Léopold Lambert, The Funambulist
Paris-based architect Léopold Lambert is the founding editor of The Funambulist, the resolutely anti-capitalist magazine dedicated to recording anticolonial, antiracist, queer, and feminist struggles.
The magazine has built a steady international audience for its themed issues, and was recently redesigned to build on this success. Léopold discusses the development of the magazine and the contradictions of success.
What are you up to this morning?
I got to the office, in Paris, a little while ago. I tend to go early as I know that things tend to pile up towards the end of the day. I usually have my breakfast here, before my colleague, Shivangi Mariam Raj, gets to the office.
Today is a special day as this is my deadline to send all the contents of our new issue to our graphic designer, Walid Bouchouchi (Studio Akakir), who is in Marseille. I used to do the layout myself, but with our 40th issue, we tried something a bit more ‘pro’! I’m very happy with the way it looks.
Describe your desk and your work space.
We have a small office on the last floor of a Parisian building. There is no lift to get here, and the stairs are rather old. It’s a small studio with a tiny kitchen space, a bathroom, and a bed (stored vertically), which has allowed us to help out some contributors of ours when they were visiting Paris.
We have two big flags on the main wall: Palestine’s and Kanaky's (Kanaky is the Indigenous name for the settler colony that is more commonly known as New Caledonia).
Because we're high up, our window gives access to the roofs (typical Parisian zinc ones) and occasionally, I fly one of these two flags on it.
Which magazine do you first remember?
Well, that’s somewhat embarrassing, but that would be a French football magazine called Onze Mondial. Although I am still a big football fan (go Gunners!), I have to say that I just had to search for it online to know if it still exists! As it happens, it does.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
So it’s not exactly a magazine per se, but the Chimurenga Chronic just blows my mind every time they publish a new one. Their diagrams that map the connections between personalities, books, films, events, places in the broad Pan-African imaginary are simply incredible, both in their form and contents.
They recently published one in French after creating an exhibition with these maps at Pompidou Center here in Paris, and I bought a few copies to gift them, because it'd be hard to think of a better gifts than this gem!
Describe The Funambulist in three words.
Internationalism, Solidarity, Space
The magazine takes a very clear political stance on the subjects it covers. How did this stance develop?
Yes, the magazine has several goals, but the primary one is to be useful to the political struggles it reflects on and stands in solidarity with.
It is inscribed within contexts that I personally know well (Palestine, France, the U.S., Algeria, Kanaky, India...) and many others that were part of my political imaginary but that required various encounters (with people, places, books...) to be made more tangible (Pan-Africanism at large, the North of Ireland, Armenia, West Papua, Eelam, and many more others).
How is the magazine funded?
Two thirds of our incomes come from subscriptions (annual or monthly, digital only or print and digital), which is really the key point of our ‘business model’ (always a word that sounds odd in the context of an anti-capitalist publication but, precisely, thinking of a way to make the magazine work economically in agreement with our principles is really interesting).
We then have another big proportion of sales (mostly online but also in about 30 bookstores around the globe). And the final part comes from the advertising we always on our back cover, my own talks’ honoraria as an author, and occasional grants from the Graham Foundation in Chicago.
The old cover design and format, left, and the new one.
The recent redesign was a skillful development from the previous design, a huge improvement without altering the character. Talk us through the process.
As mentioned earlier, Walid Bouchouchi is the creator of this great new design. I knew his work from his annual making of the Ciné Palestine Festival here in Paris and was eager to work with him. When he proposed to change the format of the magazine, at first it felt like something was escaping from me, that the magazine was going to lose its identity...
But after a few weeks to get used to this idea, I realised that this was simply a new chapter in the life of the magazine and that just like we had done 39 issues with the original format, we will do another 39 or more with this new one! And in the end, I love it, and all the feedback we got was very positive.
There remains the delicate question of the costs as it unsurprisingly costs more to print it, and a little bit more to ship it. We did not want to increase our prices so we're aiming at continuing increasing significantly our subscriber base so that the print cost per copy would come back to something more manageable.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication
I suppose there’d be many, and I often have advice sessions with friends or acquaintances who are about to start their own, but perhaps one I can give is that if you are going to pay yourself with this publication (as it has always been my aim, which I’ve managed after the first year, and now we have two full-time salaries), then you should find ways to also pay your contributors from the very beginning of the publication.
If you don't do that, there'll be plenty of good excuses not to do it later either.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
I’m looking forward to seeing the layout of this new issue (entitled ‘Decentering the U.S. Thinking through Blackness, Queerness, Whiteness, Caste and Indigeneity from Elsewhere’) coming together. It’ll be in pre-orders on April 14th and officially released on May 3rd.