the story behind our cover story

The only thing worse than losing a story two weeks before your magazine goes to press is losing a cover story. That’s what happened with the May issue of American.

We gave ourselves an evening to freak out (and, in our designer’s case, scream a little) before we set to work finding a replacement not only worthy of our feature well, but worthy of the cover.

We recalled that alum Mark Lijek, Kogod/MBA ’78, had an interesting—and timely—story. Mark and his wife Cora were among the six foreign service officers whose 1980 escape from Iran was depicted in Argo. Just a month earlier, the Ben Affleck-directed film took home Best Picture honors at the 2013 Academy Awards.

Freelancer David Reich quickly landed an interview with Mark, who now lives outside Seattle, and we began wracking our brains for a cover image. A Google image search turned up an illustration by London artist Jonathan Burton, who was commissioned by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts to reimagine movie posters for the five nominees for best picture. We loved his illustration of a child sitting atop a mountain of shredded paper, resembling an image of one of the six Americans who escaped the embassy. (Fun fact: while some of the more thrilling scenes in the movie are Hollywood fiction, the Iranians did actually “hire” children to piece together documents and photographs.)

The same day we came across Jonathan’s illustration, I found Mark’s Canadian passport on his website (the six escapees pretended to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a low-budget, sci-fi flick, Argo). Turns out, they had to turn over their fake passports to the CIA as soon as they landed in Switzerland, but Mark’s son, a Photoshop whiz, recreated the passport (even AU’s own Photoshop whiz, designer Maria Jackson, was fooled).

Maria printed out Mark’s photo from the fake passport on a couple different printers (as any cubicle dweller knows, every printer has its own “personality”), cut them into strips, and mounted them on grey paper. She even crinkled the paper and curled the ends for authenticity’s sake. Our photographer, Jeff Watts, shot the photo straight on, and Maria removed strips one at a time, until we were happy with the image. An accidental rip turned out to be a very cool touch, so we added a couple more intentional tears.

In order to connect the cover with the inside art, we used Mark’s fake passport (Joseph Harris was his Canadian pseudonym) to open the spread, and Maria created an Iranian passport stamp with the date of his escape from Tehran: January 28, 1980. Warner Bros. also granted us permission to use a photo of the actors on the Argo set. Christopher Denham, who plays Mark, is front and center. As Maria said, it was serendipitous.


Though we were all disappointed—and, if we’re being honest, a little frantic—when our original cover story fell through, we’re so pleased with the May issue of American. Mark’s story is fascinating and the cover is my favorite to date. (And, as an editor, I’m tickled any time I can sneak a reference to handsome Ben Affleck into our publication.)