1 & 2. The Stranger tends to favor this layout for special issues: a field of one color with text set off to one side, or in a corner. It's an organization of design elements that signals, a bit self-consciously, The Stranger's own off-centeredness, and that we're trying to catch you off-guard. (It's a bit of a switch from the design trope we favored as recently as last year--cf. the 9/11 anniversary cover--of the in-your-face symmetrical centered text, but even so, when used too frequently, it's wearying.) It's unclear why The Stranger favors the slightly to-the-right format, unless this has something to do with editor Dan Savage's continual endorsement of the war in Iraq.
3. No doubt the intention was to give this old homeless guy a bit of dignity, time for his close-up, a moment in the sun. It is, after all, infrequent that we look a homeless person in the eye, or see them for more than the split second it takes to look away, and it is one of art's functions to make us see what we do not or will not see. But the pairing of this sad old bearded man with the headline for Sean Nelson's sort-of investigation into a youth-and-music-oriented church had a regrettable caustic effect, managing to malign the old man, the religion, the newspaper, and Sean Nelson all at once. 4. I love this cover. My only regret is that Kelly O, The Stranger's managing art director, is running out of relatives for The Stranger to print pictures of. 5 & 6. Here are two covers that ran within six weeks of each other and that are virtually indistinguishable. This kind of overlap happened no less than three times in 2003--counting the gay issue/genius issue boondoggle (see above) and the two very obviously red, white, and black covers that occurred within two weeks of each other last summer (not pictured). There are gazillions of artists out there, and this repeated frenetic cartoonishness narrows the paper's aesthetic, if it can be said to have one. 7 & 8. I regret that more famous, interesting people didn't die this year. We could have had more of these excellent dotty covers by Jim Blanchard. (For the record, Courtney Love is not dead.) 9. What the hell are we looking at? Oh, right. Here is a visual trend that is not terrible in itself, but is annoying in quantity: photographic details of things--cars, doorways, fragmented junk--framed in such a way that the elements become abstract and unreadable, except in purely formal terms, the very last bastion of the aesthetically retrograde. This kind of generic image has become all but a gimmick, but art director Joe Newton publishes this stuff with such frequency that it's hard to tell one week's angular inside of a taxi from another's angular rusty spikes. You can find this mediocre schlock in galleries and stock-photography websites everywhere. Bearable, but do we need it once a month? 10. I regret that a large portion of the world found this unfunny (if you can't laugh at the big things--family, religion, values, poultry--they will only get you in the end). I regret that this cover ran in 2002 and is, strictly speaking, out of the running for this 2003 critical survey. I regret that I didn't think of it first. I regret that we can't run this cover every week of the fucking year.