I'm not sure what first attracted me to So it Goes. Perhaps it was the whimsical title that played against the weightiness of a biannual arts and culture journal. Then again, it may have been the curious mix of subjects: James Franco's tale of the demise of his Palo Alto high school friend Ivan, the "mad one" who became his muse; the work of street-hanging photojournalist Boogie, a man addicted to junkies and gangsters; the magic of the circus and the characters who have time and again run away with it to preserve a 250-year-old British tradition; and the post-Lanza struggle for peace in trigger-happy USA, a land where firepower gives the citizen a false sense of security and where "gun control means using both hands", as hip hop legends De La Soul observed.
Throw in a pinch of espionage, a heady dose of cinema courtesy of auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, a glamorous turn from actress Felicity Jones and a hilarious first-person account of life at the bottom of the Hollywood ladder and you have a sweet confection indeed. The magazine has clearly been many months and late nights in the making and its creators – editor James Wright and features editor Joshua Bullock – have carefully considered the content, structure and aesthetics of So it Goes. The writing is incisive and enlightening, art direction brings each story to life and, as a whole, the publication offers a strong point of view on all it surveys. It has a voice. But will it stand the test of time? After all, this is a very congested side of the newsstand. I spoke to James about their labour of love and where it fits in to the world.
1. I'm curious about the name of this magazine. Why 'So it Goes'?
The phrase comes from one of my and my co-editor's favourite books Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The author uses the phrase to illustrate the passage of time, death and the inexplicable. To us, the words speak to life's inherent unpredictability. Vonnegut often used the phrase for comic relief, and considering the obstacles involved in publishing this issue, it seemed rather apposite!
2. What have been some of your favourite magazines through the years and is there something that they have in common? A knack perhaps?
I ran a similar publication for the brand Fourth & Main, called Fourth & Main Journal. We looked – both in terms of design and content – to a number of literary journals that we'd come across over the years. Aesthetically, we loved The Yellow Book – a quarterly Victorian literary journal, spearheaded by the illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley. Well-considered and thoughtful publications like Apartamento, Inventory, Kinfolk and Acne Paper were also aesthetic references; they all shared a pared-back design that allowed the content room to breathe as opposed to suffocating with advertising, cascading block fonts and overwrought/intrusive layouts.
3. I gather that you are a photographer, among other things. The quality of imagery in issue 1 is very impressive, whether original or curated. Was imagery a primary consideration when planning features?
Because we use a chapterised format in the magazine – 'The Actors', 'The Directors' 'The Musicians', 'The Artists', 'The Collection', 'The Places' and 'The Writers' – the priorities shift depending on the nature of the feature. 'The Actors' is a visuals-led chapter; so the art direction, styling and production are given primacy. The same practice applies for 'The Musicians' and 'The Collection' chapters. For 'The Directors' 'The Writers' and 'The Places' features, the priority is and will always remain the words. Much of what we're trying to bring about is a return to engaging stories and storytelling, so the pendulum shifts back towards the copy.
4. Which story was the most challenging to secure or complete, and why?
Actors have and always will be the most challenging features to secure and complete. They are guarded by a forcefield of agents, managers and PR people, and we have to penetrate that forcefield of protection by convincing them that this is something they want to be a part of. It is made harder by the fact that the talent we target is young, in-demand and resolutely at the 'breaking through' stage. As such, the representation is inevitably flooded with requests by comparable (and usually much bigger) publications, so it's my job to convince them that our feature affords them something different – the opportunity to engage in a fun, imaginative and collaborative shoot and discuss their work and career in a way that vows to sidestep the paint-by-numbers questions that so many actors are tired of fielding.
5. Making a magazine of this nature is not cheap. How difficult was it to fund the production of So it Goes and secure distribution, particularly given the tough times we are facing?
We had a somewhat unusual path to publication – one that is rather difficult to detail in writing! Suffice it to say that we operate on a shoestring with a team of two. It was a long road to get this first issue out there, but here we are..
6. Many magazines attempt to occupy the space between the arts and current affairs. If your magazine has a different perspective on that broad territory, what is it?
We strongly believe that there is a market that isn't being catered for. When asked about where our priority lies – visuals or copy – really the answer is neither. We are not a current affairs publication like The Economist, Monocle or The New Yorker, neither are we a fashion periodical like iD, Dazed & Confused or Love. We don't fall into the specialist arts/design titles category like Elephant or Inventory. When I looked at the newsstand I didn't see many publications that balanced well-shot and well-produced photo shoots (of primarily acting or musical talent) with long-form cultural or political commentary. It seemed like there was a hinterland between the two; something that was intelligent but not alienating. Many people have said that you have to hone in on a target demographic, whether it be food, travel, politics or fashion, but we believed there was a cross-cultural niche to be filled. Hence the idea of using a chapterised format that addressed a number of artistic disciplines under one masthead.
7. I've read that you're trying to make the stories in each issue "timeless". How do you achieve that in the go-faster age of quick consumption and disposal?
As a biannual, this is inevitably a tricky goal to accomplish. We introduced 'The Places' section as a means to address travel in a broader context than simply a device to plug the hotel, bar or restaurant of the moment in that particular place. This issue, we have writers, both native and expatriate, writing about a diverse range of locations – from Palo Alto, to Berlin, to Mumbai and the Sundance film festival. The tenor of the chapter is one that touches more on one individual experience of a place; it is not a prescriptive travel piece. It is one person's interaction with that place and as such is not dated in the same way as a piece of travel reportage that itemises the various things on a visitor's to-do list. 'The Writers' section is a different beast, as we can only be reactive to a certain degree, so we look for a balance. Having come into contact with the British circus community, we felt that it was story that had to be told – the industry's rise and fall – and how circuses in the UK came to be in the place they rest today. The same applied for our slightly more satirical piece ' Confessions of a Hollywood Assistant'; a story bound by well-worn cliche and hearsay, from the birth of Hollywood to the mail room at CAA today. Articles like 'Gun Nation', which addresses the battle raging in the courts and streets of the US, is obviously more topical, as is the current state of espionage in 'Game of Shadows'. Given the frequency of our publication some of the issues we address will inevitably shift in our publication's life-cycle, but we believe the pieces will still hold an interest and relevance in years to come.
8. Still and moving image command most attention on the internet, while many expect to get the gist of a story in 140 characters. How important was it to have long-form journalism in the magazine and how long is too long?
From the beginning, we were seeking to bring about a return to long-form journalism. Whatever the current predilection for throwaway, bite-size commentary, there is still an appetite for well-written pieces that are given the word count to cut to the heart of an issue or story. As I touch upon above, we were conscious about not making this a hefty, impenetrable tome and that's why we curated this magazine across seven chapters. Those who err towards the more digestible writing can find it in five of the seven chapters. Those who favour more expansive, long-form journalism are presented with 'The Writers' and 'The Places' chapter. So for us, it was not a question of how long should one individual article be, but more a question of looking at the magazine with all of its constituent parts and gauging where the balance between copy and visuals should lie.
9. What role will social networks and digital media play in your storytelling in the coming months?
Of course social media is something a publication such as ours has to embrace. When your resources, both financially and in terms of manpower, are as limited as ours, we will be making an aggressive push on all platforms to raise awareness for the publication.
10. What are the top three things your looking forward to this summer?