Independence often gives publishers a chance to do something experimental and innovative with writing, design and structure, where more mainstream outlets are restricted. To coincide with the launch of the second The Stack Awards this week, Stack founder Steven Watson picks out some of the most notable independent magazines from over the years, which used their editorial freedom to be expressive, opinionated and original.
I saw an original copy of Blast in an exhibition at the Tate Modern about ten years ago and had to get my hands on one of the reproductions by Thames & Hudson. First published by Wyndham Lewis in July 1914, the month before the outbreak of the First World War, it’s the work of an angry young man railing against the stuffiness and tradition he saw around him at the time.
Combining mocking humour with real revolutionary intent, the text blasts and blesses its subjects, and Wyndham worked with a jobbing printer in Harlesden to set it all in a mix of type more commonly used for posters and billboards, giving it a visual impact that still hasn’t faded.
The first independent magazine I fell in love with was Zembla, a literary magazine edited by Dan Crowe (who later went on to set up Port and Avaunt) and art directed by Vince Frost.
There’s more wayward typography here, but it was the freshness of the editorial that drew me in with its completely original approach to literary publishing. There were far fewer independent magazines around ten years ago than there are today, and I loved the sense that Zembla was making things up as it went along, mixing celebrity with exciting new fiction to produce a really thrilling read.
Little White Lies (2012)
I wrote for Little White Lies from its fourth or fifth issue, and by the time this one came out (issue 39) I was working with the team in the offices at The Church of London.
This issue was built around the film Shame, about a sex addict, and I remember creative director Paul Willoughby disappearing off into the basement with a pile of vintage porn magazines to create the cover portrait of Michael Fassbender from ripped up pages. They did all sorts of other stuff with this issue, like scoring the chapter numbers onto the backs of the editorial team and making a subscription ad out of condoms, and that absolute immersion in the subject is what I loved so much about working with them.
The Outpost (2015)
This was our winner of the Subscribers’ Choice category at last year’s Stack Awards – the magazine that subscribers voted as the best one we sent out in 2014-15. The Outpost is dedicated to documenting the challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa, but it insists on an optimistic point of view, always seeking to show the opportunities as well as the threats.
The result is a totally original perspective on the Arab world and I think that’s what our subscribers responded to so strongly – people want to be surprised, and independent magazines have the power to do that.
One of the most strikingly original magazines I’ve seen this year is Ordinary, a photography magazine published in Amsterdam that asks artists to create images using everyday objects. The first issue was dedicated to plastic cutlery and the second was made using kitchen sponges, and each time the magazine comes with a cover mount containing that issue’s object, so the reader can create their own art.
There’s a brilliant mischievousness to it, but it’s not played for laughs. Instead, the magazine strips back distractions in order to emphasise the extraordinariness of the images. The format is A4, the font is Arial, the colour settings are the InDesign presets, and the only text is on the front and back covers. The only thing to look at inside the magazine is the photography itself, and it’s the humour and inventiveness of the images that stays in the mind.