Between 2003 and 2010, Stephen Kling (at left) created hundreds of covers for The Nation, the left-of-center weekly helmed by Katrina vanden Heuvel. On Wednesday or Thursday of any given week, he would be given a cover story, usually a sprawling ideas piece slugged “Headline TK.” His mission? To translate the story, whether a prescription for dealing with mendacious chief executives or an exposé on resurgent nationalism in Iraq, into a provacative-but-not-too-provocative visual—by Friday. He succeeded by thinking (and working) fast and drawing upon his arsenal of textures, flags, hands, drips, and smears. When stock photo libraries came up short, he grabbed his digital camera and got shooting.
Klinger recently created a website that displays highlights of his Nation covers and the stories behind them. A special section is devoted to cover designs that didn’t make the cut (Sarah Palin as a sled dog, a drop of blood on a Wall Streeter’s wingtip), but when we asked him to name his favorite Nation creation, he pointed not to a cover but to the Christmas card he created for the magazine in 2006. “It just happened one day, entirely unplanned, as I was goofing around with some hokey old photos—George W. Bush was in a dirndl, in Dick Cheney‘s arms,” Klinger told us. “I showed it to the circulation director of The Nation, who immediately decided to scrap the usual Christmas subscription premium and use it instead.” These days, between designing publications for pharmaceutical companies and pitching other magazines, Klinger is writing and filming a documentary about art direction. He’s also taking steps to avoid digital overload. “I’m rediscovering old-fashioned analog photography in my new darkroom.”