The Circle of Life in All Its Bizarre and Cruel Glory

I designed this spread when I worked in graphics at Time Magazine in May 2013. That year Brood II was emerging and I was totally fascinated by it because I grew up on the West Coast of the U. S. where such a phenomenon didn’t exist. I’d seen lots of pretty gross pictures of their bodies after molting (when the insect sheds its outer shell to reveal an albino nymph inside), but wanted to elevate this creature to another level. After all, it spends almost its whole life underground waiting for its debut!  A uniquely American event, like 2021’s Brood X, Brood II is one of 15 separate groups of periodical insects that stay underground for years, apparently to avoid massive predation. Strength in numbers!

The magic of this infographic is obviously the photograph, shot by the supremely talented Jamie Chung, whose care and attention to detail are unmatched. I couldn’t attend this shoot, but I was on many others with him, ones including turtles, birds, and spiders, so I knew he would elegantly showcase this mysterious creature. Some images came back curious and quiet, and others resembled statues or massive drones. I usually don’t like layouts as symmetrical as this, but I tried lots of angles and this one just seemed to fit. 

Writer Alexander Aciman dug up the fun facts on the “Magicicada,” and I wanted to present it like a ‘placemat’ as our Managing Editor, Rick Stengel, used to call them–a fun spread containing factoids sprinkled about with multiple, quick entry points. We didn’t always get to show graphics on black for readability and our ‘older’ viewership, but the drama of this one couldn’t be ignored.  

A little bit of science, a little bit art, and a little bit of culture in a timeline showing what this  little guy had missed, and it all came together nicely. On my recent Instagram post, I also added the buzzing sound they make while searching for a  mate, as that’s one of the most unique effects of the emergence. 

Working images

In May 2021, I’d started to see friend’s posts in Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey with cicadas sprinkled all over cars, sidewalks, and yards. As if their frantic few weeks on this earth weren’t challenging enough, there have been recent reports of a fungus that also remains underground, lying in wait to infect the 2021 Brood X cicada: (gross process, but more on that here.) It’s the circle of life, in all its bizarre and cruel glory.

Working images

Here’s the final design:

Photography by Jamie Chung. Infographic by Heather Jones for Time Magazine, 2013.

With 20+ years experience in media and publishing, I have worn the hats of Art Director, Designer, Graphics Producer and almost everything in between. Using whatever tools at hand—text, data, illustration, photographs, motion and sound— I enjoy exploring and navigating the world through graphics. With both my own and other artists’ original work, I love to tell data-driven visual stories with a detailed eye, and I’ve gotten some cool awards to boot!