Inventive independent magazines with hidden surprises, revealed by Stack

17 July 2017
Reading Time
5 minute read

You can do some things in print that just aren’t possible on a screen. To coincide with the Stack Awards, which opens for entries today, looking for the most exciting independent print magazines published since October 2016, we asked Stack founder Steven Watson to pick some of the most inventive pieces of publishing he’s seen in the last few years. Here, he takes us through his selection, revealing their hidden surprises. “One of the things I’ve always loved is when publishers go a step further than they really need to,” he says, “and somehow use the physical object of the magazine itself to give readers more.”

Gross (2017)

Everyone loves a good sticker, but in magazines they tend to be clumped together on special sheets or inserted loose so they end up getting lost. The makers of Gross came up with a novel solution by printing a spot varnish onto their pages and placing stickers by hand, allowing readers to peel them easily from the varnished areas. By printing extra illustrations, pull quotes and even GPS coordinates behind the stickers, they created a magazine that reveals more with every piece that’s taken away.

Harvard Design Magazine (2015)

A totally fascinating biannual published by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, this magazine has become renowned for its anti-newsstand covers, which flatly refuse to jump out at the reader. This issue is themed around health and wellbeing, presenting a wide range of perspectives from across cultures and generations, and ending with a chart of acupressure points for the left hand. It’s only on closing the magazine that the cover comes into its own, presenting the reader with an image of their own hand, created by a carefully placed panel of thermochromatic ink.

Esopus (2017)

Published by New York’s not for profit Esopus Foundation, this is a magazine that goes far beyond the words and pictures on the page. A bewildering array of artist-produced pieces are included in the magazine, either tipped into specific stories, attached on perforated sheets, tucked into pouches or otherwise enclosed. Reading is just the start – Esopus wants you to make your own art from the magazine, and this issue includes Marco Maggi’s Drawing Set, which will see pages pulled out of the magazine and submitted by readers, on display at New York Public Library next Autumn.

Vestoj (2012)

Each issue of Vestoj takes a conceptual, intellectual approach to fashion, and its third issue focuses on the subject of fashion and shame. It contains some brilliant writing on diverse subjects like prison uniforms and subservience, representations of race in fashion, and the constant presence of the naked body beneath clothes. My favourite part is a special section on fashion, fetish and shame, printed on pages that the reader has to literally cut open to read. It’s a powerful device, reminiscent of the Victorian novels that had to be cut open, and also a visceral act that obviously marks the magazine forever. And no, I still haven’t brought myself to cut all of them open…

Colors (2014)

I could have chosen any number of examples from Colors, but the one that really sticks in my mind is the Moving House issue. This was the first thing I’d read anywhere about the 21st Century phenomenon that came to be known as the migrant crisis, and its big, fold-out pages full of maps, images and statistics showing some of the most common routes taken by refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants do a brilliant job of communicating the scale and complexity of the problem. On the back cover it acknowledges that, “Forced to compress the globe onto a page, mapmakers must omit most information in order to make the rest intelligible,” but this remains one of the most illuminating and memorable magazines I’ve ever read.

Metazine (2015)

A magazine about magazines, Metazine is naturally interested in the physical print product. Its risoprinted pages are held together by a set of brass bolts, and inside a series of pink insets contain interviews with magazine makers, taken from the Raw Print events held in Nottingham from October 2014 – May 2015. It’s all handmade and there are various places where crop marks creep in or pages don’t quite align, but that all adds to the charm of this very personal passion project, run by Nottingham Trent lecturer Matt Gill and his students.

Amuseum (2016)

We delivered this issue of Amuseum to our subscribers last year, and I love the sense of fun that runs through it. There’s a special section of toilet reading in the middle, literally all about toilets, and it kicks off with this cheeky spread illustrated by editor and art director Dan Stafford. (The flappy bit was originally going to be made of actual toilet paper, until the printers explained how difficult and expensive that would be.)

Huck (2012)

For its On the Road issue, Huck wanted to recreate a sense of Kerouak’s legendary typewritten manuscript, so the makers produced this quadruple gatefold to hold an exchange between editor-at-large Mike Fordham and staff writer Tetsuhiko Endo. The reverse side of the extended pages contains a glossary of terms that reveals Huck’s enduring interests (more words are devoted to grappling with the definition of “Hipsterism” than are required for “Chomsky, Noam”, “Burroughs, William S” and “Baby Boomers” combined).

Sabat (2016)

A magazine of witchcraft, Sabat uses hidden elements to create a sense of the occult. For example last year’s Mother issue includes this moon / foetus detail, which creates a beautiful and very tactile symbol of regeneration and the passing of time, but only reveals itself when the magazine is being handled. Elsewhere in the issue there are transparent pages, hidden pentagrams and even the name on the cover of the magazine only reveals itself when it catches the light.

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Steven Watson

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