Pressing Matters magazine – exclusive interview with founder John Coe

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As you might have seen, if you’re a printer of any stripe, there’s an actual physical magazine out now, all about the art form. It’s a beautiful beast indeed, with more pictures than words and a very heavyweight paper stock…

But what makes someone start a magazine in an era when sales are supposed to be on the decline? And how can you fill a magazine solely about printing? To get the answers, I spoke with founder John Coe.

(full disclosure – through this here blog I was lucky enough to be involved with the launch issue!) 

 

Are you mental? Magazines died out in like, the 1990s didn’t they?

I like to think of myself as special…. but joking aside, I do have an unhealthy addiction to magazines, primarily grown out of my interest as a graphic designer. Over the years I’ve done a great deal of editorial design work, so it made sense to try my hand at creating my own magazine.

The independent magazine scene is stronger than ever, with more and more niche subjects covered and indie mag shops popping up all the time, and gallery bookshops – and even some newsagents – getting wise to it too. It’s sort of like vinyl in a way, people still want that in an age of digital overload – something they can keep, cherish and pour over for a little longer than a swipe of a finger.

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What was your previous experience in magazines?

My first foray into printed publications was with a zine called Gunfight 29, which was set up by James Lucas (who went on to found Boneshaker Magazine with me). It was about everything – from a gallery review, to interviewing bands when they came into town and so on. Just our interests, but very cut and paste.

We did a few issues together but found that for a black and white zine, we were attracting colour artwork and it was starting to be a portfolio thing for everyone else. We knocked it on the head with the agreement that if we were both excited about something else, we’d do another printed mag project together.

In late 2009, we came up with the idea of Boneshaker – a sideways look at cycling. We were interested in the human stories that came from riding/owning/fixing a bike, the sort of universal truths that we all share, but with bikes as a common theme. I was the designer for the first 12 issues and ran the project with James and Mike, the editor in chief, however when I started my own design business, it was hard to stay as involved, so I continued to do the odd layout and be involved on the periphery. They have a great team of designers and they’re on issue 19 – can you believe it?

Is there a strong magazine printing scene in Bristol?

For sure – the current crop of mags are pretty far reaching, topic wise, from magazines about graft (Elbow Grease) to craft beer brewing (Hop&Barley). Cereal Magazine is a real success story – it’s everywhere now!

There is a loose collective of magazine people called BIP (Bristol Independent Publishers) which is mainly a badge of honour/companionship for us publishers in the area – we group together for events, discuss distribution and magazine ideas. Of course there are others outside of BIP too. 

Why did you choose printmaking as the topic for this mag?  What triggered the idea?

As a graphic designer, running my own studio, I’ve been a fan of printed work of a long time and my bookcases creek with books on the various areas of printmaking. I started a year long course last year at Spike Print Studio in Bristol which covered all of the techniques and I was bitten by the bug.

I like the hands on nature of printmaking, getting inky, etc. It’s a real change from working on a Mac most of the time, so I really cherish the time to be creative away from a screen.

I’ve just signed up to a year long screenprint course too. I decided to do a mag about printmaking as, similarly to Boneshaker, I’d come across a number of interesting people doing great things in print, mainly from my own interest and curiosity and I felt that a magazine about the people, passion and process behind the scenes was a decent enough idea to have a go at.

There’s a strong community of printmakers out there and only one or two publications, each with different approaches to Pressing Matters, so I felt there was room for something new.

How long did it take from genesis to hard copy?

Well, the seed of the idea was sewn a couple of years ago, and I did the usual thing of talking about it for a long time, then I got annoyed with myself at ‘talking, but not doing’, so about six months ago I started work in earnest in collating content, contacting artists, starting on initial layout ideas, etc.

This first issue has taken about six months to get from first work to hard copy, however part of that is working out the look of the magazine, coming up with feature ideas. Issue two should take a little less time as the foundations are there.

 

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What sort of scope does the magazine have – is it for hardcore printers or beginners?

The magazine is curated by me, an over-enthusiastic printmaking student and fan… in that sense, I’m shining a light on the medium as a whole and in doing so, I’m trying to talk to artists that are into fine art printing, as much as those whose day job it is to make prints and sell them.

I hope it can be enjoyed by anyone interested in printmaking – I’ve already had great feedback from home studio printers and students who are using print in their work at university, as well as established letterpress studios. It’s for both the curious and the creative I’d say.

It looks very much like you want it to be appreciated as a sort of standalone artwork?

I was keen from the start to afford people’s artwork the space that it would have if it was in the real world (i.e. in a frame or on a gallery wall).

With Boneshaker, we had a much smaller size and always worked to the limits of the page, so with this magazine being about art, I wanted it to feel almost gallery-like in some way. These kind of niche mags work best when you can dip into them, spend a bit of time enjoying the imagery and revisit them for inspiration over time. I also spent quite a bit of time considering paper stock (geeky, I know) as it was important for me to show people’s work (and the photography) in a true and clear way. 

Can people submit their work with a view to inclusion?

Yes they can. The magazine will continue to be curated by me and a small team of key contributors, however it’s intended to be ‘about printmaker and for printmakers’, so I’m keen to hear people’s ideas and stories.

That said, even with a page count of 92 pages, space will be tight each issue, so ideas may not appear straight away in the magazine. However in my experience, the topics and ideas are often timeless, so I’m happy to hear about projects at any time.

What can we expect in issue two?

That will be coming out around October, I’ll be publishing two issues this year and will gauge the response – going quarterly is a big jump in time committed to the project, so I think bi-annually at the moment makes sense. That said, there’s already some talk of special edition publications looking more deeply (and geekily) into specific techniques.

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Where can we snap it up?

The magazine is available from our website and it’s starting to be picked up by a few stockists. We’re offering single copies for £10 plus P&P and wholesale/bulk orders of 5, 10 and 20 copies for £7 a copy (free postage, UK only) – which we hope is ideal for print studios and retailers alike.

We’re also having a launch party for issue one, at The Forge, here in Bristol on Thursday 25th May – everyone’s welcome! (see below)

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John himself….

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