The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Magazines. Yes. Shut Up.

Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013

Gauche as it may be, I’m going to be talking about money. This is important, as in order to gauge the magnitude of my irritation and frustration such things are central.

When it became clear that Boahi was, for the time being at least, not going to generate the return which I was counting on, I looked to a couple of other things which were in various stages of completion. I hurried to get the London Tales novellas into shape, completing Stat Nominis Umbra, Beneath Watchful Eyes and Decus Et Tutamen, which formed the introduction of the main characters and set up the ongoing antagonists for the first group of stories. I was pulling in a little money, but I needed to get something regular. I had enough savings to allow me the luxury of picking what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to bleed off too much from that.

Oh, the irony.

Last year I was looking for property. A place which would not only serve as a permanent home rather than skipping from hotel to hotel, from B&B to B&B, but also as a location from which I could properly catalogue my collection of books, comics and magazines. I also had the notion of using a proportion of the space as a studio, so I was concentrating on spaces which hadn’t been touched in years – warehouses and the like. My budget was just over two hundred thousand, which would give me a little cash left over to make the property liveable. I was burning through a grand a week at one point, and the need for a base from which to operate from was beginning to show. I carried around folders of notes and a battered laptop, writing when I could.

This is the point at which I was awaiting word back on money I was owed. I figured that, between savings and the money which was going to turn up eventually, the immediate income problem was nothing to worry about. Things were okay. In the midst of the increasingly annoying lack of progress in disentangling some of what had been locked out by the disappearance of the quarterly, the question of income was raised by an unexpected source. There are people who appear at just the right time, that their presence feels somehow to be a gift from the gods. They turn up like an answer from the gods. Unfortunately, in this case, that god was Mithras, and the sonuvabitch wanted his blood feast.

A few emails here, a few emails there, and soon enough I was given an opportunity to keep alive an ember, however small, of the quarterly.

Before I go any further, I want to explain just how different Boahi, and the philosophy of the title, was to anything else (even the titles which stole bits and pieces of it later). Every photograph I included was either to be one which had never been published before, or had never been published before in an English-language publication. The art followed suit. All of the stories were commissioned for the title, and at no point did I skimp on production. It would have been easy to use a font which other magazines were utilizing, but I went and got myself three nifty custom jobs, complete with ligatures (a few of which I didn’t expect), logographs, small caps, currency symbols… all three typefaces done in various weights. There were about half a dozen images thrown in with those, but I’ve never got around to playing with the fleurons or border ornamentation.

Each page was put together with care that images took up no more than necessary of the available space, and box-out elements were given their own pages rather than being crammed into a corner of the main features. On these pages I relaxed the image percentage rule, though I made sure to add in extensive credits for every image – something which nearly all of the major magazines are failing at. So much time was spent on the visual style and weight of content that it was always obvious to me that it wasn’t going to make me any money, but I had hoped to claw back some of what I had put into it. When you go wild on the quality, the financial end of the title will always come second.

All in, the first issue racked up somewhere in the region of seventy thousand in costs. Which isn’t counting the forty which got tied up with the printer, but that is an entirely other thing.

Back to the email conversation – Over the course of a couple of weeks, during which I discussed various possibilities (and my love of pulp magazines) and handed over a few pages from that great doomed experiment, I was offered a small corner in which to do whatever I wanted. I could package things to my heart’s content. Whatever I wanted to do, on the condition that it was published through the company in question. It was a sweet deal, though it meant that there would be no up-front payments. There are few greater incentives than being allowed to go wild on the layouts and content – even if it meant that the magazines I would be creating were tied to another publisher, they would have style.

About that… Take a quick look at the magazines on sale right now. Goddamn, are they ever the ugliest things ever published. I will never understand the theory behind the red and white color scheme which infects so many covers. When I see a title with a splash of black, with that lurid red across the top, and invariable against a white background, I can’t help but feel my stomach lurch. It is impossible to take a title seriously if nobody working on the thing has the notion to point out that the cover is an important aspect in attracting casual readers. It is bad enough that the majority of titles have succumbed to the idea that photographs make for good covers.

One thing I removed completely from the first issue of the monthly, which still makes me smile thinking on it, is the obnoxious “next issue” spread. I hate those two-page ads. They are self-congratulatory and pointless. Yes, we know there’s another issue next month. Readers aren’t stupid. Those merely raise the question of how smart the magazines think their readers are – are they so idiotic that they will assume that they are reading the final issue should that “feature” be omitted? Do they really require their hand to be held through the entirety of the issue?

I wrote up a list of these annoyances waaaay back – every aspect of magazines are well-enough understood by even the most flippant of casual readers that some liberties can be taken in the layout. People will accept the lack of some things, need others (page numbers are essential, even if some have omitted them in recent years), and a degree of feedback – not only in the form of readers’ letters, but in more subtle ways throughout the length of an issue – are something which has been forgotten by too many people.

I have the feeling that, should this post continue, a diatribe against FHM may appear. Best I cut this short while I have the opportunity.

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