The Gaysi Zine, 5

Language is tricky when it comes to queer politics and narratives, as it creates categorization. It can be hard to find the right words to describe a spectrum of desires and identities, and magazines that talk about sex often struggle with this. The most LGBTQ+ positive titles that I’ve seen often resort to illustration to depict a range of experiences – Ladybeard’s ambitious first issue memorably made use of bright, confrontational and bold sexual imagery.

Now we see this again from India’s LGBTQ+ The Gaysi Zine (which in size and design is far more magazine than zine). The title, onto its fifth issue, aims to reach people living in smaller cities across India that don’t have access to queer events, using cartoons and graphic art to depict the narratives of like-minded individuals. As the editors write: “Our stories will be written for those who still believe that they are the only ones who are different.”

Although I don’t find the illustration as eye-catching as in Ladybeard, the same effect still holds: at times, the reader can see themselves in what’s being represented because imagery is abstracted yet it also retains a human sensibility. See below, for example (an illustration accompanying an article on how to give and receive multiple orgasms): the colours blur any obvious sense of race or colour, the bodies are obviously nude yet don’t proscribe to the stereotypes of traditional pornography (which might put off or alienate certain readers), but the drawing is also fleshy and playful so feels organic and human. There’s no sense of an objectified body or a particular gaze involved, but crucially the drawing also doesn’t feel clinical and like a chart you’d find in the doctor’s office. The abstraction and subtlety inherent in illustration allows space for the erotic, which often thrives on what’s not said instead of what’s explicit.

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We’re highlighting The Gaysi Zine as our magazine of the week because art directors and editorial designers need to be conscious of how they depict sexual experience in magazines. This title from India suggests a way of thinking when you’re commissioning artwork to do with sex.

It’s also our magazine of the week because, although titles like Ladybeard, Girls Like Us and Krass subvert the traditional content you find in a glossy magazine, I’ve not yet seen an indie title offering and subverting the kinds of ‘sex guides’ you find in things like Cosmo but without a damaging tone and for an LGBTQ+ readership. The Gaysi Zine subverts the guide completely, like with this (illustrated) how-to for scissoring:

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Illustration also does well to communicate the personal. As The Gaysi Zine editor Priya Gangwani notes: “Comics, graphic stories and illustration help avoid the barriers of language beautifully. They jump right out at you and grab you. The visuals make the narrative more human, and create a wonderful possibility for the readers to connect.” Some pages of the publication are entirely dedicated to comics (below), and this reminds me of resent comics newspaper Resist! (released in tandem with the women’s marches, co-edited by The New Yorker’s art director François Mouly).

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The magazine is especially progressive in the political context of India, where desire and sexuality is regulated by law and institutional power (this is unpacked in detail through personal accounts in the publication). “The queer voice is louder and more visible than ever before though,” says editor Priya. “The authors in the magazine have taken great personal risks and consciously spoken about their queer desires and experiences of realising those desire. There are many narratives, for example, which speak not of urban gay culture but lived realities of LGBTQ+ people in rural areas and villages. The voices emphasise its connection with caste, class and politics of sexuality. I believe the LGBTQ movement in India was often critiqued for not engaging with these diverse aspects earlier, but one is noticing a big change there. Additionally, this issue dispels the myth that alternate sexual orientations and queer desires are alien to Indian culture!”

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Racquet #2

We praised the first issue of Racquet for the way it expresed a love for tennis via illustration and some healthy nostalgia, and the recent second edition continues both approaches.

Again the cover sets the visual tone, calmly using a tennis ball for a globe with gold foil annotation (designed by Rodrigo Corral). Almost impossible to do justice by photograph, that shiny gold is set off beautifully by the salmon pink background and vivid green ball. It’s a rich treat of a cover.

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There’s more lovely illustration inside; Mads Berg echoes the cover of issue one with this image of Aussie younster Dominic Thiem (above), and Bee Johnson drae this portrait of naomi Osaka (below).

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Other visual highlights include a pairing of thirties tennis ace Fred Perry and a skinhead girl wearing one of the polo shirts that now bears his name (above) – a visual opposition we’re all aware of but I don’t think I’ve seen presented so simply before.

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The magazine is refreshingly free of standard sports photography; the digital perfection of contemporary indoor tennis photography is very dull, though it does slip in occasionally here. More interesting are Josh Skinner’s collection of shots of damaged tennis courts (above), illustrating a piece about how the US eighties tennis boom (built on the success of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors) faded.

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The typographic playfulness of this story about squash — I guess it’s more than just a tennis title after all — is perfectly pitched too. The text is broken but readable.

Two issues in, Racquet is already a very assured addition to the indie sports magazine shelf.

Editor: David Shaftel
Art director: Larry Buchanan

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Lindsay Ballant, The Baffler

This week we’re at work with Lindsay Ballant, freelance graphic designer and art director of political quarterly The Baffler. Founded in 1988, the satirical, left-leaning title went on to inspire a host of new leftist publications in the states including Jacobin, n+1 and Dissent. This year, Eddie Opera’s team at Pentagram has been behind its new redesign, which sees a move away from ornamental visuals steeped in the history of titles like Punch towards a minimal look much more on par with the newer magazines that The Baffler first informed.

As well as art directing the quarterly, Lindsay writes (she’s currently penning a piece on the design and visual messaging of the 2016 elections), she has on online store of cause-driven buttons and pencils, and she teaches graphic design at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). We catch up with Lindsay as she starts work on The Baffler’s next issue.

How was your weekend?
It was pretty solid. I made a few meals at home, read some longer articles, went to a march here in D.C. in support of the ACA (Obamacare), and did some work.

Tell us about your journey to work.
After spending nearly 12 years working almost exclusively in house and/or at full-time positions, I now work from home for the majority of the time and I love it so, so much. So my ‘journey’ usually begins with lying in bed reading news articles I cull from Twitter or bookmarked the night before, then walking my dog Luna for about 40-60 minutes, then making quick breakfast and a pot of tea and having it with my boyfriend at the kitchen table while reading more news or doing some simple email responding, then going to the study or home office (we use the master bedroom of our two bedroom apartment for now) to work.

It’s everything I dreamed of while I was in an office for years eating some yogurt parfait and sipping on coffee from a disposable cup (that likely dripped while en route) while staring at my inbox. Homeiness and comfort are my new pillars.

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Describe the state of your desk.
Here’s a fancy cleaned-for-press pictures!

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I keep a few tokens of encouragement/inspiration around: at the base of my screen I have a patch from Best Made Co, the company my first boss started, a Baltimore Orioles patch of my father’s from the late 70’s/early 80’s (my father and I bonded a lot over baseball and this was our team), some Bernie “Birdie” Sanders stickers inspired by this moment, my initials in acrylic 3-D printed form as a gift from Adam Wahler of A2A graphics, and my ‘I Have Seen the Future’ pin, which is a replica of the one that was given out at the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, which my grandmother went to.

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Which magazine do you first remember?
The magazine I really first connected with was Seventeen magazine. It was projection on my part, and Seventeen was the vehicle. And the more I‘ve thought about Seventeen’s personal impact on me in regards to its function, especially after I found myself working in editorial for so long, the more I’ve thought about how I view magazines as an extension of one’s personality or lifestyle.

Think about the way magazines and publications are often prominently displayed in interiors, placed on coffee tables, instagrammed with lattes, used as style accessories (even the non-lifestyle titles). It’s a means of classification, self-identification and signaling, like any other brand. I have the self-awareness to know that I do this myself.

Do we identify ourselves as a New Yorker reader or a Monocle reader or a Kinfolk reader? They are, of course, supposed to be read, but how many of us keep them around without actually reading them. Which is all to say, I wanted to aspire to live in the world Seventeen presented to me.

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The previous cover design, with serif logo

Tell me about how you worked with the Eddie Opera team at Pentagram to visually communicate The Baffler’s new editorial vision?
To be honest there wasn’t much overlap – I attended one meeting with their group and The Baffler staff in regards to a brainstorm of the website redesign, but the branding and print redesign was already completed by then. I received a brand guide of aesthetic formalities and some templates and was on my way.

I was asking for a more philosophical framework with which to start from, and much of my guidance came from discussions with Baffler staff themselves about the redesign process, what their intentions were, what they wanted to change from the old, and by looking at old issues of The Baffler (which dates back to 1988) that I can only describe as a zine-like antidote to The New Yorker. So I was able to piece together an idea from there. I will say that after looking at those old issues the intentions of the redesign, especially in regards to the anti-ornamental, the simplicity, and use of different type styles to signify each kind of story (salvo, opinion, fiction, poem, etc), became more clear to me.

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The current cover with redesigned logo

Pentagram’s redesign sought to make sure that The Baffler looks like a magazine that both a left or right leaning individual could pick up. Why?
I found what Pentagram discovered with its field research really fascinating – that sans-serifs are viewed as more left-leaning and serifs are viewed as more right-leaning. Tradition vs. modernity perhaps?

In any case, my view of it is I don’t put as much emphasis on whether the cover or form entices someone from either side of the political spectrum. I think the modernity of the new identity and the unique quality of the masthead running off the corner as they’ve designed, the lack of any headlines on the cover, and the legacy of interpretive cover art is, by nature, more left-leaning, in that it isn’t literal and is very non-conformist.

Furthermore, The Baffler’s founder, Thomas Frank, is widely known as a left-leaning historian, journalist, and cultural critic. It’s true that he’s critiqued both the right and left political spectrum, but he’s always critiqued the left from an even further left vantage point, and by extension, The Baffler has, from my observations, embodied those same qualities. If anything, we’re trying to differentiate ourselves from other leftist publications with more irreverence and wit in our approach to diffuse some of the gravity/outrage many of the stories will leave you feeling. We throw some proverbial spitballs at the mainsteam, sure. But to me The Baffler lets its Leftist freak flag fly proudly, and doubling down on that persona further solidifies its place within the very overcrowded media landscape.

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The political climate in the USA right now is having a huge effect on the kind of editorial illustrations being commissioned by magazines. What illustration have you recently commissioned at The Baffler that you have found especially politically effective?
One of my favourite illustrations from the redesign issue which we put out last December was a portrait of Hillary Clinton (above) by London-based illustrator Sarah King to accompany a piece by Yasmin Nair about Clinton’s brand of feminism, which she argues is an elite one obsessed with a more ‘Lean In’, empire-building approach instead of the kind of grassroots activism embodied in the 60’s.

It views the struggle through class divisions and points out the ways in which rights have advanced for some but not others. The inspired-looking portrait is made up of quotes Mrs. Clinton used when articulating her own vacillating positions on some social rights, such as “When I was ready to say what I said I said it” and “You’re constantly reevaluating where you stand” (on supporting gay marriage), “It was a defensive action” and “I’m not in anyway excusing them; I’m explaining them” (on her support of the Defence of Marriage Act). To me this embodies Clinton’s role perfectly – at first glance, a stately aspirational portrait is actually made up of a bunch of tedious rationalisations.

What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
Well it’s the same issue I have nearly every week – the fact that I have to do so many small and medium-sized things for completely unrelated projects!

What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
Definitely the podcast artwork for The Baffler’s new podcast  – the name they’ve come up with is ‘Whale Vomit’!

What will you be doing after this chat?
It’s probably time to give Luna a walk.

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Chris Clarke, deputy creative director

To coincide with this week’s Society for News Design judging, we’re ending the week off by chatting with award-winning design director Chris Clarke about the magazines that he admires most. Currently global deputy creative director of The Guardian, Chris oversees the design direction across the newspaper’s multiple facets, and he keeps his beloved collection of magazines in boxes under his desk (often referring to them as the ‘Clarkive’).

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Today, we asked Chris to select three mags from this Clarkive: an old issue, a new issue and any other design detail he thinks is great.

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An old issueGrafik, April 2007
Blogs were in their infancy when I was in design education. Our library, although stocked with everything I could possibly need for a solid foundation in design theory, didn’t intrigue the curiosity I had developed for other areas of visual communication. Grafik magazine was a fresh perspective of design theory and invaluable in contributing contemporary thinking to my design background. It was my everything.

It covered the full spectrum of visual culture from reviews of international design events and exhibitions, showcases of emerging talent juxtaposed with in depth features about a myriad of different subjects within design history.

Grafik lasted over almost a quarter of a century before closing it’s print edition in 2011. The 2003 ‘Made thought’ redesign was the magazine’s period of greatest vigor for me.

The issue I have chosen has always resonated with me as innovation within magazine cover design. It celebrated Graik’s 150th issue with a process special report, showcasing how bold and innovative thinking marries with technical prowess.

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Designed by Sea and screenprinted by hand at K2 print, it is — as it’s back cover states – ‘One of twelve thousand covers and is totally unique’.

And it truly was, not just as an issue — but as a magazine that contributed extensively to my design education. And I cherish it for that.  I hold every issue from 2003 onwards dearly, and testament to it’s brilliant editing. The work inside is still a timeless, thoroughly considered archive of remarkable graphic design.

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A new issue: Jacobin, #21 Spring 2016
Jacobin offers liberal perspectives on politics, economics, and culture and an engaged younger voice for the American politically left. It perfectly balances serious topics with engaging design and art direction. It’s topics are both rigorously researched, and polemic in tone.

This particular issue documents the Irish revolutionary period between 1919 – 2912 , and the fallout that followed. The magazine isn’t just retrospective, it also gives enough of the history to pose a thoughtful debate of the potential resurgence of a radical left in Ireland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s fascinating and thoroughly researched — creative director Remeike Forbes does a wonderful work bringing quite complex narratives to life. Packed full of detail, Jacobin doesn’t just present information it guides you through it clearly and intelligently.

All the while doing so using a reductive three colour palette.  

Naom Chomsky best described the magazines as a ‘bright light in dark times’ and I agree — during our unsettling political climate it’s nice to have a companion.

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And another thing…q Details, The Shelf Journal, Colors
One thing? I’m clearly a terrible hoarder so here’s three-ings. Above is a detail in Details October, 1988.

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This shelf in The Shelf Journal issue 3, 2014.

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This colour in Colors, No.4, 1993.

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Mushpit presents… Forever

‘We’re really happy to be working with Converse because they’re a brand that sit very naturally with us and our readers – AKA we all wear Chuck Taylors all the time and that’s just the truth. I’m literally wearing them right now,’ says Mushpit’s Bertie Brandes of the title’s new collaboration with the sneaker company.

The shiny new A5 zine called Forever is a slither of Mushpit tone and energy – there’s the same fake adds, quizzes, humour, and lo-res imagery – expect all the models inside are wearing converse and occasionally talk about converse in their interviews.

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On the editor’s page, Bertie and co-Mushpit founder Char Roberts have included iPhone photos of them in converse trainers taken long before the project began to demonstrate how the brand has always fit with their aesthetic. ‘Converse were very happy for us run wild with our wickeddd humour and that’s obviously absolutely key to what Mushpit is. So yeah it’s been good, very refreshing and I think quite unusual,’ say the editors of the whole experience. Inside, they’ve focused on a group of London-based artists, musicians and film-makers for the zine, all whom also felt comfortable working with the brand presence, mainly because they wear the trainers already anyway.

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I do wonder whether fake ads for Converse that are really part of a real ad for Converse deflates the power of the satire though. ‘Obviously first and foremost, this is a piece of Mushpit and we would never compromise on our content or risk it undermining anything else we do or say,’ say Bertie and Char when I ask them about this potential issue. ‘We’re really happy with how this mini-zine can sit between clearly ‘branded’ work and mad, bad and radical Mushpit main issues.’

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Forever, which boasts a set of covers, is going to be distributed at various University of the Arts London sites, as well as the magCulture shop, Goodhood in Shoreditch, WAH Nails in Soho, and The Alibi in Dalston. ‘There will be a few more stockists but because the zines are free (and shinyyy) they’re hard to keep in any one place for very long,’ say Bertie and Char. ‘If you have the chance to grab one we suggest you do!’