Ki Hackney, Willi Kunz
New Wave magazines in the US

Magazine publishing is often a reflection of the future, especially when publications emerge that are directed to a small, very defined audience. Often this initial readership consists of young professionals who are interested in design, which in particular, allows new journals to experiment, to challenge established formats. During the 1970s, while the United States was celebrating its bicentennial anniversary and maturing as a much more visual nation, a new style of graphic publication developed that now has even more far-reaching influence.

For economic reasons, the past decade was a time of flux for major magazines, one of many mergers and some closings. It also provided the opportunity for eager entrepreneurs to take the risk of developing new concepts. Some of these new magazines succeed, some fold after only a few issues, but the principle remains the same: they are founded on the concept of advertising and design as the focal point.

Initially, advertising supplied the primary visual material and, in some instances, doubled as the editorial itself. However, as more and more publications appear and some expand, the space allotted to editorial increases. The cost of advertising space is relatively low and the intent is to provide an outlet for advertising and design that is not generally available or acceptable in traditional, mass-market publications.

Andy Warhol’s “Interview” was one of the first of this new genre, establishing the editorial format so pervasive today – concentration on fashion, art, architecture, film, trends, and timely personalities. Wet magazine pioneered the new graphic sensibility: a free experimentation with typographic elements, and the incorporation of “found” images, influenced by Surrealism, Futurism, Constructivism and Art Deco. Today, along with “Interview” in New York and “Wet” in Los Angeles, there are many more publications involved in this nouveau style. In New York, it’s Manhattan Catalogue, Adix, M, and Skyline (with its somewhat different, architecturally related content), California claims Boulevard and Stuff, while Chicago provides Praxis. And the newest most elegant entry is New York’s Fetish – the magazine of the material world.

The common ground is graphics – bold, exciting, energetic – created by young designers for fun and an interest in experimentation. In order to survive today’s economic realities the staffs often work for little or no salary in exchange for the freedom to do something new and controversial. Whether advertising or editorial, the creative departments of the magazines often prepare the advertisements themselves in order to maintain graphic standards and control. To further decrease costs, publishers use newsprint or low-grade white paper. Most of these magazines are tabloid in size, measuring approximately 27 x 36 cm. Some use four-color processing, while most rely on one- and two-color treatments.

Most of these magazines are distributed nationally. Besides the usual subscription-newsstand sales, these publications have found other ways to reach the public. Bookstores and up-to-the minute boutiques are fast becoming the new media centers.

Call it Punk (aficionados disagree), New Wave, Post-Modern, Pluralistic, or California Graphics, this new direction is a direction of the 1980s.

First published in Typografische Monatsblätter, 5/1980