The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Focus

Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013

Homogenous
adjective
of the same kind; alike: consisting of parts all of the same kind.

While I am on the topic of the contents, I may as well share a little of what I have tired of in most current – and, for that matter, past – publications. The very word “magazine” carries with it the suggestion of a range of disparate topics, spread over various styles and with conflicting views on display, but this is only so because most magazines are abysmally conceived. The lack of focus in any issue of a regularly-published magazine is one of the reasons which keep them from achieving greater things, bogging overall quality down in a miasma of hopeless confusion. Special issues, dedicated to a single idea, are better examples of what magazines should be aiming for, but these can be… well, I ain’t gonna be pushing any single magazine as a paragon of quality.

There are titles I like, for various reasons. I’ve never though that they went all-out, went completely to the core of the matter at hand. If something is worth doing well, it is worth going all in. The hand behind a title should be throwing all available energy into the compilation of material, so that nothing is left in doubt about the competence of the people behind the work. The magazines which I had sitting for people to look at – to see how the idea and the execution left a space of nebulous degrees – were a haphazard lot, gathered over the years, and kept due to their coming so very, very close to being great. Which brings me to the strata of magazines which I had pondered at numerous times, and codified into four groups.

General magazines of low focus.
General magazines of high focus.
Specialist magazines of low focus.
Specialist magazines of high focus.

None of those categories describe the quality of the contents, but merely explain what is within the pages. Additionally, it doesn’t cover runs of titles, but must be undertaken on an issue by issue basis. Splitting markets into two main groups (general and specialist) goes to the market a title is aiming for, with specialist covering automobiles, computer games, sport, yachting… It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, as long as there is a particular niche which can be identified immediately. General is different, and more complicated to deal with. I threw everything else in there precisely because it is pointless to discuss fashion magazines, television listings titles and other things. It is all the same. Vogue or Radio Times, the mixed nature of what is within the pages immediately places those in low focus, and I have little interest in those titles.

Yeah. There’s the qualifier to the two main groupings. High and low focus. That is simpler to get to grips with, and it is the very thing I instilled in everyone who took the time to get to grips with what I was doing. Now, even though these posts as “why the hell not, lets get everything out in the open” I still feel a bit uncomfortable picking on titles, or those involved with them. Folks working on magazines are, overall, intelligent and creative. It is the fault of companies publishing magazines that there has been so little movement in the medium since… IDK, the 1940s? 1950s? Even Wired has elements which could have been bodged together way back in the 70s. The bigger the company, the smaller the motivation to be spectacular. Think of it in terms of sports – those giant guys in the World’s Strongest Man competitions versus the lithe athletes running at great speed, or gymnasts.

Not that small companies are inherently better. You get your money regularly, and a degree of (irrelevant) kudos for snagging a gig at one of the big companies, even if the work you produce is unmitigated shit. Wow, I’m back to talking about FHM again. Weird… Anyways. *cough*

There’s a Dark Side Magazine special which is entirely about zombies. This is focus. And tight focus, at that. It is far from perfect, and has a few head-scratchers in the text, but it ain’t the worst thing I have ever read. The regular title suffered greatly from its’ low focus on so many aspects of “horror” (articles on things which were horrific to watch don’t count as horror. Just sayin’) that I rarely encouraged people to read it. Instead, I have always cited Samhain as being the single best magazine of horror ever published. Yes, it was butt-ugly at times, but it had the best articles, and John really, really did try to do something with it. I’ll ignore Fangoria, as… Well, I simply like to ignore that title as much as possible.

And yeah, I realize that I am talking about specific titles now. Guess I really don’t care. *shrugs*

About Fangoria, specifically – there was (is?) a trend that saw articles split in two, with the odd page, or part of a page, presented much farther back into the issue than necessary. In order to read some of the pieces, there was (is?) the need to flip past thirty or so pages to get to the final few sentences. It is lazy and incompetent design work, and something which should never be seen in a “professional” magazine. Not that I think it is very professional anyway. And of Dark Side, the most irritating and (still) unexplained decision – so few of the numerous photographs presented in the title were captioned that it was always an annoyance to read. Most images in features obtained some explanation beneath their presentation, but the letters page? Ugh.

Focus. That’s what I’m talking about, so I should be doing it.

Focus is all about keeping a single thread of thought throughout the span of the issue. And it isn’t necessarily the obvious thought. In the most simplified form, it is the grouping of facts on a single page – fifty things about Christmas, or about Halloween, or… anything, really. When the entire raison d’être is a single event, or place, or person, there is a feeling of comfort in reading – which can be spoiled entirely by a single out-of-place element. Taking this to an extreme, molding an entire issue around the fewest pieces, is something which is incredibly powerful. This is something which hasn’t been attempted to a great degree, and I can see some of the arguments against it, but most arguments hinge on tradition. Fuck tradition. Tradition is as good as astrology when it comes to predictions.

I used small facts at the top of each page in order to bind the more obviously unconnected pages. Unlike every other title which has done this, I made sure that there was a common element running the length of the magazine – for the first issue, that subject was firsts. The “first” examples also had to tie in to what was the main focus of each page – a greater feat than you might imagine. Also, the big difference fro what others were doing with the idea was that each of the facts ran to three lines of text rather than one line of large text, and most had a web address at the end so that people could learn more about what was given in brief. I trusted the intelligence of readers enough to use more complicated language in these small snippets of text.

Keeping an idea, whatever that idea may be (as long as it ties the title together) present from the opening salvo through to the final pages is one of the most satisfying things to see actually working. Properly working. Not half-assed, throw-any-fact-on-the-page style. Gods, this is going to make me horribly depressed if I have to point out all of the things I had to watch get ripped from my grasp…

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