Empire of the Ant-man…

The UKs best-selling entertainment magazine gets a refresh

Covers

Simple effective design and drop cap
Loads to look at
Loads to look at

Empire has always been one of my favourite magazines to read and I am a long-time subscriber. I enjoy the magazine’s editorial consistency and mix of features and reviews. The design has always been – outside of stunning features – either rather plain or bonkers (random colour slabs behind review copy anyone?). The July 2015 issue is however, rather beautiful…

The two review sections – In Cinemas and Review – have a lovely new grid system that allows plenty of white space (without feeling empty). I love the big splash images and the delicate greyscale drop-caps. I also think the ‘like this, watch this’ box outs help break up the page well. Alongside the reviews are fantastic catch-up viewing guides, tables and more.

Arrows
Arrows

The whole issue is linked via a delightful set of arrows that flow throughout – pointing to important information, tidbits and images – encouraging the reader to examine even the smallest details.

The colour palette is quite muted using greys and creams alongside blues and greens but don’t let that put you off – it really lets the images and movie features stand out.

There is some weird pacing in places. I don’t personally like features that start on a single page and the Magic Mike XXL feature is a little lost because of this but, I’ve worked in magazines long enough to know this was probably due to advertising constraints.

All in all this is a very solid start and I can’t wait for the next issue to drop through the letterbox.

Carry on doctor…

My first proper design role involved creating a whole swathe of medical guides.

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In the late nineties I was working in an independent colour reprographics shop (think of Prontaprint or Colour Company and you’re in the right ball park), managing the day to day operations and seeing to client needs – but I was looking for a way out and back into design.

Luckily one of my clients – Mike Wells of INQ Design Limited – was looking to expand and needed a designer. After a few chats, I left the reprographics shop and soon I was the new designer at INQ Design. I’d had limited use of Quark as a design tool but knew the basics and I had a much better working knowledge of Photoshop. I was raring to go.

INQ are a small design company of three, who specialise in medical business to business magazine design and layouts. They also have a wonderful sideline in creating theatre leaflets and posters.

My main duties were the layout and design of a medical journal (Update). Not terribly exciting you might think, but it taught me how to use grids properly, how to create easy-to-follow templates and how best to use typography. I soon progressed to working on other projects and stayed for three years honing my skills.

The shop isn’t open anymore but Mike and INQ Design are still going strong (although not based in Croydon) and I’ll always be grateful for the chance they gave me to escape the confines of printing and reproduction!

Starlog magazine…

The problems of repurposing content from the US for UK newsstand.

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Starlog magazine was my first gig in an art editor role – so apologies for the rough/formulaic cover style. I’d previously worked as a designer in a small b2b design firm and this was the first chance to spread my art editing wings.

At first glance it seemed like an inspired choice – I love movies and sci-fi, so the content suited me right to the ground – but there was a problem. After the excitement of the first issue had passed, I soon realised that this wasn’t an ordinary magazine.

The content was bought by my publisher as a license from the US (where Starlog had been a successful brand for 20 years). There’s nothing unusual in that I hear you cry? Well there isn’t – my current publisher has licensees for a great many mags in it’s portfolio, but there is a difference.

Usually when you launch a licensed product in your locale, the overseas edition isn’t on sale the month beforehand (if at all). However, StarlogUS was on sale in the UK – with almost identical content) a month before the UK edition. As you can imagine, this hampered the UK sales in the long term. We tried short term fixes such as changing the logo, fonts and look of the magazine, but, we were undoubtedly fighting a losing battle.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of my time on Starlog. It was my first exciting job, the editorial team was fantastic and but I’ll always have that nagging in the back of my head, wondering just how much better the magazine could have been.

Brand extension…

Making a spin-off stand out but remain ‘on-brand’ is often harder than it looks.

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Actually that’s not quite true. What is hard is trying to reign your creative ideas in, so that you remain on-brand (god I hate corporate speak, but sometimes there are no better words – go figure). As a magazine designer, you see images and text and whirl them around in your creative juices. You picture big openers, flashy pullquotes and cool colours. Maybe you draw sketches in a pad or on paper of your layouts – I know I do. Then you look at who you’re designing for and alter your designs to fit.

This project was a case in point. Total Anime was a spin-off from the massively successful SFX magazine and so had to be treated respectfully. I was art editor on this project (with full creative control), but had to use SFX fonts and grids for the magazine. It had to look new but still resemble the parent magazine.

The decision was made to use a new ‘Ghost in the Shell movie on the cover and main feature because we had an exclusive first-look and review. The lead character is a funky looking lady (Major Motoko Kusanagi) who really jumps from the page. Motoko was also used on the branding for the DVD release and this added extra impact for free because ‘fans’ would spot her a mile away from the shelves. I elected to mimic the circles from the main image throughout the feature and took the purple colouring from the DVD release. I am a great fan of repetition in magazine page design. I think it helps to move content along smoothly as your eyes naturally follow the same lines.

Total Anime was a successful first edition and it’s since spawned more issues.

© Future Publishing Limited

Comic Heroes…

Imagine FX interviewed illustrator Marko Djurdjevic, I got to design the feature.

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When I laid out this feature I’d never heard of Marko Djurdjevic. I was working in a freelance capacity within Future. As any magazine freelancer knows, you turn up to see the editorial team, they tell you what they want, give you text and files and then you get to do your stuff!

The first image that grabbed my attention was the main image that I used. Usually I go on gut instinct and this was such a dramatic shot (featuring Marvel Heroes Wolverine and Blade) that I just had to use it. I treated the rest of the feature – as I always do – like a jigsaw puzzle. Trying to balance imagery, boxouts, colour and text.

Marko is now one of my favourite artists. His work jumps from the page and his website/portfolio can be found here. You can also read the entire interview on the Imagine FX website here.

© Future Publishing Limited

Heroes and legends…

How do you honour a childhood favourite in only four pages?

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Every now and then – if you’re very lucky – you’ll get to layout pages featuring the work of a childhood hero. I was lucky in 2007 – I got to layout a feature for Imagine FX magazine, that showcased the work of Bob Eggleton. Bob isn’t a household name by any means, but I fell in love with his illustrations for Brian Lumley’s successful Necroscope series of novels. He has since gone on to work on concepts for the animated movie The Ant Bully, private commissions, self commissioned work and illustrated books.

I was given many samples of Bob’s work and plan for the feature including a portrait and boxout with imagery. The only downside to being asked to layout this feature was that I only had four pages available. This meant I’d have to cut down the artwork in order get the interview in.

Using the Imagine FX template, I elected to use a lovely Necroscope illustration featuring Brain Lumley’s dreaded Whampyri on the opening spread. These are very imposing characters and I thought that this would inspire the reader to read on. The rest of the feature consisted of the small step-by-step boxout and some different genre work.

Obviously, this could have been a massive sprawling epic with loads of imagery, but in hindsight, I think that the constraints helped tighten up the pages. Still it would have been nice to get a little more of those Necroscope vamps in don’t you think?

Imagine FX © Future Publishing Limited

Designing for kids…

… and kidults!

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Being a parent (to two gorgeous beasties), it’s nice when you get the chance to design some pages tailored towards them. Plus, kids magazines often have a diversity of content ranging from teen TV shows like MI High to Roald Dahl book collections. It’s certainly a challenge to revert to a youthful mindset sometimes and hard not to just chuck stuff on the page. Being a parent helps – as you know what you kids like) and it’s a joy to make colourful, text light pages. It’s even better if you take a copy of the printed, finished magazine home and your layouts get blu-tacked to the wall that same day!

© Future Publishing Limited 2012

Hellraiser…

SFX Magazine interviews Hellboy creator Mike Mignola

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I love comics. I grew up in the early 80s, desperately trying to be The Incredible Hulk – except I was short (still am), not green and nowhere near as strong. Still, from the age of 5-10 – in my eyes at least – I was the next Lou Ferrigno. This comics passion continues to this day.

I have been fortunate to get work laying out pages for SFX Magazine over the years. This feature is one of my favourites as it is an interview with the multi-talented Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. I tried to be faithful to the character but couldn’t help myself when it came to adding the flame header. Cheesy? Guilty as charged…

© Future Publishing Limited 2012