Iconic ‘POPE’ cover moves magazines in Philadelphia

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Seen here at an airport news stand, Philadelphia magazine’s current commemorative issue of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the city features a cover that is a spin on the viral 2008 Obama “Hope” poster by artist Shepard Fairey. Photo by Kimberly Winston

Seen here at an airport news stand, Philadelphia magazine’s current commemorative issue of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the city features a cover that is a spin on the viral 2008 Obama “Hope” poster by artist Shepard Fairey. Photo by Kimberly Winston

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) You are not really famous until your face has been flattened into four colors, printed on paper and sold to strangers.

Though his popularity ratings long ago surpassed President Obama’s, Pope Francis now has the stamp of approval to prove it: a red, cream and blue papal likeness based on the iconic Obama 2008 campaign poster by artist Shepard Fairey.

The image, stamped with “POPE” where the Obama image said “HOPE,” stares out across this city from the current cover of Philadelphia magazine, special papal features wrapped inside.


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“It just felt completely right to us,” Tom McGrath, editor of the city-focused monthly, said in the aftermath of the pope’s two-day visit to Philadelphia. The pope embodies the same hopefulness Obama brought during his 2008 election campaign, McGrath said.

In 2008, candidate Obama represented promise for many Americans. The Obama HOPE poster became “the most efficacious American political illustration since ‘Uncle Sam Wants You,’” critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker magazine one year later.

The current POPE image is similar in its feel and effect. Catholics and non-Catholics alike revere Pope Francis for his compassion toward the poor and the imprisoned and for his passion for the environment.


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This isn’t the first time Fairey’s HOPE poster has been imitated. Versions have appeared on the covers of Time, Esquire and some local magazines. When the poster became available online, it spawned parodies — like the online version featuring the face of Bill Clinton and the word “GROPE.”

The parodies continue. In 2009, the entertainment magazine Paste launched a website where users could upload their own photos and choose a caption to create a parody. The site is no longer active, but similar sites exist.

Philadelphia magazine paid Getty Images for the image of the pope that was used to create the cover, and artist Chris Whetzel did the illustration. The magazine received permission from Fairey to copy the style of his original poster. It is offering readers a chance to purchase a poster-sized copy of the cover as well.

While it’s too soon to tell if the cover boosted sales — the issue is still on newsstands — McGrath said he’s heard a lot of positive buzz.

“I’ve gotten emails and phone calls and people have stopped me on the street,” he said.

LM/MG END McMANUS