Some new magazines storm into view shouting their differences and demanding attention with a flurry of emails, press releases and mailouts. Others slowly insinuate their way into sight, intriguing and teasing as you catch an occasional issue. Both forms of discovery have their merits. Some magazines suit the noisy launch, while others, such as Berlin-based quarterly mono.kultur, are better matched to the subtle approach.
Launched in September 2005 and with issue 30 just out, mono.kultur has taken its time to build an enviable reputation for quality across editorial, design and finishing. Each issue is based on an A5 size that adapts its format using different paper stocks, half covers, pull-out sections and other paper-folding effects. As founder Kai von Rabenau puts it, “every new issue is a surprise package”.
Graphic design graduate-turned- photographer von Rabenau had long wanted to start his own magazine, but it was only when he found his work being poorly edited and badly reproduced by other magazines that he finally did so. “I wanted to control the whole process, from the beginning to the end,” he says.
Even so, the launch was not without compromise, albeit one that turned out for the best. Each issue consists of just one long interview with a single artist/designer. “We had planned a biannual magazine with several long Q&As, inspired by French music mag Les Inrockuptibles,” says von Rabenau. “But we hit a wall.” Without enough money to print all their content they developed the one-story-per-issue concept. “We realised this was the spark we’d been missing all along.” Like many ‘big’ ideas it was its very simplicity that was compelling.
Von Rabenau set the tone for the project by designing the first three issues using a subtle identity that allowed each to respond visually to its subject. Subsequent issues have been written and designed by specialists chosen to best reflect their content.
“It keeps us on our toes,” he explains. “The problem with a lot of magazines is complacency. They’re exciting when they start but it’s difficult to maintain that excitement.”
Designers are encouraged to respond to the content. For the Dave Eggers issue (#25), Eva Gonçalves was influenced by the flamboyant visuals of Eggers’ McSweeney’s book imprint, creating a fold-out poster referencing map design. “We called him Captain Eggers while we produced the issue, and out of that came the ocean map idea,” explains von Rabenau. The following issue had a very different approach. “Manfred Eicher has an extremely narrow view of his record label ECM and how music should be packaged,” says von Rabenau, “and that translated into the design.” Cue classic grid structures from designers Atelier Bernd Kuchenbeiser.
This insistence on quality over quantity is a very current theme, and is what makes the magazine special. It’s easy to access information about any of their featured subjects online, but little of it is as focused as the carefully crafted and illustrated magazines von Rabenau and his part-time team produce.“Paper is patient, and provides a reading experience with a much deeper level of engagement,” he says. The 30 issues to date provide a distinctive snapshot of contemporary cultural figures, the “influential but not A-list” as he puts it. So who can we expect as future subjects? “We’ve been after Thom Yorke for ages,” says von Rabenau, “and I’d love to do [artist] James Turrell.” Can’t wait.
Jeremy Leslie runs the magCulture.com blog