Here at The New Republic, we spend a lot of time thinking about words. But a great magazine isn't just a collection of articles; it's a visual product. Which is why we're lucky that our art director, Joe Heroun, and his partner Christine Car, are brilliant at transforming nascent, nebulous ideas or fully polished pieces into visually compelling images, often at a moment’s notice. Here, accompanied by Joe’s words, are some of his favorite images from 2011.

February 17 Cover

A Dubya cover in the new post-Bush era called for something unusual. Based on a review of his memoir, Decision Points, it was possible to extrapolate directly from the great man’s self-image: heroic, stalwart, unflinching. The determined Decider-in-Chief was masterfully captured in artist Guyco’s rock-solid virtual sculpture.

March 24 Cover

At the peak of the Arab Spring, it seemed as if the repressed peoples of the Middle East might finally shed their bondage. Edel Rodriguez portrays the ambiguity of the moment by depicting an emblematic figure—partially broken free, yet far from triumphant.  

July 14 Cover  

Eliza Gray’s story of one man’s journey to become a woman was riveting but did not go far enough in terms of putting a face to the subculture of Americans who have dealt with issues of gender identity. The cover portrait, part of a longer photo essay, is of a transgender person whose self-assured, defiant stance expressed the imperative of the headline. The cover and inside portraits succeed not by depicting transgender people as extraordinary, but as merely ordinary, like most of us, an important step toward gaining the kind of wider acceptance that gays and lesbians have experienced in recent years.

“Horror in Sudan” July 14

Suspecting that compassion fatigue toward the endless brutality of the Sudanese people had long since set in, the gruesome simplicity of a bloody hand reawakened us to the urgency of the human tragedy still unfolding in Africa.

“Stop Slamming Wall Street” August 4

The uncomfortable truth about America’s gutted industrial base is that it is the result of natural market forces, not Wall Street conspirators. In Alex Nabaum’s clever telling, the vaunted American worker sees his future prospects diminishing even further.

September 15 Cover

With a glut of dystopian images of the burning towers all but certain on the tenth anniversary of perhaps the most shocking day in American history, we chose to zig while others zagged. Preferring to remember the towers as they were—and from personal recollection what it felt like to stand beside one—we captured the buildings’ unique nobility and soaring optimism. The image also serve as a reminder of the Islamic motif in the building’s lower struts.

“The Changed World” September 15

To lead off our 9/11 essays we asked the esteemed Heads of State duo for an emblematic symbol to describe us a nation today, scarred by that horrible act which seared our collective consciousness. (No pressure.) Together, we arrived at a defiant message, using shards from the destroyed towers to form the flames of Liberty. Battered and bruised, but not down, the image is starkly beautiful isolated in a field of blood red. 

October 20 Cover

Our friend Robert Hunt is a top-tier California-based artist, one of the relatively few illustrators today still soldiering away at figurative realism. Though it seems quaint now, Rick Perry seemed, at the time, capable of bigfooting his way to the nomination. Hunt’s bold, expressive portrait depicts a dark man, and the harsh Texas plains that shaped him—a determined figure unaccustomed to losing.  

November 17 Cover

Complete with all the requisite components for an action thriller, the comeuppance of Tom Petters will make a fine movie some day. Let’s see, a handsome leading man, check; sex, money, drugs, check; plus, religion, politicians, Gulfstreams, Vegas, and everything in excess, all set in the bosom of Heartland America—how could it miss? Thus, evoking a movie poster pastiche for the cover was a foregone conclusion, handled with aplomb by the brilliant and versatile Sean McCabe.

“Stay Classy” December 1

This image by Keith Negley presents a clever commentary on how the Ivies have become a farm club for Wall Street, abandoning their traditional role of preparing those who would contribute positively to building America’s cultural and social institutions.

“Urban Outfitter” December 1

During his days as governor, Mitt 2.0 often seemed like a reasonable guy with progressive ideas on urban planning and social responsibility. Louisa Bertman, a Cambridge, Massachusetts resident, did this hilarious send-up of Romney’s sensitive side as he charts his way across green-loving Boston back in the day.

December 15 Cover 

Like the earlier Bush cover, Romney was the perfect candidate (pun not intended) for the 3-D plasticization treatment by the fabulous Guyco. Poor Mitt, so misunderstood, he tries hard to come across as one of us, yet all we take away from his forced conviviality is a wooden demeanor that masks a fierce anxiety simmering just beneath the surface. 

“Organization Man” December 15

David Cowles has been a regular contributor to TNR since 2001, when I became the magazine’s art director. He is reknowned for his ability to take any cornball pitch thrown at him and knock it out of the park. So it is with his portrait of a splendidly self-satisfied King Rove. 

December 29 Cover

The last cover of 2011 is almost New Yorker-like in the sense that it doesn’t illustrate a story per se, but is more of a zeitgeist statement as we head into the primary season. Though we succumb to the exhaustion induced by endless debates and the constant media attention foisted on the current crop of GOP hopefuls, the comic potential of this troupe was not lost on us. The preening candidates reminded us of the earnestness and pomp of a kennel club, which led us to wonder which breed best described each candidate … which, remarkably, took no time at all. With that, we unleashed maestro caricaturist Pablo Lobato and the result was a poignant commentary on the state of conservative politics in America today. It is hard enough to make convincing caricatures, let alone the added difficulty of depicting them as quadrupeds. The fact that Lobato nailed each quirk of personality is all the more remarkable considering he hails from Argentina.

“Running on Empty” December 29

Is this what they mean when they call him a Socialist? Done in propaganda-style subversive stencil, Che Guevara would be proud. Crafted by yours truly.