The indie mag scene is in rude health these days, and nowhere more so than in the UK. This is thanks in part to, not only the brilliant mag makers (and their readers), but also the community and infrastructure that has sprung up supporting the scene. The triumvirate arguably championing the hardest are FFFriends MagCulture (Jeremy Leslie), Stack Magazines (Steve Watson), and Gym Class Mag (Steven Gregor).
Having worked at WIRED and Esquire (and more recently freelancing regularly at Observer and Guardian) Steven started making GC way back in 2009 (while working for a customer publisher) to creatively express himself – and more recently his love for the publishing scene. On the cusp of Issue 15 shipping Steven dropped some very big news about this issue, so we caught up with him, and his newly appointed Art-Director Alex Vissaridis to find out more…
Can you give us a summary of your ‘creative plaything’ Gym Class Mag and its evolution over the years?
Steven: I started Gym Class in 2009 as a small zine. It had the strapline: A Zine For The Guy Chosen Last. It was a personal counterpoint to mainstream men’s magazines. I’ve never wanted to be the strongest, or the richest, or to drive the fastest car, or have the hottest girlfriend. I found mainstream men’s mags hard to relate to. I still do. Gym Class, instead, was for the underdog or the geek.
Of course, over the years, it became something very different. Now Gym Class is about magazines and the people who make them.
You recently dropped the bombshell that the forthcoming Issue, number 15, will be the magazine’s last! Getting to that milestone is a huge achievement – have you done everything you hoped to with the mag?
Steven: Oh wow, I’ve done so much more with Gym Class than I ever hoped. And, at the same time, I feel I like I haven’t scratched the surface of what was possible.
It’s opened so many doors and enabled so many opportunities. It’s been super hard work — ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’ rings true. I’ve learnt so much about editing a magazine, design and production, public speaking (eek!) and promotion, managing contributors, printing, distribution, sales, and all the un-sexy business stuff that goes into publishing an indie magazine.
As a through-and-through editorial man what’s next for you? Any exciting mag projects on the horizon? Will Gym Class live on in its digital forms?
Steven: I love magazines. The Gym Class Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr feeds will continue. I’m planning a Gym Class blog, too. That said, any new digital endeavour will need to have a clear point of difference to what magCulture or Stack are doing.
But, print is my first love. So… I’ll be launching a new magazine in 2017. I know what it’ll be about and I have a title, but it’s too early in development to chat about publicly in any real detail. I’m super excited about it tho.
This is the first issue of/for which you’ve handed the art-direction reigns over to someone else (talented chap Alex Vissaridis) – why now, and how did it work out?
Steven: I’ve changed. I’m an art director by trade, but when it comes to making my own magazine, I really want to focus on the content and storytelling. Plus, I really want to collaborate. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t work with talented people like Alex sooner.
Alex, you’re also immersed in the world of indie publishing, tell us a bit about the projects you lead or are involved in?
Alex: When I was still fresh out of uni, I joined ShellsuitZombie, a collective of creative graduates that ran a print mag, a blog and a whole range of events. It was loads of fun and I got myself stuck into everything, but it was the zine stuff that appealed most, and I went from designing issue 4, to art directing issue 5, to doing a little bit of everything on issue 6.
More recently, I’ve been working with a friend on a new title called Castle, which will look at video games and the worlds they inhabit and affect through themed issues – starting with Health.
I presume you were already a fan of GCM – a publication as known for its variety of format as much for its passion and unique tone of voice – how was it for you climbing aboard such an established & beloved mag-institution?
Alex: I fell in love with indie mags when I was at uni, through my discovery of Little White Lies, and when I moved to London I went to every magazine event I could, so of course I very quickly became a fan of Gym Class. I was a little nervous when I showed Steven the first couple of spreads I’d worked on, but that enthusiasm and friendliness we all know and love from the pages of GC quickly gave me a boost of confidence and helped me produce better work.
What was it like picking up where Steven had left off with the design? Did you come into it with things you wanted to do, or were you executing Steven’s ideas?
Alex: I had a couple of ideas in my head before I got started, but what with this being the last issue, I didn’t want to impose myself too much on Steven’s vision. Saying that, it was a very collaborative process in the end, with each of us taking an article or two and working independently, then dipping in and out of each others’ files and having a play around. I’m really happy to have introduced some new illustrators, photographers and writers to the pages of Gym Class, and to have learned from someone with such a wealth of mag design experience.
Anything either of you are particularly proud of or excited about in this issue?
Steven: The cover feature, contributed by award winning Photo Director Rebecca McClelland, is epic. It’s a retrospective of Magnum photographer Chris Anderson’s editorial work (we focus on New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Tank magazine in London). It’s proper. Rebecca aced it.
I’m also super proud of the beefed-up, super-fun back of book section. I hope peeps enjoy it.
Alex: I couldn’t stop nodding while I was reading Kate Hollowood’s piece about impostor syndrome, so I have to mention that; it has a lot in common conceptually with what we were doing most recently with ShellsuitZombie, plus Michael Driver smashed it out the park with his illustration. Jeremy Leslie’s piece about Japanese magazines is great too, and I was really happy that we were able to commission Japanese illustrator Hiroyuki Ishii for it.
Finally, Sean McGeady’s piece about fictional magazines in TV shows and films is a hilarious read.
Lastly, any words of wisdom or advice for those thinking of starting a magazine…
Steven: Preparation. Planning. Sort out the money side early. Be original… the indie magazine scene doesn’t need any more cookie cutter wannabes.
Alex: Obviously make your own magazine in your own vision, but get as much advice as you can from those who’ve done it before. I was surprised at how many people were willing to grab a pint after work to discuss Castle and give us some pointers. People are lovely.
Gym Class 15 will only be available in selected magazine shops in the UK (including the MagCulture shop) and in Barnes & Noble in the USA. Don’t forget to follow GCM on Instagram for more info – and colourful cover updates! Gym Class, we salute you.