ModMag report: Early afternoon

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We’re back from lunch, and waiting to hear the next series of editors and designers on breaking out of the mould. Print shouldn’t be seen as being restricted to a single page or a single publication, but always involves groups of people coming together, working and sometimes fighting, to help creativity flourish.

14:00: Liv Siddall, Rough Trade Magazine
Our host Liv takes the stage, “Not only have I got to host the thing but I’ve got to talk too!”. She opens with a picture of herself about a month ago, lying in a pile of paper. It was taken on her last day working at Rough Trade magazine.

She quickly goes back to those heady early days. She had left It’s Nice That after four years and 1700 articles but found herself bored with being freelance, “I need a social environment, I’m a youngest child!”. Out of the blue she got an email asking if she’d like to film bands, make a radio show, and make a monthly music magazine.

“Yes!”

She talks about wanting to make some really different, something nostalgic yet contemporary. She took a look at the music magazines that fill the shelves today and then back at the magazines she grew up with as a teenager; Viz, The Face, old punk zines. “I wanted the magazine to be a bit like me, a nerd, into pop culture, squidgy around the edges and funny and friendly.” To help produce the magazine she brought along designer Bruce Usher, and on the first day showed him round the rough-and-ready Rough Trade shop to help imagine the look of the magazine. “I showed him the shitty behind the scenes bits; the graffiti in the toilets; the back offices. Everything’s drawn on, everything’s got a passive aggressive message scrawled on it.”

With a budget of only £1000 per issue they had to be creative. They asked around, got in contacts with old acquaintances and colleagues. They got bands to write horoscopes, make anti fashion shoots, and take point and shoot cameras on tour. The only rules were that every page had to have someone smiling on it (or stars or kisses drawn over it), and to never put celebs on the cover, and to never have adverts, “We never even discussed adverts!”

Sadly in late August the magazine folded, a victim of a turn to digital marketing. Liv goes back to the same photo she opened with. “It was like being dumped! I ran away to Mexico for a month like a fugitive!” But from every crisis comes an opportunity, “even though I’ve lost my job I’ve gained thousands of new friends!”

14:20: Mirko Borsche, Bureau Mirko Borsche
Mirko Borsche’s working process is almost the opposite to Liv’s, he works almost entirely on long-distance projects, contacting the editors he works for via conference calls, and very occasionally plane trips. But he finds this method of collaboration can lead to incredibly creative designs. He lays out his guiding principle, “I don’t believe in redesigning magazines every now and then, that’s why I rebrush them once a year”.

Working for Zeit Magazine he removed Leben from their original title. Such a small change that very few people noticed. Between issues he changes the use of whitespace, sometimes more, sometimes less. He started using more black and white photography to refer back to the magazine’s origins. It’s always little adjustments rather than big shocks.

Mirko finds that the magazine, as a supplement to Die Zeit, can be much more creative than one that sits on the shelves, trying to attract buyers. The magazine’s unique ‘double cover’ allows designers to work across two large pages, often using humour, or complementary designs. The cover can also respond to events that occur just prior to print, even if the event can’t be featured in print, as occurred following the 2012 mass shooting in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado. In 2015 they did an entire issue half in Arabic half in German to welcome refugees to Germany.

He continues, talking about further art direction for New York art and fashion magazine Tunica, which changes art directors for every single issue. For their issue they designed a typeface that is incredibly difficult to read, the editors thought it was perfect. He’s also worked for Spike, based in Berlin & Vienna. He came up with a design where the editor-in-chief, Rita, now designs the logo and titles for each issue. Super Pages captures the audience with its bold indecypherable typography. It’s difficult to describe the enormous breadth of work that Mirko’s undertaken, if you ever find a magazine he’s worked on, have a read.

14:50: Panel Discussion
It wouldn’t be a conference without a panel discussion. Marking five years of The Modern Magazine, magCulture have invited back some of the best speakers of previous years for a lively talk on a range of topics. On the stage are: Bertie & Char of Mushpit; Danielle Pender of Riposte; John L Walters of the Eye; Matt Phare of Shortlist and Stylist; and Paul Gorman, author of The Story of The Face.

The talk covers a huge variety of topics, from how people entered the industry, the divide in digital to print, whether magazines would like to stay niche or become mainstream, and plans for the future. Below are some quotes from some of the speakers.

Danielle opens by suggesting “we’re at peak-indie-magazine, but perhaps they have an edge in a dedicated audience”. While John points out that “indie culture, in the sense of independent production, has always existed, it’s just that there’s never been such an accessible printing industry”.

Bertie & Char see print, rather than digital, as essential to their humour, “jokes move so quickly online that it perhaps wouldn’t stay funny for long”. Char also adds that “everyone in digital is either freelance, churns out shit, or hates it”. With writing online “even if it’s a long read, do you want to read it? When you make a magazine you can hijack their time, stop them from refreshing”.

Matt believes that, “print is much more fun, you can do covers and designs that can’t be made online.”

John on publishing as an indulgence, “not at all, it’s a job! The Eye, for example, an international magazine for people all over the world!”

Char & Bertie on becoming mainstream, “I can’t imagine it being sold in WHSmith, we’re too niche. I like the idea of it being a constant outsider. When we first did it people hated us, and we hated that. Now people love us, and that’s worse! It doesn’t give you the energy to fight back against them!”

Paul Gorman on magazine design, “I wanna see things I’m scared of. Just looking at Mirko’s Super Pages just then! Riposte, almost everything is a love letter to what’s on the page. I want to see people showing off and having fun doing so!”

Report by Jacob Charles Wilson; photographs by Owen Richards

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