Recently one of my favourite magaholic sites, magCulture produced My Favo(u)rite Magazine, a publication in support of the great magazine designer and commentator Bob Newman. It’s one of those great ideas that I wish I’d found the time to contribute to, especially once I got the printed version and found my favourite missing: Nova.
The original Nova was published from March 1965 to October 1975 (there was a terrible and failed attempt to revive it in 1999). Though ultimately an economic failure, it continues to shape magazine design and editorial to this day. There would be no Monocle, Port or Plastique without it.
I first came across Nova in a second hand bookstore in the small Australian town of Newcastle, in my first year of University there and what a revelation it was. I new nothing about it when I bought the three issues pictured here but knew they would shape my career, and my idea of what a magazine could be, forever.
The February 1966 issue is such a shock cover, I can’t imagine anyone attempting something as provocative today (though this recent Rolling Stone comes close). Tackling the big civil rights’ issue of the time in Britain, it challenged readers presumptions and ignorance about race (They included a quiz with questions about immigrants and ended it with the “You may now realize that you’re prejudiced. If you face up to those prejudices, they will weaken. That way lies progress.”
I recently received an email from Sonia Williams, non other than the little girl on this cover. “Dear Ben, I was looking for a copy of Nova, with the little black girl on the front cover dated 1966, well the little girl was me, I was so pleased to see it again as I lost my copy in a fire, now I can show my kids. Thanks for putting it out there, Sonia.”
I replied that it was great to think how much Britain had changed and did she remember anything about the photo being taken. “I do not remember having my photo taken I was only 4, my mum said I was chosen after having some family photos, she also said things were tough but we all came out good,” replied Sonia.
First designer was Harri Peccinotti, followed by Peter Crookston who took over in 1969 with David Hillman joining him as art director. Nova’s monochrome pages, powerful huge type and innovative photography were like nothing that had been done before. And with contributors like Jean-Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag, Graham Greene and Helmut Newton fashion shoots, Nova reflected the changing times while most women’s magazines were largely about housekeeping.
Issues now command up to £90 on eBay but I would struggle to part with mine. As a very few great magazines can do with their readers, they have become part of my life story as well as part of the story of publishing.
• Contribute to Bob Newman’s fund at donationto.com/friendsofbobnewman and follow his progress on this Facebook page.
Harri Peccinotti and David Hillman kindly signed these issues at a NOVA talk, hosted by the EDO in 2016.