This month saw Fat Heads’ artwork grace the cover of United-Supporteren, the official magazine for the Manchester United Supporter Club Scandinavia. Also inside was a four-page feature on our very own Rick Baxter and his cover artwork for the fanzine United We Stand. Here’s the full transcript of the article:
"My job is to reflect what the fans feel"
by Bjarte Valen
“Just like in 1999 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrives to take charge of events. We had to stop the printing of UWS and make a brand new cover with him on the front page.” Rick Baxter tells United-Supporteren.
“I'm not afraid to be a bit of controversial. My main task is to reflect what the fans feel and think and not necessarily what I think about current events.”
Since spring 2012, Baxter, who works as a graphic designer on a daily basis for Fat Heads Creative Studio in Manchester, has been the man who has provided the cover artwork for United We Stand, the fanzine where United-Supporteren and united.no columnist Andy Mitten is the editor.
Several of the covers that Baxter has designed have become talking points among the United fans, and some of the magazines have even been seen as iconic, both among the United fans as well as supporters of other teams and of other designers and journalists.
Having to move fast
He is used to working on tight deadlines, but just before Christmas, Baxter got an unexpected challenge.
“José Mourinho was fired as United manager and Ole Gunnar Solskjær got the job of taking charge of United, initially to the end of the season. That particular edition had actually already gone to print, but we got it stopped and changed the cover at the last minute.” Baxter reveals.
The Norwegian's celebration of the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League Final, therefore, adorned the cover of the magazine, which was sold out in record time.
The magazine Rick talks about was sold ahead of the away match against Cardiff - Solskjær's first as a United manager.
“The original plan was that the cover would be based around the 10th anniversary of the club´s World Club Cup win when United beat Liga de Quito from Ecuador 1-0 in the final. Andy always gives me artistic freedom, but this time he gave me input on what he wanted. He asked for something positive after a period of weak results and an ever increasing dissatisfaction. Then the news broke about the sacking of Mourinho. and the subsequent hiring of Solskjær. We had to turn around extremely fast. Luckily I knew that I already had an iconic Solskjaer picture from the Champions League final in 1999 and then it was, of course, natural to go for it,” Baxter explains.
"To the rescue...again," was the title. It could, of course, backfire if it hadn't gone well, but what a start Solskjær enjoyed, Baxter smiles.
Van Gaal's Ferrari
When Manchester City nicked the league title in dramatic fashion ahead of United in the spring of 2012, Andy Mitten wanted to change the expression of UWS. Rather than having pictures of the first team players, the editor would have an illustration on the cover. He asked if there were any budding artists who would like to submit proposals in a competition, and Baxter's proposal was victorious.
“It's almost seven years ago and I'm still here. My job is to engage and provoke. Who else could have had a manager dressed up as a rabbit on the front?” Baxter explains and points at the cover with Mourinho dressed up as the Easter Bunny.
“We actually got asked by a supporter outside the ground if this was United's official programme”, he chuckles.
Among the many creative cover pages of UWS, one in particular has received extra attention among the fans. The cover with Louis van Gaal pushing a Ferrari up a steep hill entitled "Right Direction, Wrong Gear" has been described as both "brilliant" and "a masterpiece" by many.
"It was a fans' favourite, but the idea should never have seen the light of day," Baxter smiles.
The explanation is simple enough.
“I had delivered another cover proposal to Andy, but he felt it wasn’t quite right for the current mood amongst fans. Therefore I quickly had to rethink and I ended up with Van Gaal’s Ferrari. It taught me a lesson, I don't necessarily have to spend that long on the cover if only the idea is good,” Baxter adds.
Men at Work
Not surprisingly, Rick has another cover as his personal favourite.
“The "Men at Work" cover from September 2013 is my tribute to the 1993/94 team. That's my favourite ever United team”, Baxter reveals.
The cover is based on the famous photo "Lunch atop a Skyscraper" showing eleven construction workers sitting on a steel beam and enjoying a lunch break during the erection of the Rockefeller Center in Manhatten in New York. This picture, moreover, was in Sir Alex Ferguson's office and the image was often used to show to new players to emphasize the importance of unity and team spirit.
“I spent more time on that cover than anything else illustrating the eleven players sat on the beam. I went to sleep at three o'clock at night just to finish it before the deadline.” Baxter says.
A week is a long time in football
When Rick had to replace the cover of the magazine to coincide with Solskjaer's first match at the last minute, it was an exception. Usually, the planning of the cover must begin well before the magazine reaches the loyal base of United fans.
“The fanzine is printed one week before it goes on sale. The cover must be ready one week before the magazine is printed. I have to start working on the front page one to two weeks prior to that and a lot can happen in a short time. Players who are doing well can suddenly be injured or go through a bad spell. I remember when Danny Welbeck was in great shape and we chose him. Then, of course, he stopped scoring,” Baxter explains.
The covers try to reflect culture, music, and current affairs. Sometimes Baxter will also reference historical United players and events.
“I like retro, but you don’t want to look like a club stuck in the past, but as far as history is concerned, I have only just scratched the surface. There are many, many more ideas in my locker,” he promises
It's not just the fans who like Rick's design. The club's staff, several cultural personalities and a number of musicians have been among the admirers. Several of the players have also provided positive feedback.
“Juan Mata retweeted a Christmas cover of himself. There have been many players who have been pictured with the magazine and the feedback is good. I am very happy that they appreciate it,” he smiles.
This article was originally published in United-Supporteren, April 2019.