A few weeks ago, on his magCulture blog, Jeremy Leslie reviewed issue 1 of Manzine, a monochrome, fanzine-style exploration of “the male phenomenon”. My copy has been read avidly now by most of us here at CR so we decided to track down Manzine’s editor, Kevin Braddock to find out a bit more about the publication…
CR: Manzine – how did this start? With a very manly chat down the pub with some like-minded blokes?
KB: Almost… It started with a conversation in Costa Coffee in Brixton with a couple of young writers who were asking me how to get ahead in men’s magazines. I told them the best thing to do is make your own media – a fanzine maybe – and then realised that’s what I wanted to do. I woke up the next morning with the word “Manzine” in my head, designed a cover and then sent it to another couple of pals who are seasoned men’s maggers – Mark Hooper and Peter Lyle – who got the idea straight away, and then we got on with putting it together. It took a long time – about 4 months, because everything is done on goodwill rather than by payment. But the response has been very positive. In the end, the guys I was in Costa coffee with wrote some of the best pieces in the mag (Mervin Martin on “Morons” and Andre McLeod’s memoir of west end clubbing, “Up West”). Needless to say, there have been a lot of manly evenings down the pub since the initial idea arose.
CR: “About the male phenomenon” – can you elaborate for us?
KB: It’s consciously deadpan. We needed a strap for the cover and Woz, the art director, looked up “fanzine” on Wikipedia, which defined it as “a publication about XYZ phenomenon”, so we just ran with that. Manzine is about what men do, think, say, and are into, so the heart of it is about man, men, or masculinity – though I don’t really like labouring all that because it begins to sound like sociology rather than entertainment.
The other thing is that we wanted to make something that goes beyond the usual categories and conventions of men’s mags – cars, football, models, gadgets – and make something that reflects the rest of the stuff men are into, which we boiled down to the bullets points on the cover: Interests & Pursuits, Thrills & Perils, Working & Going Out. You’d never get that kind of thing in Esquire or Arena, a definitely not in the lad mags, and that’s exactly why we included them in Manzine. Above all, “the male phenomenon” is about whatever is relevant to being a man today – birdwatching, sheds, hi-viz clothing, cookery, books, cycling, tweed, you name it.
The dominant audience archetypes in men’s publishing today are 80s Yuppie Designer Man, and 90’s Aviator-wearing Jackass/mockney Lad – and both seem a bit dated and fossilized now, and in some cases almost insultingly reductive. Somehow publishers got through the Nineties without realising that not every man fits those brackets, and, in fact, blokes today are hugely contradictory. There’s no “crisis in masculinity” – but there is a lot more flux and diversity in the kind of characters men are, and what’s expected of them. Apologies, I’m getting sociological again.
CR: Can you (or the mysterious Woz) tell us about the design of Manzine – about the look of the thing… Influences, intentions etc
KB: Initially, I mocked up some pages that were my attempt to make it look like a cross between The Economist, The New Yorker and Monocle : nice clean columns, all lovingly typographed but full of mistakes. I showed them to Woz and he came back with some stuff that was far more like an old school fanzine than I’d anticipated, but of course he was right. My design skills, it’s safe to say, leave a lot to be desired, but Woz consciously kept in some of the mistakes.
The key thing is that there’s no point in Manzine trying to be slick and glossy – to do that would be to say we’re in competition with things like GQ and Esquire, and we’re not. (Also, I think that’s where Buck Style – nice idea, but not properly thought through – is going wrong). Manzine isn’t about selling an aspirational lifestyle. In fact it’s the opposite of that. If it’s an aspirational men’s mag you want, GQ does it the best and audiences are very well catered for for that kind of thing today. But we thought there’s something else that isn’t being addressed. But I digress…
The more consciously amateur the design, the better – though of course, quite a lot of effort went into making it look like no effort had been made. I think what we’ve ended up with is something that looks like a newsletter produced by a parish church recorded music society or something, and that’s absolutely fine with me because the market is flooded with full-bleed/full colour/ beautifully art-directed but strangely inert design today. We wanted it to be anti-slick, folky, readable and at ease with its own limitations, faults and imperfections, both in terms of its design and content. For instance, You don’t have to be a capital-P “Photographer” to take pictures for manzine, or be a YBA to submit a piece of art. And frankly I think it’s better if the writing isn’t done by proper journalists, if that makes sense. It just has to be interesting, honest and funny. We want to avoid the straighjacketing of industrial magazine production, where creativity is almost always sacrificied to the need to sell something.
But mainly, it was designed to be read rather than to be left on a coffee to table and occasionally flicked though and used to snort cocaine off on Saturday nights. Woz got the idea straight away and did a fantastic job of defining the visual identity. I’m afraid I can’t reveal his identity apart from saying he is an award-winning art director who’s currently working for a very prestigious title.
CR: Obviously, when you do something like this, as you gather material and content, you never really know how it will all come together – what are your favourite bits of issue one – the things you think work well (either design or feature-wise – or both)…
KB: What ended up in the issue is true to the original editorial plan, but of course, there’s no real way of knowing how it will finally turn out. The process was very collabarative between Woz and Peter Lyle and myself. There were constructive rows, but it helped that we agreed a series of principles of publishing before we started. That included establishing (or at least trying to establish ) a different relationship between writer and reader to other mags: Manzine isn’t commanding or prescriptive, and there’s none of that “1,000 things you must do before you die”, or the must-have watch/car/holiday type of stuff . Instead it’s “I did this thing the other day, what do you think?”. We want the magazine to be about diversity of opinion and experience, rather than hierarchy, if that makes sense. There is no invisible overarching editorial presence bullying the reader into wanting to be something they’re not, or making them feel the need to buy stuff to be more like James Bond. Fundamentally, Manzine isn’t about telling you how to live your life. You wouldn’t accept that kind of talk from a mate, so why would you accept it from a magazine made by people you’ve never met?
The piece that seemed to get the most interest was the story on my dad’s habit of wearing high-visibility clothing, and Andre McLeod’s cover story on clubbing. Sam Blunden’s shop review of Clerkenwell Screws was an unexpected delight too. Those, plus the pages of little lists and thoughts, ephemera, poems, observations, rants, spoofs and stuff. That’s the soul of Manzine, really. Someone described it as the Seinfeld of magazines, and I think that’s accurate. There’s no great meaning or narrative or message, just thoughts and bits.
CR: How’s issue 2 shaping up and when will it launch – any new contributors / special reports or features you’re excited about? Oh, and when can we expect to see issue 2?
KB: Issue 2 is slowly grinding its way into being. We have Alex Bilmes writing about Westfield shopping centre and Simon Mills writing about Dorset Knob on the “Thinking Man’s Crumpet” page. Also, we plan to introduce a token female opinion column called “Token Female Opinion Column”. Plan is to publish… sometime. We plan to launch issue 2 during an ascent of the North Face of Clapham high Street under the auspices of the Clapham Mountaineering Society, who are the publishers of Manzine.
Kevin Braddock is a contributing editor at British GQ, and was previously features editor at The Face and contributing editor on Marmalade. He writes on social trends, style, music, technology, youth culture, health & fitness, business and travel, and has been published in all the leading British newspapers and magazines, including Vogue, Wired, Elle, NME, Mixmag, i-D and Dazed & Confused