From 1984 through 2005, Emigre magazine was to graphic designers what L'Espirit Nouveau was to architects in the early 1920s. This year, Gingko Press has published Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue, 25 Years in Graphic Design, a 512-page tome the looks back at the best pages of the magazine that helped define the discipline.
In 1984, Rudy VanderLans and his wife, Zuzana Licko, founded Emigre Graphics, a type foundry based in Berekely, California, and at the same time launched Emigre magazine. The magazine began with tabloid-size issues dominated by graphic spreads and evolved into an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch journal in which prominent graphic designers, writers, and critics would propose new ideas, theorize on trends, and pen essays about the design world. When the last issues were printed, Emigre existed as a soft-cover book co-published by the Princeton Architectural Press.
Emigre No. 70 starts with an introduction by VanderLans that explains that the book is not a history of the magazine but rather "a reprinting of selected work that best illustrates what made this [the 1980s and 90s] such an exciting time, and by extension provides a record of Emigre's contribution to this particular era of graphic design."
The next 500 pages are reprints of spreads, interviews, and essays from Emigre's 69 issues, each one represented with images and text. In the introduction, VanderLans also says that while there are many scaled images of the magazine, "our main goal was to reproduce much of the work exactly as it appeared, at actual size, or as close to its original format as possible. We wanted to give equal prominence to all aspects of Emigre magazine--design, layouts, typefaces, and writing--and provide a reading experience similar to reading the actual magazine."
The tome also includes a poster, a CD with songs and videos published by Emigre, and a 32-page booklet of past letters to the editor, many of them essays unto themselves. Though there are ones that label the magazine as simply "crap," many others extol Emigre as a voice for graphic design and an arena for debate. Steven Heller, a prominent design writer, wrote to the magazine in 1994 after his own essay was published in a previous issue, to commend Emigre's work: "The magazine is an invaluable document for historians and, probably more important, a lightning rod for contemporary practitioners."
A year later, design writer Mike Kippenhan wrote in and defined the magazine's role in the design world: "Emigre's move to include more critical writing reflects editor Rudy VanderLans' desire to continue developing the role his magazine occupies in graphic design. Over the years, the work that has appeared in its pages has come to represent individuals who push the envelope."
In San Francisco, Gallery 16 is displaying images from Emigre's history in a new show honoring the publication of Emigre No. 70. On display until January 29, 2010, the exhibit tells the story of the magazine and highlights its local history and influences.
If you can't make it to the gallery or pick up the book, click through our slideshow of spreads from Emigre No. 70.