“I started The Neat Review because magic magazines are generally a bit naff,” editor-in-chief Alexander Hansford tells It’s Nice That. Featuring interviews with some of the leading lights in the biz, essays on the intersection between magic and painting, philosophy and acting, plus some sultrily shot how-to-guides for hand sleights, it’s as far away from the “stale and predictable or quite pretentious” tomes of magic theory you may have come across in more clandestine magic circles. The Neat Review does a great job of making magic community look cool, welcoming and – dare we say it – a little bit sexy.
“Magic is a field which is often seen as full of alienated, socially awkward characters unable to connect with other people,” says Alexander. “There might be a bit of truth to that, we’re all nerdy and weird in our own ways, but our contributors are about as far from the stereotypical cringey children’s magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat as you can get.”
The magic community, Alexander explains, is small but also pretty tight. Wherever you travel in the world, a local practitioner will step in to show you their city. With magic as a hobby, you get to meet people from wildly different fields of work and cultures that you might not normally expect. Alexander explains, “This is because as magicians we spend countless hours practicing to perfect a certain sleight-of-hand move, and when it’s done right, it’s meant to look like you’re doing nothing at all. So there’s something in that solitary pursuit, lots of time spent practicing alone, and the vulnerabilities and sensibilities of character that magicians have, that are immediately recognisable in other people who do magic. I think that’s part of the reason why there’s such a strong connection so quickly.”
When planning The Neat Review Alexander was keen to capture this warmth and spirit, something that had never been given the spotlight in a magic magazine before. “I also want the Review to be a humanising publication, inspiring magicians to look beyond their bubble, out into the world of the arts, but also to capture the imaginations of other creative folk who might’ve written magic off as having no utility beyond surface level entertainment.”
Part of the snootiness towards magic stems from the nature of the practice itself, Alexander explains. When a magician performs a magic trick, it’s meant to look like the magician does nothing, merely says a magic word or waves their hand and the impossible happens. “It can easily be written off as a bit cheap – you’re tricking the audience, and not showing real skill.” In The Neat Review Alexander wanted to welcome outsiders behind the scenes, to witness the quickness, misdirection and showmanship first hand, to hopefully raise their appreciation for the craft of magic. “We know that magic is not real, but it can be made to feel indistinguishable from reality to an audience when performed well,” he says. “I think that’s a fascinating notion to entertain. It’s both real and not real. I want to bring the lay-person into that world, which means they need to understand method at some level.”
Alexander and art director Kez Dearmer are both massive fans of Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and The Simpsons, and wanted to keep that funny, “not-taking-ourselves-too-seriously tone” in The Neat Review. Peppered throughout the magazine are typographic pauses that break up the continuity of reading and give the text and images a chance to breathe. “ I feel that text-heavy magazines can quickly become a bit of a blur, so it was important to include little whimsical elements in The Neat Review,” says Alexander. “Much of those elements are based on what made Kez and I laugh in the moment while making the magazine – the illustrations, the annotations, the massive numbers at the beginnings of the articles. Design elements that started out as funny thoughts actually ended up looking pretty attractive.”
Travelling all around the world, Alexander found that there are stark stylistic contrasts between how magic is performed worldwide, between a card magician from Madrid and one from Tokyo, or a parlour magician from London and from LA, and wanted to build this cultural difference into the magazine. Each issue will focuses on a different city. The first is an ode to London while the second NYC-themed mag will include a chat with a hacker to discuss the parallels between cyber security and magic, a piece on the role fear can play in illusion and a romp through the history of magic in New York over the past 100 years. “The photography and ‘feel’ of the magazine is very different from issue to issue as well, and we’re excited to see how the next issue ends up. We want to create strong visual and contextual contrast between the issues, and the cities themselves inform this. Gritty versus clean, sparse versus populous, fast versus slow.”
It’s clear that Alexander and Kez have had a great deal of fun with The Neat Review, from the interview with mind control expert Derren Brown that spans 26 pages (count ‘em!) to the annotations by a supposedly disgruntled reader at the front of the mag. “Magic books or magazines never really have any of that stuff,” adds Alexander. “I guess it mostly speaks to our values of having one foot in the world of magic and one foot outside, so as to pivot. You get perspective, and can laugh at yourselves more easily. It’s card tricks after all!“