Week 7 – Content Review

Lecture with Susanna Edwards and Angharad Lewis

So You Want to Publish a Magazine by Angharad Lewis

The Layout Book by Gavin Ambrose

Self publishing is an interesting industry. I touched on it briefly last week, but if anything it is becoming more and more accessible than ever. Technology enables content creators to reach new audiences more and more – and even though the definition of “content” has changed drastically over the last few decades, print is definitely still alive and kicking!

It was fascinating to listen to Angharad Lewis speak about her publishing career and how haphazard and by the seat of your pants the industry can be. The evolution of grafik and the passion and time and effort that goes into periodical publishing is staggering. I was also reminded of the guest lecture last year by Matt Willey, who keeps coming back to magazines as passion projects. The gruelling timescale of working on a major publication is not something I’d wish to undertake, but the scale and team you work with also have a huge impact on a publication. I have previously worked for a weekly local paper and currently produce small magazine newsletters for corporate clients and event guidebooks. Working as part of a team dealing solely with copy for a newspaper every week was far less stressful than being the sole designer on a project even if it is only a few times a year!

Photo by Philipp Messner

I’ve always been drawn to zines. Their diy punk enthos and the sheer scope and breadth of subject is fascinating. Small independent publishing will always have a place, and zines have even been the start of several more mainstream magazines. All you need to make a zine is access to paper and a way to reproduce your thoughts. I love the chaotic stapling and careful handmade impositions, random subject matter and cheerful affordability.

As a teenager living in a small town in a conservative state, the local alternative newspaper (The City Weekly) and magazine (SLUG) were a lifeline. Political essays, art, music and the all important small venue gig calendars, publications like these were vitally important before the internet made finding a community easier.

SLUG Magazine

I also enjoyed the The Layout Book by Gavin Ambrose, it covered points that made me reflect on my own practice. I recognised rules I have been working by almost unconsciously and it was useful to examine these more purposefully. When designing longer documents it is important to set up ground rules and stylesheets for consistency, and it may be helpful for me to make note of these choices more deliberately. A client’s working style also informs the layout a great deal. The only time I use a visible baseline grid, for example, is for a specific client with an editing background who likes to pop in and edit text on the go as they are very particular about full justification. Personally I dislike hyphenation and will avoid it whenever possible. Layout also comes back to compositional theory and rhythm building.

From The Layout Book by Gavin Ambrose

Workshop challenge

Write the first draft of your 3,000 word article, to be saved as a Word or TextEdit document.
Create an A3 landscape format inspiration board to present your initial ideas about the design approach, to include examples of materials, format, typography, print / digital production.

I had originally thought of my interview being pitched either as a gossip mag or a glossy high fashion piece. I have fallen out of the habit of reading magazines, so it was important to do some research into current offerings. Looking at a variety of magazines online was helpful, but it would have been invaluable to leaf through magazines at a library or bookshop. Unfortunately lockdown has precluded that. Following interactions from the Ideas Wall, I looked at both The Gentlewoman and Riposte. These were both excellent suggestions, operating outside of the grocery store aisle and catering for mature and thoughtful women.

The bold colour blocking and playful typography of The Gentlewoman underline the importance of the content, rather than a thinly veiled bundle of advertising.

Riposte is similar, with bold colour choices, illustration and thoughtful photography as well as alternate covers and well written prose. Both of these magazines seemed to fit the tone of my interview better than a gossip magazine or glossy fashion magazine full of advertisements and perfume samples.

After writing the rough draft of my essay I decided to try using Robert Brown’s Eight Questions:

Who are the intended readers? – list 3 to 5 of them by name;

  1. Curious women 18-100
  2. People interested in folktales/Cornish specific local flavour
  3. People interested in mermaids
  4. Fictional well read incryptids
  5. Myself, I suppose, and my family who are tied to the subject by familial connection

What did you do?

I was already aware of the story, and location so I expanded my research. I looked into scholarly articles about mermaids, Cornish folktales and local parish records. I reached out to local business people, visited the village my story was centred in and took photographs as well as looked through my own past photos that were geotagged in that location. I found several threads that I had not been aware of, including the early Cornish church connection with mermaids and the earliest medieval passion plays in Cornish, and several other Cornish stories about mermaids, none of which were similar to the Mermaid of Zennor. I also watched recordings of storytellers, animations, an opera adaptation, poetry and modern songs about the legend.

Why did you do it?

Mermaid stories have always fascinated me and I have been interested in this specific story since my husband told me he was related to a mermaid nearly 20 years ago. Zennor is quite close to where I live, so I’ve visited St Senara’s church many times and have always popped in to see the Mermaid Chair, when possible. The story is bound to my family’s name and history and I felt like personifying the mermaid would allow me to engage with it in a new way.

What happened?

My initial concept was a straightforward retelling of the story in the form of a pop-up book. Simple black silhouette illustrations would combine two interests of mine, papercuts and paper engineering. Thinking it through more fully, and after a tutorial with James I realised that I would not have the time to fully develop a pop-up book, and that I would not be able to reach the wordcount of the assignment with a straightforward retelling. Instead I decided to structure the assignment as a magazine interview as if the mermaid was a real person.

What do the results mean in theory?

My research opened up several new avenues I had not heard of before, and gave me slightly more proof that the story may have been based on a factual person.

What do the results mean in practice?

It is an interesting story that is tied to a specific place that others may enjoy learning about.

What is the key benefit for your readers?

An entertaining read that touches on multiple points of mermaid mythology and local flavour as well as the history of the Mermaid Bench in St Senara’s church.

What remains unresolved?  

There is no definitive proof that a Matthew Trewhella disappeared mysteriously from Zennor, or that the Mermaid Chair was based off of the legend. I find it more likely that the legend grew from the chair than the other way around, as its earliest recorded version is far more recent than the carving.