When we were all calling the 2016 election a “circus,” it was hard to imagine what Washington would become once the ringleader took office. By now we’ve learned to expect the unexpected: FBI directors find out they’re fired by seeing it on TV, aides learn about policy from their boss on Twitter along with the rest of the country. White House spokespeople are constantly undermined by the person they’re theoretically speaking for. The capitol is hectic and surreal. Or, as Gail Bichler, design director of The New York Times Magazine, imagined in her initial brief for the cover of the magazine’s latest issue, it’s “Fear and Loathing in the time of Trump.”
The resulting cover design is Trumplandia, an illustration by Andrew Rae that visualizes the cover story by veteran political reporter Mark Leibovich: a portrait of Washington now that Trump has moved to town. With the playfulness of a Where’s Waldo drawing and the large-scale drama of a Renaissance tableau, the cover expertly distills the cast of characters, memorable plot twists, and bizarre moments of the Trump administration so far. Just a cursory glance reveals the following: Pepe the Frog, pink pussy hat protesters, dejected White House correspondents, an unstoppable flock of Twitter birds, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Spicer in the bushes, and that unruly trio of White House sojourners, Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent.
“We really wanted to depict this surreal atmosphere where there are so many recognizable players—and to make an image that someone would want to study,” Bichler tells Co.Design.
It’s a lot to take in, not unlike the daily onslaught of breaking news and previously-unfathomable circumstances Americans have been confronted with since January. Since the news cycle now operates at the pace of Twitter, Bichler and Rae weren’t even sure how the article would turn out when they started working on the cover a couple of weeks ago—the piece was still developing. So instead of focusing on the prominent themes or specific details—and creating one bold, stripped down image, as has been the magazine’s trademark style lately—the design team decided to incorporate everything.
Bichler, Rae and the editors on the story started a list of what they wanted to show on the cover and kept adding to it during the design process. As Rae refined the drawing, clever details started to emerge: the White House aide with a butterfly net trying to catch the Twitter birds, for example, or the Swamp monster with a brief case. Infowars‘ Alex Jones is saddled up to two blonde Fox News and Breitbart correspondents. The President himself is absent, though Air Force One can be spotted jetting off above the muck.
In the interior illustrations, Trump does finally appear—as an elaborate ice sculpture. Putin shows up with a bear. Like a Magic Eye for news junkies and policy wonks, the more you look at Rae’s dizzying portrait the more you see. And as over-saturated as it may be, the message is clear: the underlying order in Washington right now is chaos.