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Cover Story

Coverjunkie’s Jaap Biemans talks career, print in the age of digital and his addiction to ‘ace’ magazine covers good enough to lick

Interview Patrick Kasingsing

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

I’m Jaap Biemans in the real world, but in the digital world, you may know me as Coverjunkie haha! That’s a blog where I celebrate the ace-st cover designs from all around the world. During the day, yes, in the real world, I’m the art director of Volkskrant Magazine based in Amsterdam, and the father of two happy kids.

What got you hooked on graphic design? Did you know early on in your life that this was what you wanted to do?

I’ve always loved drawing. I was that kid in class that was always carrying a pencil in hand. That may have something to do with it.

Graphic design in its purest form is structuring or arranging elements of information. What I love about it is that it gives me the power to create new atmospheres by marrying illustrations, typography, and photography in one intoxicating mix!

You are currently the art director of Dutch publication Volkskrant Magazine, which has reaped multiple design awards for its beautiful and thought-provoking art direction. How did you start your career in Volkskrant?

That was easy; I just sent them an email. I was lucky as they happened to be searching for someone who can deliver a whole new look and approach. I remember my first cover was a close-up of a mouth that was sucking a popsicle. That was such a beautiful contrast to the old grumpy-looking people they mostly carried on their covers before.

Can you name some of the design influences you had that helped shape how you work as a designer

David Carson, the notorious art director from Ray Gun made me realize the potential of spectacle in magazine covers. I remember when he launched a cover upside down. That was in the middle of the nineties when I attended art school. I was flabbergasted! In 2018, nobody would blink an eye but back in the day, this was a shocker!

How would you describe your approach or art direction for Volkskrant? What design principles, themes or motifs do you often utilize in your work?

I always abide by this line: a cover has got to smack you in the face or make you wanna lick it. Now, what I really mean here is it’s got to bring some emotion out of the reader, be it a look of surprise, a laugh, or amazement.

Jaap Biemans’ favorite Volksrant Magazine cover, where he collaborated with illustrator Paul Faassen; Ray Gun‘s infamous upside-down cover by David Carson

I like covers that don’t carry too much fuzz. I think you can say the Dutch design approach is also like that. That also means that everything within the cover has got to be perfectly situated, composed, and hard-working; there’s no hiding possible behind graphic elements! As for the rest, I start my day at 9:30 AM and work, read, watch; inspiration can’t pay you a visit if you do nothing so get yourself inspired!

Name a favorite cover you have done and quickly dissect the design process behind it.

My all-time favorite Volkskrant cover is the belly button one (above). This cover is about an academic survey about beauty preferences amongst men. What do men prefer? The image of a belly button got stuck in my head. I centered it on a cover but was looking for an addition to make it more approachable. I sent a raw cover sketch to the fabulous artist Paul Faassen and he drew this little figure with a boner next to it. It was done in 10 minutes and it still makes me laugh to this day. I feel lucky to work with talented people like Paul, truly one of the highlights of my job!

What for you are the hallmarks of excellent magazine cover design?

You know it’s easy to make one ace cover, but the truly excellent ones are the art directors that have to create 50 ace covers in a year; now that’s inhuman! Like New York Mag or the New York Times magazine, they often create a buzz. Readers are always happily surprised by what they’re bringing in every week. That’s a good feeling. There are many good ones out there: Metropoli, Zeit, Suddeutsche, Wired, California Sunday Mag…The great thing here is that there’s really no one formula to create a great cover; it’s all about talent!

All this talk of magazine covers will of course lead to the project you started back in 2010, Coverjunkie! Tell us a little something about how it started.

I hated hearing those ‘print is dead’ statements when I can see all these beautiful stuff around me! Nobody was emphasizing the good stuff that can be done on paper. That’s turning a bit now, luckily. I wanted to create a podium for excellent cover design and give a shout-out to the peeps making it: art directors, photographers, and illustrators. I think it projects positivity, and it connects magazine creatives from all over the world.

Ultimately, what do you want Coverjunkie to accomplish?

Haha! there’s no goal. I started small and it exploded cause it received a lot of attention. I considered going commercial with it, but decided early on not to; keeping it pure maintains its credibility as a place that does nothing but celebrate creativity and as a means to connect the people running the world of magazines. I’d love to do even more with it, but then, as a one-man army, I’d need 14-day weeks. But then again, I’ve reached this audience on my own; the possibilities are endless, particularly if the right publisher came along. Wouldn’t it be nice to extend the project with interviews, mags, and even events?

What lies in the future for Coverjunkie? Any future plans you can share with us?

Maybe I’m gonna reach out to some publisher, not sure yet; it’s an amazing platform with lots of opportunities. There are some plans for a book, would be pretty exciting if you ask me. You know the best thing ever was publishing Coverjunkie Magazine five years ago. It is so fulfilling to publish, write and design it all together

If you could collaborate with a design legend for a magazine cover, who would it be and why?

Haaa, many! Arem Duplessis come on! I wanna see more of his work since he moved to Apple. Or George Lois, Richard Turley, Billy Sorrentino, or Mirko Borsche from Germany. My biggest wish would be to work, watch, or just to be in his neighborhood, the designer of all designers, the late Alexey Brodovitch!

Starting out in a competitive and fast-paced industry such as publishing and media can be daunting. What advice would you give upstarts who’d like to pursue a career path such as yours?

Never settle for the easy approach. Design is about kicking ass, not kissing ass. Always take the extra step. It’s that extra step that distinguishes what you do from the rest.

How would you describe the publication design landscape of today? What aspects can be improved? And which publications do you think are doing a great job riding the tide?

Sometimes I see competition inside a title between media platforms. All platforms must collaborate together, make each other better, as they all complement each other.

Coverjunkie, an online compendium of the best in magazine covers, curated by Biemans

Never settle for the easy approach. Design is about kicking ass, not kissing ass. Always take the extra step. It’s that extra step that distinguishes what you do from the rest.

I love everything that I see and hear about California Sunday Magazine (above). It looks so ace. A stunner in photography and typography. They also organize events like their pop-up magazine. Feels like a nice cross-over between events and paper. I love the freshness of this relatively new brand.

It’s hard out there. Some mags and newspapers will disappear. Numbers are falling, they don’t come back and get used to that, and then settle with new targets. There are just too many titles for the time we, as readers have available. It’s tough but it also means there are STILL a lot of good mags out there.

The advent of digital publishing has, without a doubt, affected traditional publishing models. What is your take on this? Would you say that this is more of an opportunity than a setback for print mediums to be more adventurous?

Ha! the future of digital is print. I think it’s a sweet job to bring a magazine title to several platforms. I don’t care if it’s on paper or if it’s digital. All exciting but also be wary of simply axing your print magazine and turning it into a fucking website like a billion others. There was this title in the Netherlands and their CEO thought he was a visionary by getting rid of the paper magazine component for the web. Their visibility actually narrowed, their charm was gone and it even dropped out of the Top 25 in the biz it was in.

What talents, attributes or traits do you think would make for a successful art director and graphic designer?

The inherent willingness to set a challenging base as your default starting point. You need to keep surprising yourself on all levels. Furthermore, it is crucial to create a fine team with ace photographers and illustrators who can help you to create the right atmosphere; it’s a team effort. But most importantly, create an environment that brings out the best in everyone as opposed to stifling their talent by boxing them in. I don’t believe in the strict, procedural approach. Allow for the craziness, spontaneity, and spirit of adventure that creativity demands. A magazine is an organic thing, is it not?

What do you in your spare time?

Making espresso hits my sweet spot. I own a Faema President and I’m waiting on a refitted Faema Marte out of 1950. Google that when you have a minute; truly the most gorgeous coffee machine ever built! Creating espresso out of a 1950s-machine makes my heart jump. And it simply churns out the best coffee ever!

In this day and age where we are bombarded and fed relentlessly with images, visuals and icons, how do you think the role of graphic design has evolved?

The role of graphic design and the possibilities it offers also increased tenfold because everybody is seeing 10,000 images a day. We see so many visuals a day that we MUST approach them differently as we did ten years ago.

Graphic designers have undeniably more opportunities now, but there’s always a catch. Did the emancipation of visuals as a result of the arrival of social media now altering the way we live for better, or for worse? •

Allow for the craziness, spontaneity, and spirit of adventure that creativity demands. A magazine is an organic thing is it not?

Feast your eyes on the best of magazine cover design at

The story first appeared in the Starters issue

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