I’m always surprised that despite the huge amount of independent publications being produced, there is such a significant lack in good film magazines out there. Film writing seems to exist largely online, and film fan art is confined to the far-reaching, darkened corners of Tumblr. In terms of film magazines there is of course Little White Lies, which has been a hero of indie publications for a while, but which today struggles to match its heyday. So when Shelf Heroes came through the post this week, it was a welcome reminder of how great film writing and fan art can be when it’s done right – there is something enjoyably geeky about being able to appreciate someone else’s response to a favourite film.
Like the best zines, Shelf Heroes has a simple concept and then allows contributors to do whatever they like with the brief: the idea is that you ‘pick a movie and do whatever you want’, but the film you choose has to begin with a particular letter. The first issue is of course letter A – so the content celebrates movies at the start of an alphabetically organised shelf, everything from Akira and Apocalypse Now to The Apartment and Antichrist. It works because the graphic illustrations are well executed, ranging from the subtle, like a lobster for Annie Hall (above), to more cluttered responses, like Robert G. Fresson’s vibrant poster for The African Queen (below).
Some responses are gleefully cartoonish; Ace Ventura’s colourful shirt makes an appearance (above), and a graphic sketch for Ridley Scott’s American Gangster is like a portrait in a comic book (also above). Other responses are more lyrical and abstract, like a typewritten ink-splat for Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (below), and a poem written in homage to The Aristocats. The far-ranging contributions highlight the variety of kinds of film fans around, and emphasise how a work inspired by a film can be an artwork in its own right.
Shelf Heroes gets an A star for its execution, and it sets your mind spinning in anticipation for issue B. Like an alphabet game, you start finding yourself seeing how many films you can think of that start with a certain letter (Bande á Parte, Bourne Ultimatum, Back to the Future…). Presumably there are going to be 26 issues spanning all letters of the alphabet, and then maybe a few more for numbers as well (101 Dalmatians, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 3 Women…) The theme is perhaps most enjoyable because it allows for weird combinations of content; in what other publication would you find a photograph of legs fully tattooed with characters from Anchorman alongside an essay considering the logic of Aguirre, the Wrath of God?
Editor and designer: Ben Smith
Review by Madeleine Morley