Given its huge popularity, it’s surprising we haven’t seen more magazines about American football. New launch Spiral sets out to correct this, just as fans gear up for the Superbowl this coming weekend.
As someone with zero interest in the sport, it was going to take something special to attract my attention, and Spiral is certainly special. Its 234 pages are spiral bound using a bright orange plastic binding, there are multiple paper stocks, and it includes a half-size cartoon zine in the centre by Nathan Bell (above). The format is a satisfying handbook size, and conveys a general impression of an information file, something super-functional (a coaching playbook?). Open it, though, and the reader finds the art direction and design shapes the publication into something quite different, something far more expressive.
Launched during lockdown by Los Angeles-based editor Shawn Ghassemitari, who spent most of 2020 developing the first issue after the pandemic left him laid off, Spiral is a fabulous piece of print design. Shawn speaks of bridging the sport and culture, the perfect template for an indie magazine, and this first issue hits just the right mix as it crosses these two poles. ‘Each issue will focus on a specific theme,’ he explains, ‘and use football as a jumping off point to speak on all matters of culture that surround the sport — from art and design, music and fashion, to technology and politics.’ Issue one addresses Tribalism.
The satisfying tactile feel of the issue is more than matched by the design and content. Powerful typography (including Lyno by RP Digital Type, above, and Matt Willey’s Timmons, below) sets the tone throughout, accompanied by a wide range of illustration and photography.
The first visual in the magazine is this rich piece of treated collage (above, by designers Forth + Back) which celebrates the start of a match and the tribalism involved in the collective scream of the crowd that accompanies it. Note how the spiral binding adds to the design.
A piece about the Washington Redskins dropping their racist name has a more subtle opener (above); the blurred images run through the whole article, and the pixellation of part of the headline crystallises the meaning. I also like the flat frankness of the wording of the headline – as if the subject was an inevitable one – while the story actually digs deeper to look at how contemporary social movements can shape public policy.
A more surprising hook into modern politics comes from this artwork by Devin Troy Strother (above). At first glance it appears to be a happy-go-lucky spread of contemporary editorial illustration, when in fact it is a typical example of Strother’s work. He knowingly subverts racist tropes using just that very editorial feel. The accompanying interview sees him discuss the symbolic protest of sportsmen taking the knee, and the cultural themes that extend from the core subject of the magazine come into focus.
More traditional approaches to the sport include player interviews (above) and a visual history of the strips worn by Ohio State University, drawn by Nola McConnan (below).
Across the 234 pages there is too much content to share here, but this quick overview gives a sense of the scope. Visually rich and well written, the power of the graphics and layouts are backed up by good attention to detail throughout. The resulting variety and pace adds up to a really special magazine that will appeal beyond the American football fan.
Editor-in-chief and creative director: Shawn Ghassemitari
Art direction: Forth+Back