The New Yorker Mona Lisa

Magazine covers of the year 2022

This year saw magazines create evocative and entertaining covers that addressed everything from the war in Ukraine to a new era for Kim Kardashian. We look back at ten of our favourites

It’s been a year of sad farewells in the world of magazines. The creative community paid homage to art director, graphic designer, and all-round advertising legend George Lois, who died last month. Of the vast array of work he put out over the course of his career, it was his series of late 60s covers for Esquire magazine – which included Andy Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Muhammad Ali depicted as the martyr Saint Sebastian – that came up time and time again in tributes.

In April, Time Out stopped publishing its London print edition after 54 years, becoming the latest in a long line of media companies to go online only. More recently, Elephant, an arts magazine known for its playful design and ability to look beyond the contemporary art bubble, and New York-based literary title Bookforum, have both ceased publication entirely.

While the business of making print magazines is more challenging than ever, 2022 demonstrated that the magazine cover is still a powerful tool to champion diverse stories, highlight the important issues of our times and, ultimately, entertain readers. Delve into CR’s top ten picks for 2022 here.

Time Ukraine issue

Time, The Resilience of Ukraine

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, it’s estimated that one thousand of the country’s 7.5 million children have been killed, while over two million have left their homeland in search of safety. Among these is five-year-old Valeriia, who in March fled with her mum to Poland. Since then, an image of the smiling young girl taken by photographer Artem Lurchenko has become a symbol of Ukrainian resilience against the ongoing Russian onslaught.

Valeriia also provided the inspiration for Time’s first cover addressing the war, created by JR – an artist known for his large-scale activist works. A drone was used to capture the powerful final cover image, which illustrates how a 45-metre tarp print of Valeriia’s photograph was unfurled and hoisted by more than 100 people outside Lviv’s National Opera.

Image of a model posing in front of a studio backdrop by Tyler Mitchell for M le Magazine du Monde
© Tyler Mitchell

M le magazine du Monde, SS22 Womenswear Special

Since making history as the first ever Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue with his striking portrait of Beyoncé in 2018, Tyler Mitchell has brought countless brilliant magazine covers to life. One of his standout commissions of 2022 was for French newspaper Le Monde’s magazine supplement M. Created for the magazine’s womenswear special, the series of covers features classical references throughout – from painted scenic backdrops and decadent chandeliers to photographs taken in studio corners in the style of Irving Penn.

Pit magazine

Pit, Issue 12

Each themed issue of Pit uncovers the most interesting and unusual food stories from around the world via people, traditions, techniques and ingredients. In the Potato Special issue in May, the indie mag’s editorial team addressed everything from the misunderstood back story of the couch potato to the art of the perfect crisp sandwich.

While the humble potato is arguably one of the least photogenic things you could imagine shooting for a cover, in this instance three seemingly ordinary spuds were transformed into Potatoheads Polly, Bob, and Melon for the multi-cover issue. Food photographer Robert Billington was tasked with bringing each of the Potatoheads’ unique personalities to life for the covers, with brilliantly art directed results.

New York Post-Roe-America

New York, Who Becomes a “Murderer” in Post-Roe America?

With the revelation that the Supreme Court of the United States was to overturn Roe v Wade – the landmark 1973 court case which led to abortion becoming a constitutional right in the US – New York magazine examined the seismic impact that the end of legal abortion access will have on American life. The cover image by US artist Barbara Kruger reimagines her iconic 1989 silk-screen portrait Untitled (Your body is a battleground) in support of abortion rights, with what she argues is a critical question of our time.

“‘Who becomes a ‘murderer’ in post-Roe America?’ — and I put murderer in quotes for a reason; it is the discourse of the right — is really the crux of the issue that few on the right have the candor to ask or answer. Who is punished in a world where abortion is ‘murder’?” the artist explained. The magazine’s follow up issue was equally as impactful, highlighting its practical guide to abortion clinics in each state with the bold cover statement: ‘This magazine can help you get an abortion’.

Buffalo Zine pink issue

Buffalo Zine, No. 15

Since launching in 2011, Buffalo Zine has continually challenged the traditional magazine model by reinventing itself for every issue. Past editions have seen it quite literally embody the identities of other fashion magazines, slip into the persona of a food journal, and adopt various iterations of classic interiors publications.

For its 15th issue, the shape-shifting title grappled with the paradox of pink – a colour that has been hyper-feminised and become a totem for all things cute, but more recently also reframed as a disruptive tool for political activists. The excellent limited-edition cover for the issue became a fittingly OTT tribute to anyone who grew up in the noughties and couldn’t be separated from their pink fluffy diary.

The New York Times The New York Issue

The New York Times Magazine, The New York Issue

There were almost too many NYT Magazine covers to choose from this year – from photographer Jack Davison’s transformation of Blanchett into a surrealist clown for the Culture Issue; to Cristiana Couceiro’s interpretation of Pegasus, the world’s most powerful cyberweapon; to Arielle Bobb-Willis’ playful cover shoot with tennis prodigy Coco Gauff. The magazine’s New York Issue proved to be one of the standout moments of the year though, thanks to its simple but effective take on the annual theme.

Wanting to convey the range of reasons people move to the city, the design team decided to borrow the visual language of moving boxes. But instead of relying on Photoshop to bring the parts together, they shot it IRL. Sheets of cardboard were screenprinted with the magazine’s logo and the headline was formatted as a checklist mimicking those used on moving boxes. Other elements, such as the issue title in red marker, the issue date and roughly placed packing tape, were added by hand, and the cardboard was folded and distressed until the team had the shot just right.

The New Yorker Mona Lisa
© Anita Kunz & The New Yorker

The New Yorker, Archival Issue

For the New Yorker’s Archival Issue, which considered celebrities and our fascination for them, Canadian artist and illustrator Anita Kunz decided to take on one of the biggest stars of all time: Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous subject is never really out of public consciousness, given that 25,000 people a day queue up to get a glimpse of the painting in the Louvre in Paris. But it made headlines again this year when a man was arrested for smearing the glass screen encasing the painting in a climate protest.

For the accompanying cover, Kunz created a modern take on the iconic painting fit for any paparazzi-fatigued celeb. Asked what she thought made the Mona Lisa such a good celebrity subject, she said: “Maybe it has to do with her mystery, and certainly with that famous smile. Her portrait seems to ask more questions than it answers.”

FT Weekend Magazine

FT Weekend Magazine, Queen Elizabeth II 1926 – 2022

The world’s media was full of tributes to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September. British Vogue paid its respects with a royal purple cover, free from any other adornment, which it had previously published to commemorate the loss of George V and George VI. For its weekend magazine supplement, the Financial Times commissioned Estonian illustrator Eiko Ojala to create a beautifully crafted memorial cover. The cut-out inspired design depicts the monarch through different periods of her life, repurposing the portrait that became synonymous with the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Interview magazine

Interview, American Dream Issue

“I think I’ll always feel like I have something to prove. Even if it’s just to myself,” Kim Kardashian told Interview editor-in-chief, Mel Ottenberg, in her cover feature for the magazine’s American Dream issue. The world’s biggest reality star has had a transformative year; not only did she finalise her messy divorce with Kanye West, she also had a highly publicised romance with comedian Pete Davidson (they have since gone their separate ways), stole the Met Gala with her vintage Marilyn Monroe dress, and went back to school to get her law degree.

In classic Kardashian style, she bared all for the Interview cover, which was shot by Nadia Lee Cohen. Set against a stars and stripes backdrop, the final image depicts the newly-blonde bombshell wearing double denim and a jockstrap – a vision of pure, unadulterated Americana.

Washington Post Magazine

The Washington Post Magazine, If He Runs – and Wins

At one time an almost daily occurrence on the covers of current affairs magazines in the US, Donald Trump’s caricatured features have been noticeably absent since he lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden. As his (since confirmed) bid for the 2024 election loomed, the Washington Post Magazine (which announced in late November that it will cease publication in its current form at the end of the year) decided to revisit the Trump-themed mag cover with extra oomph.

The issue focused on the central question: If Donald Trump runs again and wins, what might America look like by 2029? Instead of featuring a recognisable profile image though, the editorial team enlisted the help of digital artist David Szauder to capture a grotesque, hyperbolised vision. “His distorted frame and the bubbling background seeks to provoke a combination of ‘I don’t want to look at it’ and ‘I have to look at it’ – precisely the response we wanted to capture and a metaphor for a second post-Trump presidency,” explained art director Marissa Vonesh.