The Art of the Pizza Box

By Chris Dickman
Founding Editor, Graphics.com

Pizza is like the air we breath: it's all around us and largely invisible, thanks to its ubiquity. And if it has become a commodity, remarkable primarily for its mediocrity in the hands of corporate interests, a little flicker of wood-fired flame lives on here and there, reminding us of what attracted us to this essentially modest, hand-made dish in the first place.

We all have our favorite pizza joints that have resisted the relentless Dominoization of recent years. It's this kind of authenticity that I assume is at the heart of Scott Weiner's passion for pizza, to the extent that he blogs regularly about it in his Pizza Journal, authors a monthly column for Pizza Today Magazine and conducts Scott’s Pizza Tours, which "guide tourists and New Yorkers though the history, science, and culture of New York City pizza." Science, no less. If that wasn't enough, Scott has apparently been collecting pizza boxes for more than a decade. In fact, he's the author of Viva La Pizza!: The Art of the Pizza Box, in which he shares 100 pizza box cover illustrations from his collection of 600 and explores the history of this modest package.

Below is a brief interview and a few selected box covers. Are you hungry yet?

Why pizza box art?

Everyone interacts with pizza boxes. We always see the images printed on them but never give them due credit as works by artists. Some of the Italian boxes are absolutely breathtaking. It's the most under-appreciated art form of all time.

Where is your favorite pizza box from?

I'm in love with a box I found in Amsterdam. It looks like Bart and Homer Simpson but their hair is changed, presumably so the company can try to avoid a lawsuit. They're standing in front of a brick oven and "Bart" is airborne on his skateboard. I honestly yelped when I saw it.

Can you tell anything about how a pizza will taste from the box it comes in?

It all depends where you are. In New York, nobody puts much effort into their pizza boxes. Some of the best places use the worst boxes. Then you go out of the area and that story changes. Southern Italian boxes are as gorgeous as their pizzas.

Is the old adage true...is there no such thing as bad pizza? Is there such a thing as a bad pizza box?

I actually believe there IS bad pizza but there ISN'T a bad pizza box. I adore some of the "terrible" ones because they speak so much of the simplicity of the food. The generic stock boxes are my favorite because they aren't designed for marketing purposes at all. They're just fun!

Are there any states or countries that do something out of the ordinary with their pizza boxes?

Japanese boxes are amazing. They really push the limits in art and on the structure of the boxes themselves. I'm in touch with a Japanese box designer who sends me sketches of the most insane boxes I've ever seen. He promised he'd send me samples if they ever go into production. But that's top secret. I've already said too much.

How much pizza do you eat?

I limit myself to 15 slices per week. Every slice I go over that limit cuts back the following week's maximum by two. I keep track on a data tracking app so I can see my pizza consumption in graph form!

What is your favorite topping?

I like a basic cheese slice or Margherita pie, but if there's a topping it's going to be sausage. So much flexibility in sausage.

New York or Chicago style?

New York pizza is portable and doesn't take 45 minutes for a pie to bake. Chicago pies require you sit down and use a knife and fork. I don't mind a knife and fork for lasagna, but I got to eat pizza with my hands.

Folded or not?

I'm a semi-folder. You keep your index finger in the crust crevice so moisture on the face of the slice can evaporate. Otherwise you get a jumble of cheese and sauce popping out the top. Better for taste, better for stability.

What about the design and engineering of the pizza box do you find so remarkable?

What I find most remarkable is that the box has barely changed over the past 60 years. It's far from perfect and that's what I find so remarkable about it. The few that have dared to be different look like novelties because we're so used to the boring old box structure.

If you could change the engineering of the pizza box in one way, what would it be?

I'd find a better way to get rid of the steam while keeping the pizza hot. Steam = crust soggification. A couple boxes in the book come pretty close to achieving this goal so I might not have to invent anything after all!

If you owned a pizzeria, what would the box look like?

I'd hire my favorite pizza box artists to collaborate on a series of different boxes. We'd change them all the time so people would want to collect them. It would be extremely expensive, but a boy can dream.