Introducing Ambit Pop – the new, guest-edited version of iconic literary magazine Ambit
After an impressive 242 issues, Ambit is shaking things up with a new bi-annual edition of the magazine, the first ever redesign of the original one, and a new editor at the helm.
- Daniel Milroy Maher
- 13 July 2021
Earlier this year, Ambit, the literary magazine founded in London in 1959 by novelist Martin Bax, launched its debut issue of Ambit Pop, a new biannual edition of the main magazine. It is the latest evolution in a rich history for the magazine that has seen it edited by JG Ballard and Eduardo Paolozzi, featured artists such as Ralph Steadman, Peter Blake and David Hockney, and designed by Alan Kitching, Derek Birdsall and John Morgan. Envisioned as the “younger sister” of Ambit, each release of Ambit Pop will be guest edited by a different cultural icon, with the first instalment being handed over to Lias Saoudi of English rock band Fat White Family. Lias has in turn commissioned a range of artists and writers to produce work for the issue within Ambit’s usual remit of poetry, prose, and art. Featured names include Adelle Stripe, Rob Doyle, Steven Allan, Neal Fox, Benjamin Myers, and Wayne Horse.
This new format extends beyond the content itself however and also includes a reimagining of the Ambit aesthetic. Stephen Barrett, who designed this first issue, says: “In our early discussions we all agreed that, since John Morgan left the magazine in 2009, Ambit had lost much of the visual personality and eccentricities that made it unique. Our mission therefore has been to bring back those visual characteristics.” Among other features that have been reintroduced into the magazine’s design are its classic typefaces, including Egyptian Bold Condensed for the masthead and Univers for the poetry, and the use of textured and uncoated paper. These references to Ambit’s past sit alongside newer features such as contemporary typeface Syncro and typewriter font Vulf Mono, which “are a nod to both the spirit and visual aesthetics of previous issues and to the period of the 60s and 70s, which typifies Ambit's look and feel,” explains Stephen. “It was important that the magazine still felt fresh and new and wasn't just a copy of the old issues or a pastiche of that period.”
The look and feel of Ambit Pop makes it seem, as Stephen points out, like a “fanzine” version of Ambit. The “younger sister who steals your record collection and reinterprets past fashions.” It’s half the size, in terms of page count, of the original magazine, and it has been stapled together. The use of guest headline typefaces and a typewriter font create a “cut-and-paste zine-like aesthetic”. It feels like some of the best parts of Ambit condensed down and placed into a new, more modern format. Which is appropriate given the fact that Ambit Pop is trying to be exactly that – a union of the magazine’s rich history and its exciting future. “Ultimately, like the previous designers, we've mostly been inspired by Ambit itself. There was no need to reinvent the magazine completely, it was a case of taking inspiration and ideas from the past,” says Stephen. “Our aim was to reinvent the Ambit aesthetic and update the publication for a new generation of readers.”
However, the original magazine has also been the focus of a recent redesign. The July issue, which is the last to be made under the guidance of Ambit’s current editor Briony Bax – before it is handed over to Kirsty Allison – boasts a yellow paper section and textured dust jacket in tribute to its previous issues, as well as some of the team’s newer ideas. Now that the basic templates have been established, “there's room to play and experiment with those parameters, reflecting the content of each issue or the context within which each issue is published,” explains Stephen, who is eager to ensure the magazine’s relevancy in a world of digital mass communication. He points to a quote from Lias Saoudi in the debut issue of Ambit Pop that encapsulates this thinking: “The world of books and ideas was always there to reclaim you, once guilt and shame brought you back to your senses.”
Ambit Pop 243 (Copyright © Ambit, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.