Dan Stafford, Amuseum
After the busy Modern Magazine conference last week, this morning we’re straight back to work and we’re visiting the amazingly talented editorial illustrator Dan Stafford. As well as drawing for a host of magazines - like Bloomberg Businessweek and The New York Times Magazine - Dan also makes his own print publication, Amuseum. The magazine tells stories through objects and is packed with detailed illustrations and cartoons, and we catch up with Dan after the release of issue two.
Where are you today?
I’m sat in my studio in Brixton, south London. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate because i’m surrounded by inspirational publications, piles of notes and packing materials for orders of our second issue. We’re getting ready to start production on the third issue and I want it to be the best yet. When I start a new issue plan I like to get out all the titles that Amuseum gets parts of its DNA from and bring them all together on a table so I can really “see” where to go with it.
What can you see from the window?
The back of the studio faces out onto a 1950s council estate with lots of trees. It’s in a partitioned section of an old printer’s building. We’re right next to a railway line so I regularly hear the guttural chugging of a freight train ambling past or the muffled sounds of the designers working in the next room mumbling through the walls.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Afternoon. We have good lighting in the space so it always feels like the middle of the afternoon, which is my optimal time for doing creative work. I find around 3pm is the peak. It’s also nice when you’re go engrossed in the work that you don’t even realise it’s late in the evening, then glancing up at the skylight you realise it’s dark outside. It always feels, for me anyway, like the hours after 6pm are “stolen” in some way, so anything I get done after then somehow feels more valuable and exciting.
Which magazine do you first remember?
I remember my Dad used to keep copies of Viz in the downstairs toilet. Me and my sister were told to never read them, so of course we read all of them. I knew they were rude, but the content is actually quite political and complex in retrospect. There was something about the mixture of pictures, words and humour which I found really captivating even though I didn’t understand it properly.
I think my next “awakening” with magazines was when I first picked up a copy of Butt in the early 2000s; it has a similar level of rudeness, but the interviews were so captivating and paired with that distinctive candid style of photography, it was just sublime. The photographic style makes It exciting too, it's like everyone is “caught in the act”. I really miss it actually now that it’s stopped, but I suppose The Gentlewoman and Fantastic Man are a more sophisticated version of that format. I enjoy them both immensely.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
The latest issue of Eye just came through my letterbox, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve also got a few issues of National Geographic and The New Yorker to catch up on (like always).
I recently got a load of vintage Japanese magazines from the 70’s in the post too which I’ll be shamelessly stealing ideas from as soon as I’ve poured myself another cup of coffee. A particular favourite of mine is Bikkuri Haus, it’s a men’s lifestyle magazine with a childlike illustrated quality that you just don’t see in the west. It’s also saddle stitched even though it’s over 120 pages long so it has this weird round spine. Brilliant.
What’s your favourite object this morning?
I just read about this fascinating computer mouse for people who have lost use of their hands. It’s a weird roller-ball type object that you fix to the back of your teeth – it allows you to move the cursor with the tip of your tongue. In terms of things in the studio; I have this collection of candles in the shape of fruit which I really like, i’ve had them for years. I kind of want to light them to see how they distort when they melt, but they’re just too good to destroy them like that. I also have this beautiful Alessi ashtray on the coffee table which I find hypnotic. I’m always taking the central spring part out of it to fiddle with. I don’t smoke and I refuse to let people put their ash in it; it’s that kind of object.
We see lots of designers start their own magazine, but it’s rare to see an illustrator create one. How did the decision to start Amuseum come about?
Aside from the fact i’m a gargantuan magazine nerd, it seemed to make sense at the time. Because I’m an editorial illustrator, I specialise in making images to compliment and illuminate text. I also design lots of publications and other materials for corporate clients so it seemed logical at the time to combine the two skill sets into something I could sell. I felt like there wasn’t really a title that gave illustration the power and position it deserves when accompanying long-form writing and informative content. Then I heard ‘A History of The World in 100 Objects’ on BBC Radio 4 and the idea to tell these stories through objects in a playful and visual way materialised and developed while I was pulling together content for issue one.
And how has your own background in editorial illustration influenced the layout?
Massively. I think newspaper and editorial design in publications that I work for like The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek have really affected how I expect to see images and text on the page. I love it when a pullquote from the article totally matches the illustration for a piece, almost like a caption. I wanted to emulate that effect in Amuseum, but then really lay the puns and visual jokes on thick to give some contrast and a sense of humour. I suppose the editorial background has provided quite a nice anchor to the bizarre and disparate subject matter in Amuseum; we have this regimented, meticulously organised layout which is then interrupted and teased by the illustrations and objects.
What challenges did you face in creating your second issue?
Aside from the obvious issues of cash flow and my absurdly optimistic underestimations of how long it takes to pull it all together? The main thing was walking that tight-rope between familiarity and repetition. It was important to keep it feeling the same without copy-and-pasting new features into the same template. I think the ability to chop it up and juggle things around is what makes independent publishing so exciting; larger more established titles just can’t do it in the same way.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
I want to get a new flat-plan up on the wall. That moment when you feel like you have a vision for the whole issue for the first time is one of the best parts of the process. It’ll be nice to see the metaphorical lighthouse-on-the-horizon and start paddling furiously towards it.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Going to the Post Office to send out hundreds of promotional copies of the magazine individually. The look the cashier gives you when you heave a big blue IKEA bag full of jiffy envelopes to the counter isn’t fun for anyone.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Print address label, affix to envelope, insert issue two, lick, fold, seal. Repeat.