael Llewellyn, from the April 1992 issue.

Don't ask me why we did a story on Mozart. Jonathan Hoefler did the typography. In those days Jonathan would do individual type treatments as assignments. He was pretty amazing. David Johnson did the illustration.

This is a typographic trick I learned from Rip Georges when he was at Regardie's. It's not really flush left, rag right type. Each alternate line is justified to a specific width. I saw Rip do this for every page of every feature in two consecutive issues of Regardie's--this was before computers--so every single line had to be spec'd and then sent out of house. Needless to say, Rip took his typography very seriously. Photograph by Jennifer Bishop.

Pat Mitchell left me about 6,000 fonts loaded on the computer in the art department, and believe me, I used them all. I think this is a Blue Note-ish inspired layout. Does that say "Three for the Sroad?"

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  • Kory Kennedy

    Now that's a flopped one-armed drummer. Incredible that nobody ever mentioned it. So about the inspiration for the type treatment... ;)

  • Robert Newman

    We've updated John's Musician pages to include the REAL flopped Def Leppard photo, which ran on the opening feature spread of the April 1992 issue. Thanks to Def Leppard fan Kory Kennedy for catching that one!

  • Grant Glas

    Awesome insight. Thank you for the article.

    I'm not ashamed to admit I did a lot of Korpics copying in my early days. A couple times a month I check out the new Fortune or his old EW work for inspiration.

  • Kory Kennedy

    I'm not sure why this has taken up residence in my brain (a wasted youth transfixed by "Pour Some Sugar on Me" in heavy rotation on MTV might have contributed a little something to it...) but I believe the Def Leppard drummer lost his left arm. So John, if you did end up flopping the Def Leppard image, you should have been given a bigger cubicle because you saved the day. Our guy is rocking the correct arm on your cover.

  • korpics

    actually, Kory, you're right. I think I flopped the image inside the issue now that I remember. I'll check the expansive archives in the korpics museum, under the basement stairs, and see if I can find the inside layout. To be continued...

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