Back issue: Fire & Knives

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Our March Podcast featured food journal Fire & Knives as the Back Issue; here we take a flick through its pages.

The small-format magazine was launched in 2009 by Tim Hayward, who was working in advertising but wanted to write about food. Tired of being ignored by food editors, Hayward devised Fire & Knives to establish his voice and publish others who shared his predicament, as well as offer work by established writers that they couldn’t get published elsewhere.

Hayward worked with the team at children’s magazine Anorak – publisher/editor Cathy Olmedillas and designer Rob Lowe – to develop and produce the magazine.

Lowe, aka Supermundane, had a vital role in Fire & Knives; his design and illustration circumvented the shoestring budget to establish a bold and immediately recognisable aesthetic that emphasised the strength of the writing. Using handwritten headlines, found art and scanned objects, the visuals shared the directness of the texts – Hayward let people write what they wanted and Lowe responded in kind.

Lowe’s bold opening illustrations and typography broke up the text-heavy, journal-like design. The magazine was not only creatively successful in its own right, but also set a tone that was very influential on other indie publishers. Lowe ransacked his knowledge of design history to come up with clever ways to present Hayward’s commissions – the headline design above feels like a rough for a fifties book cover.

As Hayward explains in our Podcast, the magazine proved to be financially unsustainable; it had attracted criticism for not paying its contributors (a problem of working with the more established writers it hired?) and towards the end you could sense the enthusiasm fade. It lasted for 18 issues; I can’t help feeling that had it launched just a few years later it might have managed to find finanical stability.

Nonetheless, Fire & Knives was a creative success, as these images show, and deserves to be remembered as such. It also gave Hayward his voice, establishing his name in the food world and leading him to become a regular BBC Radio 4 contributor. And Rob Lowe’s work as an artist and illustrator continues to appear in magazines and exhibitions internationally.

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