As the year end approaches reviews of the year become common. On this blog we have decided to look at Playboy's covers for 2013, as they displayed a marked change in style over the last twelve months. The question of how much text to put on the cover of a magazine is a constant battleground between editors and art directors. In the early days of Playboy covers less text was the norm but latterly any image has been buried under obtrusive type. The first of these monstrosities appeared in December 2001 with poor Gena Lee Nolin, then starring in the Sheena TV Series, overwhelmed by the type.
This style predominated for the next decade with, usually, the depiction of a woman on the cover peering through a forest of writing. The fact that the text was, more often than not, in garish, multi-coloured type completely distracted from any image. Even Marilyn Monroe can't compete with this assault.
Soon the figure of the woman on the front (and more and more the covers were just photographs of women simply standing up) was now even starting to obscure the name of the publication too. Added to this we have a plethora of different font sizes scattered randomly across the cover: with up to four sizes in one headline. Horrible!
Probably the most ghastly of a fevered bunch was this example with the green, red and white text making the cover look like so many banners hanging from an Italian football team stadium's terraces.
However at the beginning of 2012 we got a cover that showed unusual restraint, ironically given that it featured (an unrecognisable) Lindsay Lohan. Perhaps that is why the name Lindsay is in such large type in what, otherwise is a remarkably less frenzied effort on the text front.
A simple, striking cover for the Presidential election special is a recreation of the famous World War One recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg who, coincidentally, contributed an illustration to Playboy's second ever issue in January 1954. Miss November 2010, Shera Bechard, is the Uncle Sam impersonator, photographed by Gavin Bond.
December's cover was equally clean and was the first monochrome one for many years and all the more effective for the lack of garish type everywhere. Marilyn is far better served here than by the 2005 cover second from the top.
So, into 2013 as we wondered if Playboy would keep up the less fussy covers. The initial issue of the year featured actress Paz de la Huerta, shot by Mario Sorrenti, which you couldn't miss really given the size of the type used for her name. Maybe because that's no-one had ever heard of her. Certainly Triple P had no idea who she was. although she is completely gorgeous. At least the text is restrained in colour and diminished in size from the top but it detracts from the lovely Paz. 6/10.
March's issue went back to seventies style boudoir lingerie and none the worse for that. A nicely restrained palette of, primarily, black, white and tan in the photograph by Michael Bernard highlights the nicely shot pictorial inside. It's not subtle but it is elegantly sexy. 8/10
Tony Kelly's cover for April is the strongest graphic production for some time although it really cries out for one of those cut out covers seen occasionally in the past. The inclusion of a record turntable also gives it a nice retro feel. 7/10
Playboy actually had a (nearly) naked girl on the cover for May with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's daughter, Tamara, showing nearly all on the cover in a shot by Tony Kelly. The diamond rabbit head is handled quite well and, again, the limited palette helps. It does, perhaps, look a bit too much like a perfume advert. It loses a mark for Tamara's horrible plastic breasts, though. 6/10
In the past, Playmates of the Year have quite often been presented on the cover in some sort of evening dress so to have Raquel Pomplun (and what an evocative Playmate name that is) presented in curlers and falling out of her plain knickers is rather refreshing. She becomes, in this picture by Michael Bernard, what Hefner always wanted for his Playmates, the girl next door in excelsis. The phone adds another retro element. 8/10
Playboy can only manage ten issues a year these days but this striking aquatic Busby Berkely effort was suitably bright to cover the summer months. In the September issue Playboy claimed that the photo was not Photoshopped but was photographed by Tony Kelly using 25 synchronised swimmers from Las Vegas. They included some behind the scenes shots to prove it but we think there was quite a lot of Photoshop involved as they have removed the swimming lane marks on the bottom of the pool, which were visible in the location shots and also what has happened to the legs of the girl in the lifebelt? A clever idea executed quite well but not perfectly. There is something not quite right about the perspective we think. It does set the record for the most number of women on a Playboy cover, though. A very retrained use of text, too. 7/10
Another nearly naked body (this one belongs to Miss November 2011 Ciara Price) on the cover and another clever idea shot, again, by Tony Kelly. The lack of pubic hair on today's models demonstrates how much groin you can now safely display. However, it is the third big rabbit head design of the year so that reduces it to a 6/10
Another one of Playboy's college girl issues gives us this leaping baton twirler played by Miss December 2010 Ashley Hobbs. The bright colours and uniform have something of a Gil Elvgren pin-up painting about it so we give it 7/10.
November's cover dispenses with any content headers at all letting the design do all the talking. This is a real sixties-style effort and deserves its 9/10 score.
December's issue brings back the, mercifully small, headline text. Those people who seek the (not usually very) hidden rabbit head design on the cover (and anyway Playboy always give it away now anyway) will be helped by the fact that this is a glow in the dark cover. Hold it under a light and then switch it off and the rabbit head will be revealed as a glowing outline. 6/10
So there has been a real improvement in the covers of Playboy this year achieved. largely by the reduction in size of the cover text. Tony Kelly has shot rather too many covers and perhaps they need to vary the photographers a bit more but this year's crop is a huge improvement over the last decade's efforts.