Magazines, Notebook

A review of Real Review, The California Sunday Magazine and IL

Notebook: 5 September 2016 | MAGAZINES


Last Wednesday I had a meeting in Spitalfields. With an hour to fill before catching my train back to Norfolk I decided to pay a flying visit to the brilliant MagCulture shop on St John Street in Clerkenwell to stock up with some new magazines. I took the tube to Farringdon and bustled my way through the back streets of Little Italy. I’d forgotten how hilly this small corner of London is (Saffron Hill, Herbal Hill…) and with a heavy bag and stifling late August heat, I paused outside St Peter’s Italian Church on Clerkenwell Road to catch my breath and study the map.

I cut down Bowling Green Lane and was soon at the shop. My last visit had been 4 months ago (more on that here) and this time around the shelves were stocked with even more goodies – not just the rows and rows of luscious independent magazines but also some great looking foreign newspaper supplements which I don’t think are available anywhere else in the UK and which I snaffled up. The first of these was a couple of copies of IL magazine which is the monthly current affairs/lifestyle/fashion supplement of the Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. IL has been published since 2008 and is designed by Francesco Franchi (author of the excellent Designing News book published by Gestalten, 2013 [Interview here between MagCulture and Franchi from 2013]). I’d seen plenty of pictures of IL and had read good reviews but this was the first time I’d had a copy of it in my hands. It’s a meaty visual treat stuffed full of very, very good illustration, photography and infographics – almost a cross between the tight typographic structure of say Monocle magazine and the freedom and style of Esquire or GQ. I bought issues 76 and 78. I don’t read Italian but I savoured the design and some of my favourite spreads are pictured below.

IL76_Cover1-652x800  IL78-Putin-Sole24ORE-652x800

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Three different features using sumptuous illustration

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Fashion spread

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News analysis with finely crafted typography. Note the vertically arranged information tabs


The other non-UK newspaper supplement that caught my eye was The California Sunday Magazine which is an independent printed publication distributed free with the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle as well as being available in digital form via a website. It’s produced by a company called Pop-Up Magazines who put on live ‘magazine’ multi-media theatre events… TCSM‘s strengths are its stunning reportage photography and its simple, understated typography. The August 2016 issue includes long form features on US/Mexico border paramedics, rebel women fighters in Colombia and the moving tale of Rocky Rontal, an ex-convict born into a life of violence and crime. Shorter features focus on an ayahuasca retreat in Peru and homelessness in San Francisco. It’s all powerful content that has been carefully crafted and quietly presented. There’s a good review of the April 2016 issue by MagCulture which you can read here.

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Cover of the August 2016 issue of  The California Sunday Magazine

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Two spreads from a long form read on women rebel fighters in Colombia

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The Ballad of Rocky Rontal. Interesting small headline and standfirst set in the gutter

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A short article on homelesness in San Francisco

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Part of an illustrated feature about a Peruvian retreat


My next purchase was Real Review (pictured top) – a new architecture magazine with an intriguing and innovative format. I’d seen and read about it on Stack and It’s Nice That and I was keen to get my hands on a copy. It’s long and thin and comes in a tempting crackly cellophane wrapper. The cover of issue 1 has a bold red and black illustration sitting above a large architectural ‘R’ (which I believe is taken from a mid-century font designed by the experimental typographer Edward Wright). It’s deliberately printed on a thin glossy paper which is a welcome contrast to many indie mags which use thick uncoated stocks, and the editor, Jack Self and designers, OK-RM have said in their interview with It’s Nice That, that: “Too many magazines are taking on the qualities of books. They become these beautiful objects … but often empty of content. People own them, but they don’t read them. The Real Review is an exercise in minimums and constraints. It is engineered to be the most efficient and resourceful design. Making a printed publication is expensive and complicated, so every square millimetre counts. In this sense, we treat the page like real estate … it’s beautiful, but not precious.” It’s Real Review‘s unusual format that sets it apart – it is saddle-stitched and then folded again vertically to make it tall and thin and fit comfortably in the hand with its 4 or 8-column grid that sits within the folds of the pages. The typography is simple and functional. I like it very much and I look forward to issue 2.

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My final purchase was the latest copy of Penguin’s The Happy Reader (no.7 Summer 2016) which I’ve raved about before – a simple stapled format and finely crafted typography.

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Two spreads from The Happy Reader magazine for a feature about Virginia Wolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway

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Before rushing off to make my way back to Liverpool Street station, I grabbed copies of the excellent free magazines, Root + Bone: The Offcuts of Food Culture no.10 (my review of issue 9 here) and the fold-out magazine (A5>A1), Chanced Arm which was produced in 24-hours using crowdsourced content from social media by Hackney based design studio Small Fury and its creative director Oswin Tickler. You can read Stack’s interview with Tickler on Chanced Arm‘s frenetic production here.

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A page from the fold-out magazine, Chanced Arm

As I cut through the Barbican on my way back to Liverpool Street, with an even heavier bag, I bumped into one of my ex-designers from my days as creative director at Archant Dialogue (the customer magazine publishing agency based in Norwich and part of the Archant media group). She was one of eight or so young designers who had joined Archant Dialogue, over the years, straight from Norwich School of Art (NUA) where she’d studied ‘Design for Publishing’ – the brilliant specialist editorial design course that is now headed up by Glen Robinson and graphics course leader Martin Schooley. I was pleased to hear that she was now working for a major content marketing agency in the capital. Each year there is a rich pool of graphic design talent that flows out of NUA and you can read my review of their excellent degree show, from earlier this summer, here.

Waving goodbye, I briskly made my way through the City and out to Liverpool Street and finally flopped on to the train ready to enjoy my bag of printed goodies.

If you would like to read about my previous expeditions to the MagCulture shop click here and here and for more on NUA’s BA ‘Design for Publishing’ course, click here.

Eye magazine have featured the MagCulture shop in their latest issue no.92