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John May, writer/archivist

John May, writer/archivist

This week we immerse ourselves in John May’s magazine collection. The freelance author, journalist and editor has worked in print for almost fifty years. Along the way he has amassed a vast collection of magazines. These have now been collected together as The Generalist Archive, which provides a significant part of the recently opened Print! Tearing It Up show at Somerset House.

We asked him to select three items from the archive; he managed to keep it to seven.

A new issue
I enjoy the London Review of Books but it’s a sea of print with little illustration. So, I complement that with BookForum which I’ve been buying for a while now. Published by Artforum International in New York, it has a great design, full colour throughout, adding impact and interest to the fresh unstuffy content. This issue particularly interested me as I interviewed Kathy Acker in 1984.

While I was in the Magazine Brighton shop, I also purchased Dressed Like A Woman, a limited edition newspaper of 5,000 copies, which contains pictures of Donald Trump in women’s clothes. The Dutch artist, Jet Nitkamp, removed individual pages from a wide variety of newspapers with articles containing photos of Trump. She then colourised and transformed these using pastels, feminising Trump in a series of subversive images that disturb and resonate on many levels.

An old issue
The next four publications I have taken from the Generalist Archive. The first are two rare and stunning A3 visual papers in black and white. The slightly ripped cover with the big G is A Be Sea, published and edited in London in 1995 by Sebastian Boyle, and designed by David James Associates.

The Village Cry is a punk gem on gloss paper published in October 1977 in Switzerland by Rolf Paltzer, edited by Beat Presser and jointly designed by them both. The centre section opens out into a giant poster.

The second two are Grand Street and The Believer, both from the States. Grand Street might be considered one of the grandfathers of the modern mags. It ran from 1981 to 2004 and was rated by the New York Times as “one of the most revered literary magazines of the post-war era.”

Founded, funded and edited by Benjamin ‘Ben’ Sonnenberg, Jr., it was taken over by Jean Stein in 1990 who introduced visual portfolios. Contributors included Don DeLillo, Dennis Hopper, Salman Rushdie, Terry Southern and Quentin Tarantino among many famous others.

The Believer is a bimonthly literature, arts, and culture magazine based in Las Vegas, Nevada which features journalism, essays, interviews, comics, poetry and a regular column by Nick Hornby.

The Founding Editors were Heidi Julavits, Ed Park and Vendela Vida and the current Editor-in-chief is Joshua Wolf Shenk. This issue is from February 2006 with cover illustrations by Charles Burns. The format is original and the design is superb. The current art director is Kristen Radtke.

And another thing
Yes, this is Leonard Cohen reading a copy of the first issue of the Lewes Musical Express – a recreation of an old-school music paper – which I conceived (with graphic designer Raphael Whittle), wrote more than 90% of, raised donations, sold advertising and distributed 6,000 copies by hand.

It took me right back to my roots in the underground press. We produced four issues in all (now collector’s items) in 2014/2015 and one issue of the Brighton Musical Times. Great fun but little money! As for how we got this photo of Leonard Cohen – no Photoshop involved - you can read the full story and all five papers on Issuu. We were made up by it as you can imagine!

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