Good on Paper
I’m a magazine junkie. Magazines are the reason I got into photography and design in the first place, and they’re the reason I stayed with it. With the internet the publishing industry has changed dramatically, and magazines come and go with more regularity as advertising budgets shift and consumer trends vary.
The US magazine market, for the last decade and a half, has been saturated with formulaic advertising driven publications, designed more to grab your attention on the newsstand than be visually appealing. They’re littered with “eye catching” cover lines and filled with the hottest products on the market (coincidentally all of those products seem to have advertised as well). There are exceptions to the rule, but unfortunately big advertisers of today shy clear of anything progressive, interesting, or opinionated.
The overseas market is a bit different in that design is much more of a consideration (this applies to much more than publications), and for that reason the expensive “import” magazines tend to look stunning on US shelves. But for US publishers it all comes down to money, and a handful of large publishers control 70% of the magazine circulation market in the states. So unfortunately their formulas rule our shelves.
I have a pretty large collection of magazines, spanning a couple decades, and I go back to them pretty regularly. The internet is great for many things, but I still like the tactile experience of magazines, and even if magazines were to go away entirely (which I don’t see happening soon), at least I still have these…
Speak was one of my all-time favorites. It was released in the late 90s, and carried on into the early 2000s. Speak was art-directed by Martin Venezky, and focused on everything from fashion to literature to art to modern culture. The design was experimental, and the typography was always interesting, and challenging the rules. There was a brief redesign period by David Carson, and then Venzky was back at the helm after a few issues. The photo shows the evolution in size from issue 1, to the later issues.
I started riding BMX bikes in 1983 or so, and still do. Growing up, Freestylin’ was the bible for “freestylers” as they were then known (now it all gets lumped into BMX) and even skateboarders, as the content focused on both subcultures. I still have a whole load of early Freestylin’ mags as well as its sister publication BMX Action, all the way through when they eventually restructured into a new magazine called Go: The Rider’s Manual which eventually folded. This magazine is probably the biggest reason I’m still involved in BMX. Eventually I went on to be an editor/photographer at Ride BMX magazine, and without Freestylin’ that path wouldn’t have been paved.
The late 80s Freestylin’ “master cluster” of Andy Jenkins, Mark Lewman, and Spike Jonze put out a magazine that truly reflected what “freestyle” meant, and have since gone on to work on some of the most creative projects our culture has seen.
Recently, Freestylin‘ released a retrospective book in collaboration with Nike.
Note: As you can see above Freestylin‘ actually became Freestyle for… one issue.
Raygun probably had more impact on graphic design than any other modern-day publication. Love it or hate it, David Carson turned the magazine into a visual experiment, using unorthodox typographic treatments, even setting one story entirely in the typeface “Zapf Dingbats” simply because he thought it was a terrible article and didn’t want anyone to have to read it. His approach of using intuition over a traditional grid system for design through the conservative typographers of the world into a tizzy, and influenced a slew of new designers creating the “grunge movement” in graphic design.
Raygun‘s (and Carson’s) significance transcended the often snobby world of graphic design, and influenced contemporary culture and “Generation X” as a whole. Raygun was the sister publication to music/culture magazine Bikini. Founder Marvin Scott Jarrett went on to co-found Nylon Magazine with supermodel Helena Christensen.
Another David Carson creation — he was a co-founder and the original design director — was a travel magazine billing itself as the “Journal for the New Traveler.” Blue was a travel magazine directed at real people, not necessarilly the rich, who enjoyed real life things like surfer, mountain biking, etc.
Blue was well designed, and somewhat experimental early on, but not nearly on the level of some of Carson’s other editorial projects. This cover is one of my favorites.
Big Brother was the controversial skateboard magazine started by Steve Rocco out of contempt for the other publications on the market. Rocco wanted to do what he wanted, and he did. The magazine gained mainstream attention/criticism for articles such as “How to Kill Yourself” and its Gay issue. Prior to getting bought by Larry Flynt, the magazine did a string of controversial and offensive covers, which were, for lack of a better word, brilliant. The creative team behind Big Brother went on to produce the “Jackass” series on MTV, followed by “Jackass the Movie”.
Loft: The Club Homeboy Zine
Another creation from Jenkins, Lewman and Jonze, Loft was the zine for members of “Club Homeboy” which the crew from Freestylin’ started. All this eventually morphed into Homeboy magazine, which focussed on skate, BMX, and related culture. There are a ton of old ‘zines in my collection but this one stands out.
My shelves are full of design magazines, but Baseline is one of my favorites. These issues from the late 90s are printed on heavy stock in an interesting over sized format. Pure typography inside.
Emporio Armani: Multiplicity
Another David Carson art-directed piece, an Emporio Armani “magalogue” from the late 90s. Great images and typography throughout.
Colors was a publication funded by Benneton, and directed early on by influencial designer Tibor Kalman. Colors focused on multiculturalism and global awarness, and used bold imagery and typography to communicate its message. This magazine is still published and available on large newstands.
Another influencial design publication, Emigre was put out by the type foundry of the same name, designed by Rudy Vanderlans and Zuzana Liko. It was a journal of design and experimental typography which evolved throughout the years, at one point packaging a cd of music.
Emigre became known as much for the magazine, which pushed the limits of publication design, as for it’s well-designed typefaces which include Mrs. Eaves, Template Gothic and Filosofia.
Another Jenkins, Lewman, Jonze collaboration, Dirt was heralded as “Sassy for Boys” and came as a supplement to Sassy. This one I mostly kept for the Mr. T interview, and the Master Cluster connection to Freestylin’. The coverline “Macho Overload” is pretty epic.
My british friends, or mates as they would say, Mark and Chris Noble of 4130 publishing put this one out in the late 90s early 2000s. 4130 was known best as the publisher of UK BMX magazines like Invert and Ride BMX, and eventually added other titles like skateboard magazine Document, a motocross magazine called Moto, Dig BMX magazine, and a mountain bike magazine called Dirt. 4130’s venture in the lifestyle/culture magazine genré was a clean, simply designed magazine called Level which inspired current magazines such as Anthem. A dozen or so issues were published before putting the book on hiatus. 4130 was sold last year, however Chris tells me he still owns the name Level, so financial backers step up!
I kept two issues of Punk Planet over the years, both design issues. Punk Planet’s DIY ethic was inspiring to anyone working in publishing, (or at least to me) and their conent tackled everything from music to politics. Ironically, Punk Planet’s designer of several years, Josh Hooten, now owns Herbivore, a vegan clothing and publishing company in the same building as my studio. Check out Herbivore magazine, and buy some of their t-shirts.
This is an obscure one in my collection. Endangered Species was a free music publication when I lived in Boston in the mid-late ’90s. Shepard Fairey, at the time was an up-and-coming artist in the skate scene in New England. His “Andre the Giant has a Posse” stickers started popping up everywhere along with stenciled giant heads… Around Boston and Providence, the “giant heads” were getting noticed and people were starting to ask “what does that mean?” Shepard was a far cry from design campaign posters for the future president, but locally people were picking up on him.
Plazm is one of my all-time favorites, and while it’s still around, the 90s were its heyday. Published by a collective of designers in Portland, Oregon, Plazm has collaborated with and featured work from legendary designers like Art Chantry, Rebeca Mendez, David Carson, Milton Glaser, Modern Dog, and Ed Fella.