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Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Clear blue skies

A swift print review, in amongst the frenzy. Carlos is the new magazine distributed to passengers who travel with Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class service (we found it in a newsagent, not our seat-back pocket, we hasten to add). With untreated, raw paper covers, monochrome illustrations and emphasis on type and tactility, Carlos embodies what one might call the new humbleness - a sort of deliberate anti-glossiness. It reminds us of McSweeney's for its effortless appearance, although this is disingenuous, as both are of course just as contrived as the glossiest of fashion quarterlies.

There's a great journal called Inventory - ‘a thoroughly independent sporadical journal of material culture and maverick thought' - that could almost be said to have pioneered the casual brown paper look (buy it here). (An aside - turn to page 44 of the only issue we can lay our hands on (Vol 2., No.2, 1997), (which was edited by Neil Cummings, author, with Marisa Lewandowska of The Value of Things (reviewed, incidentally, in things 14) and we find From Soane to Soane, a walk across London from Sir John Soane’s family mausoleum to his museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields, taking in a critique of Pollock's Toy Museum along the way, evoking surrealists and metaphysicists alike, Ernst, Cornell, de Chirico. Such a large city, so many crossing paths).

Why does brown paper and hand-written or chunky type seem so 'authentic'? The new humbleness's most obvious visual reference is the playbill, produced in a raw hot metal typographic style that found fresh favour in the counter-cultural design of the 1960s (think of Mr Kite) and periodically re-surfaces as an antidote to the purported sterility of computer-centric design. Chicago's great Fireproof Press (gallery) did a similar thing with music packaging, infusing LP covers with a rough and ready look that rubbed off on the music.

The plain brown cover is the traditional sheath of discretion, concealing all manner of socially unacceptable materials - pornography or alcohol, for example. So just how has the brown wrapper come to symbolise upmarket integrity? Carlos is produced by John Brown Citrus Publishing (who also produce a rather nice magazine for the Dorchester hotel). It's a far cry from therapy, the mass-market inflight magazine for mass-market travellers (Virgin's former inflight magazine was called Hot Air, which bit the bullet a year or so ago). Carlos makes explicit reference to both fanzine and high art culture, describing itself as 'innovative yet old-fashioned'. Dazed offshoot Another Magazine took a similar approach with its 'literary' section in the heart of the magazine, deliberately at odds with the high style of the fashion surrounding it. Look for traditional consumer publishing to follow suit.

Elsewhere. We’re big fans of Julian Opie, especially the Imagine You Are series and his landscapes. His is an art that lends itself well to screensavers, and we suppose that's a compliment. Some para-military chic, via cheesedip. Illustration from Cindy Kim, reminds us of Lucinda Rogers. An utterly insane roller coaster. The Motoring Picture Library.