What five things make an outstanding magazine?

  1. Great journalism 
  2. Graphic design and format
  3. A point of view 
  4. Be the sound, not the echo
  5. Photography and photographic usage

This is the advice of Paul Gorman, curator of COLD LIPS’ MUST SEE exhibition of the summer – PRINT! TEARING IT UP.  It is free and runs until 22nd August at Somerset House.  THIS WEEKEND they host the  PROCESS festival – essential if you’re in London town – 80 zines are taking part (unforch COLD LIPS are attending CURIOUS ARTS FESTIVAL) but if you have £7 – you can join talks, workshops, demos and browse the zine library – which is all about D.I.Y. – where independent media & making is interrogated and explored as our way of comprehending social and political climate – which is very much the theme of the exhibition.

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Gorman kindly takes questions from the COLD LIPS summer work experience crew (Jessica Ralph, Yasmin Jafar and Edie Goulden).  The show starts with BLAST – the writer, Wyndham Lewis’ modernist manifesto as futurism became aligned with the fascists.  It featured writing from Ezra Pound who called it “the great MAGENTA cover’d opusculus”, and was first published in 1914.


“It was literally a blast against Victorianism,” he explains. “We didn’t want to have a straightforward narrative show; from Blast in the first room, we ended with the current magazines in the last room.* What we wanted to do and did was address it thematically because there are certain themes which are, in the purview of the current contemporary magazines, kind of everlasting; things like identity, politics around race and sexuality, all of which are very important issues today and in fact they always have been, they’ve been part of the independent media for many years. So we could look at Spare Rib, which was launched in 1972, as a great feminist magazine, and also Gay News, which was launched the same year out of the underground press – then draw the links between those magazines. So we wanted to look at these various scenes and we built the show around those themes, so there were kind of clusters of interest, whether it was politics or satire, lifestyle, arts and entertainment – so that was the way in which we built it. During the build, we talked to a lot of magazine makers, because we had to, because we wanted to find out how they could be represented, and that gave us a sort of bedrock on which to build our own show because this is not supposed to be a definitive show, it may be seen as the definitive story of independent magazine publishing but we didn’t set out to do that – this was personal, and hopefully informs choice.” 


Gorman has written 14 books since 2001 – the first was pop culture essential, THE LOOK, examining the people who shaped post-WWII youth tribes, pre-globalisation, with a forward by Malcolm McLaren – who marketed Punk, with Vivienne Westwood from their Kings Road haven.  McLaren is the subject of his next book which will drop late next year – a thorough examination of the svengali’s life.  Gorman’s most recent book is the story of The Face magazine, the pre-internet guide to all things cool (alongside i-D)…

I started writing as a journalist in 1978, for weekly trade papers. A trade journalist, a reporter, a news editor.  I moved to LA in 1990, where I edited Screen International, so I ran the west coast office. When I came back I freelanced.  Generally I work on individual culture across art, design, and fashion – media.”

Why did you think it was important to put on the exhibition now? 

It happened quite serendipitously. Initially, I talked to Claire Catterall who is the co-curator at Somerset House about an exhibition about The Face magazine. I’d been working on the book for 5 years but I was also aware that there had been a resurgence in magazines, not least because my wife had turned me onto quite a few titles; you know, she was getting them from the first issues whether that was the Gentlewoman or Apartamento, and so we decided that rather have a nostalgia exercise, we should look at the contemporary, all the great magazines which had been published since about 2010, but then frame them within a historical context and show the connections not only to The Face, but back to the underground press in the 60s, 70s, magazines like Private Eye which was launched in 1961 and was selling more copies than ever.IMG_9343

So did it feel like quite an instinctive process then, because it was such a personal choice, or was it something you’d built up and bottled over time? 

It did seem like that, because I’d been collecting magazines since I was 12, I realise now, and because I’d researched and written the book about The Face over five years, and that wasn’t exclusively about The Face really, that was about the owner, Nick Logan’s background, and how he’d worked with people from the counterculture, and also how he worked with people in the 80s, who then went on to do other stuff. So I knew the subject fairly well, and as a lifelong buyer and collector of magazines, I kind of had an idea about the exhibition and also as a big fan of Blast, which I view as one of the most important publications of the 20th century. Claire and I both agreed that it should be the starting point, the focal point of the show. So it was fairly straightforward, we kind of knew what we were doing going into it. 

Did anything surprising come up when researching for the exhibition or anything generally that you came across which you perhaps didn’t expect?

Yeah, lots of stuff actually. There was constant surprises which is great because, I think when you make an exhibition you don’t want to be locked down to being very prescriptive – you want to communicate the surprise and delight you feel to visitors so that they engage with it in that way as well. And one of the interesting things for me was I always knew about was Graham Greene’s magazine Night and Day* which was set up as the British New Yorker in 1937 and looked at high and low culture from the same critical perspective; so they reviewed Hollywood movies as much as they would volumes of poetry. The writers were people like Evelyn Waugh who were giants of writing at the time.  At the same time you’ve got Myfanwy Evans, John Piper’s wife, producing her magazine Axis, which was about avant- garde art, and then towards the end of that decade, you’ve got the news magazine The Week, which was a precursor to Private Eye. 

*Greene reviewed “Wee Willie Winkie,” a 1937 Shirley Temple film starring the not-yet-10-year-old.  “The owners of a child star are like leaseholders – their property diminishes in value every year,” he wrote. “Time’s chariot is at their back; before them acres of anonymity[…]infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult […] Her admirers – middle aged men and clergymen – respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desireable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialog drops between their intelligence and their desire.”

Twentieth Century Fox sued Greene for libel on Temple’s behalf. Greene left England for Mexico. The movie studio won the lawsuit, with the judge writing, “This libel is simply a gross outrage.”  The magazine closed.  Chatto and Windus attempted to re-launch it in 2011.

[source, LA TIMES]

What I found was that the 30s were a period of great unrest and uncertainty and ferment, and they produced these great independent magazines, and so I think there are parallels between the 30s and the Tweens we’re living in now, and so in a way, it’s not history repeating, I think that’s what happens when the chips are down, as we’ve seen over the last week and what’s going on even today [Trump protest in London], that that provokes a really fantastic response on the printed page and so that was a real surprise to me. But then there was sort of delightful things which came up on the magazine British Values, which was published in 2015-2016, by second generation Punjabi Kieran Yates and she really injected to David Cameron’s talk about British values, and looked at anti-immigration statements, turning it on its head as the child of immigrants and said we, the immigrant community, express British values as much as we do. But this is done in a very funny way, with Theresa May in a hijab saying her cheeks look banging in that, and so coming across those magazines, as well as a Brexit one by Dan Taylor which is really funny, but also very savage, and so to us it seemed, having opened our doors to it, just came across a real wealth of fantastic examples of what we were looking to champion. 

You mentioned the 30s as an interesting time; there are a lot of magazines in the exhibition from a span of post-WWI to now. In your opinion, was there a particular decade or time where magazines were most relevant and innovative? 

I think it’s now. If you look at the current generation of editors, publishers, writers, photographers, graphic designers – they come of age in a period which is post-2008 financial crash, and they’ve also come of age in the digital era, so I think they’ve learnt a lot about how to make visual impact just from using online approaches quite well, and also, now more than ever, the voice is being given to minorities. Previously in the underground press, there were examples, but really weren’t shown very much. The female voice for example, didn’t get shown much in the underground press, which is why Spare Rib was launched. But these days, a lot of the people operating these magazines are women, particularly young women, and also people from other communities with other identities whether its trans, people of colour or non-binary – there’s now this explosion of activity on that front, and so I think that’s why today is probably the best, having looked back at the last 100 years, now is where it’s really happening I think. 

There is a massive resurgence of return to print and magazines; why do you think that it’s happening? 

Well again, it’s linked to that digital era; there’s a permanence to print. We see the dialogue that’s carried out on Twitter, or even Instagram (which is a more pleasant atmosphere than Twitter) – I’ve been saying that any person can make a funny remark, but it takes commitment and care and consideration to put that on the printed page, and then let it stand forever. Because no one really looks at blogs once they’ve been published, you read them and rarely go back to them, which is one of the reasons why I think the alt-right, heterosexual males flourish in this environment because they can constantly shift the goalpost and make snide remarks and never be pinned down. So I think there’s a sign of cowardice there, whereas younger women in particular and minorities have gravitated to print, because here they can actually express something. If something is put on the page, it’s permanent and it’s forever. 

What was it like working with a grand institution, and during curation what was your relationship with Claire Catterall like? 

It was fantastic working with them because, they’re less of an institution – they’re privately owned by a trust, and so there was less of a degree of bureaucracy to deal with, I dealt directly with Clare who is the senior curator, and we’re pretty much on the same page anyway but there really was a lot of resources thrown into this, and you can tell that from the exhibition. They allowed me to do things like create a great big Mind Map along one wall, or if I wanted to replicate the news stand, it was a “Yeah, let’s do it!” Then there was Scott – I wanted to get Scott King involved because he’s a great artist and designer. There was definitely a lot of freedom, but also a lot of respect between us. So yeah, it was fine – we got that spread of Boris Johnson saying he’s a fucking clown, and really they had no problem with it, and also the view was a lot of this is about oppositional thinking, whether it’s overt or not, political or social or just in the way people live their lives. We can’t ignore Grenfell, we can’t ignore Brexit – these are British things – and a great magazine, Trench, which we included in the exhibition, their next issue is about Windrush, and what’s happening to the Windrush generation, but we did just slightly miss out on that but that’s always going to happen. 

Can you list around 5 elements that you think make a magazine successful?

Great journalism, so it should be concise and clear and get the message across, but it should be experimental as well. I think the great thing about independent magazines as well is that they can afford to be experimental, largely because sometimes it’s a one off, sometimes it’s a biannual, and so they can try more things. 

Cutting edge graphic design, but also format; format is very important as well, and if you look at what Elizabeth Krohn has done with Sabat, she produces 3 issues which has little cut outs and fold outs. Then she produces a fourth issue which is elements, an A3 size, with fold out posters and use of foil, looking at horror films from a feminist perspective. That’s a unique angle, you might think that that is quite niche, but that actually has really wide appeal, and it’s important in these days of Me Too, to consider that angle. 

And so a point of view is important; it’s no good being like everyone else and mainstream media is very much like that, because the PR’s and the advertisers will dictate a lot of the content, so I think the most successful magazines, and it’s obvious from their impact, have a point of view. They’re deliberately slow news, they’re deliberately anti that fast twitter turn over, and so they use a lot of graphs as well. Graphs are really important as well, because it gets a large amount of information across in the most straightforward manner. An element is definitely that unique point of view. 

There’s a quote that I use in the booklet for the show, is that it should be the sound, not the echo. And that’s something I’ve found a lot in publishing – you’ll have Nick Logan writing something in the Face, and then there’ll be so many echoes of it. Lifestyle magazines took over the 80s and to a large extent the 90s, and they were just echoes. Publishers should aim to be profound, and that’s related to uniqueness. 

Lastly, I think photography and photographic usage, again, a willingness to experiment with photography, which is very important because in the online world, photography is kind of undervalued.

Somerset House. South Wing – Temple (closest) or Charing Cross tube. Strand, London. WC2R 1LA 

Mon, Tue, Sat & Sun 10.00-18.00, Wed – Fri 11.00-20.00. Except 09 – 22 Aug 2018 10.00-18.00

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