7 independent magazines with clever, imaginative illustration
This post was published in January 2021. To stay up to date with the latest independent magazine news and reviews, sign up for our monthly email newsletter
Good illustration is the greatest joy of independent magazines. On these pages, artists are given unusual freedom. Words and images work to reinterpret one another, and test the limits of what a story can be. The best illustrations give their texts new, rich, and sometimes contradictory meanings. Below, we’ve gathered together the magazines that consistently delight and surprise us. From climate change to design, here are seven magazines that know where to draw the line.
Created by Pulitzer Prize finalist Matt Bors, The Nib publishes satire, essays and memoir, all in comics form. The third issue, themed around ‘Empire’, includes one extraordinary piece by Hussein Adil, about the last two days of the Gulf War in Iraq. The simplicity of Adil’s drawings makes them painful to look at; corpses littered across the road are rudimentary line drawings washed with red. Part of what makes The Nib such a delight is its versatility. Other comics are brilliantly funny — issue five was themed ‘Animals’, and included one memorable strip about a pet cemetery. The most recent issue is themed ‘Pandemic’ and features a helpful guide: “How to Flee America in Ten Extremely Difficult Steps!”
Fukt is a contemporary drawing magazine that tests the limits of what a story can be. Editor Bjørn Hegardt opens the latest issue, which we delivered to Stack subscribers in December, with a series of questions: “Where does the message lie in an image?… Is one single image enough to tell a story?” The art that follows demonstrates the multitudes contained by the single image. One of my favourites is by Davor Gromilovic, who has sketched a lizard-unicorn creature crouching in a goblin’s ear, and called it ‘The Blind Reading Stories to Storyteller’. Another extraordinary contribution is by Bjorn Bjarre, whose introspective and meticulous worlds are a tribute to his late son: “I like very much what Laurie Anderson wrote after she lost her husband: ‘the meaning of death is the release of love’”.
Named ‘Aww’ as in “Aww, isn’t that cute?”, this is an animal-themed illustration magazine. It’s made in Hong Kong, and intended to provide “illustration therapy” as a kind of escape from the country’s politics. The latest issue imagines a “zoolympics”, and features many strange drawings of teddy bears diving, and cats throwing javelins. Part of the fun of Aww is that it is slightly unhinged: one spread in here sketches out what would happen if movie characters — including Mia in Pulp Fiction and the twins in The Social Network — got haunted.
Nork is made in Tromsø in Norway, presenting a view of the world as seen from high above the Arctic Circle. Nork won Best Use of Illustration at the last Stack Awards, and its imagery is essential to its dreamy, slightly trippy aesthetic. Themed ‘The Holy Cosmos’, this issue blends Christian and Pagan iconography in unsettling ways; from the elemental, quasi-religious formations on the front and inside covers; to the Finnish artist Anton Pitkänen’s mixed media creations; and Mylo Mark’s fragmented collages.
Made by a team of young scientists, lawyers and illustrators, It’s Freezing in LA! is a magazine about climate change. Spotted lines sliced through the third issue, a graphic representation of the numbers of people at the Global Climate Strike in March 2019. A central illustration in issue five plots the gentle recovery of the ozone layer, offering a much-needed glimmer of hope in dark times. The most recent issue is similarly imaginative. One highlight is a series of pastel coloured drawings by Laura Coutinho that provide a dreamy counterpoint to an article about Silicon Valley’s sustainability complex.
So meticulously researched it reads like a life’s work, Secret Societies examines the origins of the Sicilian-American Mafia in the largely undocumented period from the 1890s to the 1920s. Illustrations work in conjunction with photography in this magazine with drawings layered, intricately, over archive photography. Most fascinating of all are pages of ‘Black Hand Letters’, that were shoved through the crack under a door or dropped in a tenement letterbox, containing a demand for money under threat of death. The letters were hand-written and illustrated. Reprinted here, the drawings themselves are powerfully immediate; you get a visceral sense of a frighteningly personalised, menacing gang culture. There are skulls, and guns, and — most unsettlingly of all — a line drawing of a ghostly hand-pencilled over a death threat.
Founded in 2013 with the explicit aim of changing the world, the magazine’s use of illustration is what stops that aim feeling lofty and inaccessible. Focusing on a different global challenge per issue, the magazine uses bold illustration to illuminate difficult topics, including food, megacities, inequality, and power. The latest issue is themed ‘war games’ and stand-outs include a strikingly simple, cartoon-like rendering of two police officers towering over a woman, which accompanies a piece about police brutality. Another brilliant illustration, by Ari Liloan, sits next to a piece about the British Empire. It shows red, eerily disembodied hands, trying to claw their way out of a crown.