Breaking Ground

Text by Jeremy Leslie
Photographs by Jovian Lim

The debut event in 2015 attracted 250 people. Held at LASALLE College of the Arts this year, there were over 400 in the audience. Most were local but the line-up also attracted people from Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia.

Co-organiser Justin Long, editor-in-chief of Underscore and The U Press, welcomed the audience, before I opened the day with a synopsis of recent magCulture projects and moving on to my thoughts on the relevance and importance of independent mags.

Across its two outings to date, The U Symposium has presented a really strong set of magazine makers, a point I highlighted ahead of an overview of five current indie trends and their leading examples.

cereal magazine the u symposium

Rosa Park, co-founder of Cereal magazine.

The magazines I focused on were Mushpit, Works That Work, Huck, Puss Puss, Drift, The White Review, Peeps, Little Atoms, Mondial, MacGuffin and Buffalo Zine, with honourable mentions for The Outpost, Ladybeard, Tom Tom, Four & Sons, The Happy Reader, The Pitchfork Review, Guestbook, Rubbish Famzine, Editorial Magazine and Unstate.

Next up was Rosa Park, co-founder of Cereal. The magazine is known for its strong visual identity and whenever I see Rosa or her partner Rich Stapleton talk about their magazine it’s always immediately evident how that identity is achieved. The pair share a super-clear vision of what they are doing and are steadily building a magazine brand that extends into products and other collaborative projects.

Cereal is one of the big beasts of independent publishing. From carrying no advertising at launch just over three years ago, issue 12 carries a Hermès ad on the back cover. Rosa and Rich are hugely ambitious and it’s fascinating watching their project develop. It was very well received here, even as Rosa focused on the hard work and business elements of publishing rather than just sharing a best-of portfolio of images. And despite the striking growth in sales and ad income Rosa explained they were concerned not to grow too fast.

offscreen magazine the u symposium

Kai Brach, publisher, editor and designer of Offscreen magazine.

After lunch, Kai Brach offered a very different view of ‘indie’. The self-taught Offscreen publisher/editor/designer discussed how working for digital agencies has influenced his open-source approach to magazine-making. Anyone planning their own magazine will find his Publisher Field Notes blog a vital source of information and opinion, as was his talk. Rather than brand-building, his form of indie is a journey of self-discovery. He was adamant that an independent magazine does not need to try and compete with The New Yorker or Vogue; it just needs to be.

In my opening talk I highlighted brand magazines as a key part of today’s independent spectrum, and The Happy Reader is probably my favourite example of this growing genre. A collaboration between Penguin Books and the Fantastic Man team, it is as elegantly simple in editorial direction as it is in design. Editor Seb Emina personifies his magazine perfectly, almost too quietly calm and collected. But pay attention and you soon realise there’s a lot of effort going on below the waterline.

Read more in The U Press N˚12 (Singapore edition).