The cover of the Atlantic's September issue features Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in a boxing ring to illustrate a story on the upcoming presidential debates, with the Republican challenger landing a left hook to the jaw of the incumbent president. The cover line of James Fallows' piece: "Obama vs. Romney: Who Will Win the Debates?"
"How do we do a version that's relevant to this year?" Luke Hayman, designer and partner at Pentagram who oversaw the cover, wrote in a blog post: "What's unique? It's going to be dirty. (Isn't it always?) So let's show them fighting. You know, really fighting."
The magazine hired Romney and Obama lookalikes for a cover shoot at the legendary Gleason's boxing gym in Brooklyn. British photographer Alison Jackson—who once photographed lookalikes of Brad and Angelina with a newborn baby for New York magazine—oversaw the nine-hour shoot.
According to Hayman, the Romney model was self-conscious and did not want to be photographed without his shirt on. ("We promise to slim him in Photoshop if he looks too heavy," Hayman wrote. "And we do.") Obama's model had tattoos that were covered with makeup.
For art directors looking to depict a political slugfest, though, the fighting metaphor is a familiar concept.
Bloomberg Businessweek produced a cover featuring a photo illustration of a bloodied, battered Romney for a story in its Jan. 13 issue, but chose not to run it.
"The Romney story seemed to have already hit its peak," Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel told Yahoo News at the time. "A lot of times these decisions are about all of us putting our finger in the air and trying to figure out which way the zeitgeist is blowing."
The upcoming debates will undoubtedly see the candidates exchange verbal blows, but the problem with the concept of the "bloodiest" campaign in general is that most Americans don't think it's quite so gruesome.
Forty-three percent say both Obama and Romney are running negative campaigns, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted last week. That's up from 2008, when 36 percent said both Obama and John McCain were heading campaigns featuring low blows. But it's slightly below the 2004 race between George W. Bush and John Kerry, when 45 percent felt the campaigns were negative.