ShellsuitZombie: Undead but here to help you

Studio ShellsuitZombie has made a name for itself through its magazine made “by graduates for graduates” and its events programme for young creatives. Five issues in and fresh from appearances at D&AD New Blood and Leefest, design lead Alex Vissaridis explains how the zombies have continued to move beyond print

‘Zombie Day 2013’. Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

Studio ShellsuitZombie has made a name for itself through its magazine made “by graduates for graduates” and its events programme for young creatives. Five issues in and fresh from appearances at D&AD New Blood and Leefest, design lead Alex Vissaridis explains how the zombies have continued to move beyond print…

CR has known of the Zombies’ work since it launched its first issue of SSZ in 2010. And we were only too happy to be interviewed for its second issue a year later. (We tried to play darts and talk at the same time – but both the arrows and the interview suffered, so we moved to a table.)

That was where we met Jonny Burch, the graduate who originally founded the SSZ project with Andrew Muir Wood.

Shellsuit Zombie at D&AD New Blood 2014. Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

Initially, SSZ billed itself as “the antidote to the existing design press”. Four years in and their stance is still the same, if put a little more diplomatically.

“ShellsuitZombie is a project run by and for the benefit of young creatives,” runs the SSZ About page. “Through our printed publication, website and regular events, talks and workshops we aim to represent the young voice in an industry too often dominated by the voices of those much older than ourselves.”

The whole point of the SSZ team is that it changes and evolves over time – providing many young artists, illustrators and designers with an opportunity to work both in print, online and on events.

CR talked to one of its longer-serving members, lead designer Alex Vissaridis, about where SSZ is now, where it’s going, and what graduates and creatives can do to get themselves and their work in front of people.

Cover of issue five of Shellsuit Zombie by Chris (Simpsons artist). Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

 

CR: Can you sum up what the aim of issue 5 of SSZ is – what do you hope people get from it? Is it satisfying working on something that’s designed to help young creatives, that gives out advice etc?

AV: ShellsuitZombie is a creative outlet as much as it is a source of advice for young creatives; we regularly involve our readership in our projects, be they the magazine, the blog or an event where we curate interactive/live art. It’s an excuse to try something new, and get involved in some projects you might not otherwise have access to.

Young people learn very quickly when challenged with solving a problem on a tight deadline, so it feels great to be involved in creating something that gives them the platform to show off what they’ve got.

Comic in SSZ5 by Bridget Meyne

 

CR: For those who might be new to the magazine, can you shed some light on how SSZ is put together? You call upon a wide group of talent, but how do you find your collaborators? Who heads up everything and coordinates it?

AV: ShellsuitZombie is headed up by 5 ‘lead zombies’ who oversee the editorial, design, events, artist liaison and general direction of the collective, and the two founder/directors, Jonny Burch and Andrew Muir Wood. The wider collective then includes a further 20 designers, writers, illustrators, technologists and ad creatives, and each project is steered by a different mini project team.

Comic in SSZ5 by Kate Ducker

ShellsuitZombie is a side-project for all of us; we each have our own full-time careers, so SSZ is our extra little creative outlet. None of us get paid for what we do, so we always try and delegate jobs as much as possible to share the load. If we’re working on a project that calls for the input of our readership, such as the magazine, we’ll put out a brief on our blog and select our collaborators from the proposals that best fit the brief.

SSZ5 illustration by Jonny Clapham

 

CR: You’re a bigger team these days; so do you work in the same space when putting an issue together, or each take stuff away to work on? Where was this issue was produced?

AV: We have members and contributors all over the UK, so a lot of discussion happens online, but we meet as often as we can in small groups, usually in London because that’s where most of us are based. With this issue, we had eight designers working remotely on two or three spreads each, so WeTransfer and Google Docs were our best friends when it came to organising and putting everything together.

SSZ5 illustration by Russell Taysom

 

CR: The areas you cover in this issue – money, employment and so on – do they come out of concerns that the creatives you work with have? What tend to be the most frequent worries people have? And what, do you think, is the best way to try and allay their fears?

AV: Yeah, money and employment are the root of most worries. We’re also seeing people graduating feeling under-prepared for the industry, getting stuck in underpaid jobs where their creativity isn’t utilised and feeling forced to do too many unpaid internships with no prospect of a paid job at the end.

Our advice is: it might be a hard time to find decent work, but it’s never been easier to get your ideas out there if you hustle and use the tools and channels that are freely available. If work/uni isn’t providing the learning, development or creative satisfaction you crave, seek it out for yourself; get involved with extra-curricular projects or, even better, start your own things. Be patient, and learn from your mistakes.

SSZ5 illustration by Matt Roff

 

CR: Once printed, you distribute SSZ to universities; but is having a presence at something like D&AD also important for you to get the message out? You dress up sometimes, too, right? (As zombies, I mean, nothing weird…)

AV: Definitely! ShellsuitZombie has always enjoyed a presence at New Blood, and all previous issues of the mag have launched in early July to coincide with the festival. D&AD offers us amazing access to a huge pool of graduate talent every year, and it’s great fun having everyone from across the UK all in one place. However, we realise that not everybody can afford or gets selected to come down, so this year, we were looking at ways to help out the underdogs, and we put extra effort into our magazine distribution to get it out to as many unis as possible.

SSZ at New Blood 2014. Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

On our stand at New Blood this year we built a set of shelves to display interesting work and some strange artefacts from students who weren’t able to come to the event (and some students who were there too). It became quite a talking point, particularly when we exhibited pieces from other creative disciplines like product design.

We also ran portfolio crits, collaborated with Dare on a tech-based ideas workshop and hosted our famously raucous creative challenge event: the Face Off. This year we focused on getting as much industry involvement in our activities as possible, making it a fun and valuable experience for all.

Portfolio crit at New Blood 2014. Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

There was no dressing up this time around, unfortunately, but I did dress as a neon zombie in a shellsuit at last year’s festival, and had a photo of me printed in the following issue of Creative Review. I’d pretend I was embarrassed, but who am I kidding? It was great fun! I think my parents are really proud of me, too.

Face Off session at New Blood. Photograph: Alex Aitchson


CR: How can people get involved with the production of the next issue of SSZ, be they illustrators, designers or writers?

AV: We’ll be announcing the brief for the mag on the blog and through Twitter and Facebook later this year! We’re also looking for brands, agencies and universities to support the magazine and the other projects we do. If you’re interested in being involved with SSZ, give us a shout at team@shellsuitzombie.co.uk.

Quote, on left, by Teagan Robinson, one of the writers who worked on SSZ5

 

CR: Finally, you’ve just returned from the music and arts festival, Leefest. What took place there?

AV: Leefest is an independent, not-for-profit festival in south London that we’ve had a presence at for a couple of years. This year, we built a house out of recycled materials and furniture, and invited artists, illustrators and architects to make themselves at home. It was like a giant three-day house party, in a field, with 2,000 guests.

SSZ at Leefest. Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

We worked with the likes of Kingston architecture student Farisa Khan; installation and performance collective Brainchild; music technologist Yuli Levtov; tape artist Benjamin Murphy; and gifted illustrators Biff, Betty Woodhouse and Emily Calland.

They populated our ‘house’ with a Twister bed, an illustrated dining table, an interactive sound and light installation, a decorated bathtub, a six foot illustration of a human heart and more. We filled a bookshelf with self-published ‘zines generously donated by our readers, alongside big titles in the independent magazine world, mainly sourced through Stack Magazines. And we built a giant bench out of pallets for people to read them on.

SSZ at Leefest. Photograph: ShellsuitZombie

To find out more about ShellsuitZombie and to read issues 1-4 of the magazine, visit shellsuitzombie.co.uk. They are also on Twitter via @ShellsuitZombie (Alex is @vizzee).

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