An art director’s view

The 20 best from an SN&R designer’s perspective

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Don Button is SN&R art director-at-large

The cover of a weekly newspaper is one of the best gigs any graphic designer can score. It’s a chance to create 52 different full-color designs every year that will be seen by more than 400,000 people. There’s a lot of creative freedom, and a chance to catch the eyes of a whole city. Sometimes the cover is exceptional and sometimes it falls short, but it’s always something new. And if it doesn’t turn out so good, we always know it’ll be replaced next Thursday.

I’ve designed or directed more than 1,000 News & Review covers since starting in Chico in the late ’80s, so picking my 20 favorites was not an easy task. After consulting with art director David Jayne and former art directors Andrea Diaz-Vaughn, Jason Malmberg and Andrew Nilsen, I think this is as good a list as any (in chronological order). I hope some of these were as memorable for you as they were for me.

Hate city

October 28, 1993

One of my favorite early covers—a report on a series of hate crimes against Jewish and Japanese churches. The gigantic headline is filled with an angry, snarling face—my own—captured not with a camera, but with a photocopy machine (with my eyes wide open, looking into the passing light).

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Gen-X strikes back

March 24, 1994

A fun photo by Noel Neuburger, twisted color treatment and customized typography made for an interesting cover. The black bars across the eyes were almost an afterthought and completed the idea well enough to earn a Certificate of Design Excellence from Print magazine.

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Dr. Hemp

April 13, 1995

One of my all-time favorite covers. I was a vocal medical-marijuana and legalization advocate before it was hip, so I was looking forward to this cover. I took a black-and-white photo of a leaf, colorized it, placed it over the cross, and added a shadow and a blazing gold headline. I wrote the headline, even though I knew hemp and medical pot weren’t really the same thing, and the editor went with it. This cover has it all—bold colors, simple headline, dominant image and a provocative subject. Similar medical-marijuana icons have become commonplace now, but this was the first widely published version of it, and it earned us another Certificate of Design Excellence from Print magazine.

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Best of Sacramento 1997

September 18, 1997

The Best of Sacramento cover is always a special project and demands a unique and surprising treatment. There have been so many great Best of Sac covers. This was easily our most ambitious one. It was also our most expensive—about four times our normal budget at the time. Professional model, makeup, set design, lighting and one of the best commercial photographers in Northern California—Kent Lacin. The golden girl was a shining success—everybody loved it.

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Skate or die!

August 27, 1998

I’ve been an avid skateboarder for more than 30 years and have spent a lot of personal time over the last six years as an organizer for the skate community in the effort to get public skate parks built in Sacramento, so the subject is always close to my heart. I’ve designed three skateboard covers over the years, but this first one has remained my favorite. A great example of de-emphasizing the words and letting the photo by Larry Dalton do all the work.

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10th anniversary issue

April 22, 1999

This cover was also printed as a commemorative poster and hangs on the wall in many SN&R offices, so it’s always stayed fresh in our memories. But it’s also stood the test of time and still looks great. The actual collage was created by hand with color photocopies, scissors and glue, and was about 2 feet by 3 feet in size. It was photographed, the black-and-white “10” was digitally touched up and the shadow was added in Photoshop. It’s hard to top a cover like this.

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Fountains of youth?

March 30, 2000

Jason was at SN&R for less than a year, but he created a great portfolio of dynamic covers in that short time before he went on to redesign Mom Guess What Newsmagazine and become the founding art director of Sactown magazine, winning numerous design awards along the way. This is one of his favorites, as well as one of mine.

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Now what?

September 27, 2001

Andrea had the unenviable task of tackling our first post-911 cover. This simple solution carried the perfect balance of thoughtfulness and patriotism.

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Confessions ofan eBay opium addict

March 31, 2005

There have been dozens of brilliant original illustrations on our cover over the years—we could fill an entire issue with them alone. But this one, with art direction by David and painted by one of our favorite local artists, Sandra Hoover (11 covers at last count), ranks among the all-time best. Its over-the-top, frenetic madness was a perfect match for this whacked-out first-person story.

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My dinner with the white supremacists

April 21, 2005

My very provocative and controversial take on contributor Harmon Leon’s story about infiltrating the organized Aryan front living among us in suburbia. The story was shocking and disturbing, and I felt strongly that the cover needed to be as well. I actually baked this swastika-carved berry pie in my oven at home, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it after the shoot.

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Our man in space

September 8, 2005

Memorable for the fact that editor Melinda Welsh let me run the photo of local astronaut Steve Robinson upside down (“There is no up or down in space,” I argued), and that it was the first time we broke into the teaser strip on the right side covering up actual content for visual effect.

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Sacramento on empty

January 26, 2006

A rare headlineless cover with a Photoshopped gas-station sign proclaiming $12.33 for a gallon of regular gas, for a series of stories predicting a future Sacramento after peak oil.

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The war issue: 3 years later

March 16, 2006

A very special and award-winning issue dedicated to the third anniversary of President George W. Bush’s inept and failed Iraq war. Melinda and I felt very strongly that the paper needed to do something powerful and different. We worked together to conceive this project as something more than just another special-topic issue. The subversive and hilarious cover art was created by local screenprint artists Bruce Gossett and Ira Cowart of Black Cat Press. Along with great caricatures of Bush, Saddam and Osama, the cover art featured the extra touches of a hand-lettered SN&R logo and “-dom” added to our “free” label.

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Summer camp

May 25, 2006

After the Best of Sacramento issue, our Summer Guide is the next biggest project each year, and we try to go all out on high concept and visual theme. There have been many great Summer Guide covers, but I think this is my favorite. Kitschy colors and patterns, retro fonts, garden gnomes and a giant pink flamingo—how can you not love it?

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The new nukes

August 3, 2006

A colorful and textured abstract treatment of the nuclear symbol. We just don’t use pink on the cover often enough!

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Greedy vultures

December 14, 2006

A visceral and bloody representation of the corporate executives that are destroying the daily newspapers, particularly The Sacramento Bee.

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Flick off!

May 10, 2007

Not an important story—just a preview of the upcoming summer movie season. But when an editor suggested the headline “Flick off,” I realized immediately what it would look like in all capital letters and gave Jayne an excited go-ahead. His lively collage work was the perfect complement to the subversive type treatment.

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2 hours to L.A.

February 1, 2007

Andrew’s first cover design was a beautiful type treatment on a very important topic that many of SN&R’s staff feel strongly about—the need for a public bullet-train system in California.

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Furry like me

May 1, 2008

Andrew hired young up-and-comer Kyle Monk to shoot this superweird and fascinating story of people who get off on dressing in animal costumes.

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February 12, 2009

David is a seriously devoted cyclist and a big Lance Armstrong fan, so the chance to create a cover for Armstrong’s Amgen Tour of California visit to Sacramento earlier this year was a big deal. He created a bold and compelling collaged portrait that included a portion of each team jersey ever worn by the champion.