How Muhammad Ali Changed Magazine Covers Forever - Coley Porter Bell

The Making of a Martyr: How Muhammad Ali Changed Magazine Covers Forever

As featured in Muse by Clio

Written by: John Malozzi, Group Creative Director

When I reflect on a piece of art or advertising that has inspired my life as a creative, the April 1968 cover for Esquire magazine comes to mind, still bringing me to a standstill —”The Passion of Muhammad Ali.”

I cannot remember specifically where I was when I saw the infamous cover for the first time. Likely sat with my college classmates in the early ’90s, flicking through the pages of graphic design magazines for inspiration. But I remember the grip it had on me then, and still does now. The greatest fighter of all time presented as vulnerable.

Pierced and punctured by a fleet of arrows, his mouth open wide in agony and hands behind his back, Ali was on display for all of America at a time when many hated him most.

An imitation of Francesco Botticini’s Saint Sebastian, the cover drew parallels between the persecution of the Christian saint by the Romans and Muhammad Ali’s own exile following his conversion to Islam, support of the Civil Rights movement and refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. Activism that resulted in the loss of his heavyweight boxing title.

Art Director of Esquire, George Lois, knew of the significance and potential backlash that would come in comparing Ali to a martyr—but did it anyway.

Why? Because as graphic designer Tibor Kalman said, “good designers make trouble.”.

Read the full article here to learn more.