Titles that titillate

From the wholesome world of crafts to the reinvention of the sex magazine, independent publishers target all tastes

The urge to create and publish your own magazine continues to hold sway over a significant number of people; which means the pile of magazines awaiting review here in the magCulture office is ever-growing, and it’s time to run through a selection of recent arrivals and discoveries.

First up, a few regular favourites deserve a mention. Children’s mag Anorak, interiors title Apartamento and architecture mag Pin-Up all have new editions out now and are as strong as ever. These are three of the leading voices in independent publishing, defining their genres and moving to a position that straddles the independent and mainstream markets. Anyone new to independent magazines would find these a great introduction to this world – self-explanatory in tone but engaging and exciting with it.

Uppercase is a similarly accomplished magazine that I’ve sometimes flicked through yet never quite stopped at. Now at issue 14, this Canadian quarterly journal has established a voice for itself in the craft/DIY creative world. It’s grown in popularity alongside the likes of the Etsy website, covering a North American vernacular and vintage aesthetic which is well represented by the magazine’s strong production values and highly sophisticated and content-relevant design. It’s not to my taste in subject or presentation, being just a little too ‘nice’, but I can appreciate why it’s popular. It’s a strong idea, well-executed with a clear idea of who will read it.

Flamingo has a similar starting point, but being made in London it has a little more attitude. It’s been through several iterations and has settled on a small perfect-bound format that feels appropriate. Inside, you’ll find a more earthy version of Uppercase’s DIY creative world. The latest issue – its third – is all about Homes and Habitats, so we get to see inside various artists’ studios and go behind the scenes at alternative arts venues like East London’s George Tavern. A clear, simple design template works well to hold together the various elements as the magazine showcases illustration work and demonstrates arts and crafts techniques. It pulls off the difficult trick of packing a load of content into a small space and yet keeping it easy to navigate.

Another magazine that’s been sat on the to-be-reviewed pile far too long is The Shelf Journal. This is a lovely thing in every sense. Published in France in bilingual form (French and English), it turns on its head the idea that a magazine about book design is out of time. Instead it’s been launched to celebrate the renewed interest in good production and design for print, and a reference in the editor’s letter to being “the new Octavo” is only partly self-mocking. This is a beautifully crafted piece of editorial design, presenting carefully curated examples of books new and old. It’s that rare thing, something that has to be seen and held to be fully appreciated. Designing pages in two languages at once is always a challenge but the designers make a good job of it. Anybody who loves print should get a copy.

But of course magazines don’t need to be so ambitious or high-minded to fascinate. The great thing about these smaller, specialist publications is that there is also space for a simple piece of conceptual fun. Step forward The Spy, a side project of Munich-based designer Thomas Pruss. The idea of the magazine is evident even to those who can’t read the German text: it’s a handbook for spies, testing out various tactics, and parodying German cold war history. Presented in single-colour limited edition, it’s as instant, fun and throwaway as the other magazines here are collectible.

Finally, an entire genre of magazine is also being reinvestigated at the moment: the sex magazine. Luxembourg’s Nico has checked out a bunch of them in its latest edition. Nico’s Confessions: Eroticism in Media issue interviews the people behind S magazine, Butt and Pantyhose to name a few (disclosure – I’ve interviewed the publisher of Jacques for the issue) and interspersed among the written pieces are portfolios by various photographers. The interviews provide some valuable insight into the motivations of the publishers behind the projects and are a good introduction to publishing in a wider sense, too. With ‘traditional’ sex magazines long gone hardcore (and now all but replaced by websites), here are magazine makers rediscovering titillation.

Particularly interesting is the piece about German ‘real’ sex mags, Jungsheft (for women) and Giddyheft (for men). These titles feature real people in aroused states, treading a subtle line between ‘readers’ wives’ and stylised porn. It’s a clever issue of Nico, part erotic publication in its own right, but with enough analysis to make it more than just that. The always authoritative Samir Husni (otherwise known as ‘Mr Magazine’) provides a contextual history which highlights the 360 degree rotation from erotica to hardcore porn and back to erotica over the past century or so.

A local UK addition to these new sex magazines is Baron. This tiny “erotic paperback magazine” is less focused than some of the others mentioned above but explicit in its aim, arriving heavily protected by a plastic sleeve. Here again, though, the erotica is balanced by first person tales of abstinence and the miserable tale of the last peep show in Soho. Whatever you make of the individual photo stories (and there’s one shoot that is quite nasty in my opinion), there’s something reassuring and honest about such explicitly erotic material which is a refreshing change from the repetitive, over-styled and self-denying sexuality on display around us everyday.

Jeremy Leslie runs magCulture.com, the magazine blog and consultancy. The magCulture shop, at 71a Leonard Street, London EC2, sells a carefully curated selection of independent magazines

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