A Magazine By Any Other Name

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Spartan Holiday: A Journal Illustrated is the personal magazine of Douglas B. Dowd, Professor of Communication Design and American Culture Studies, Washington University in St. Louis. It is an energetic publication devoted to illustration and cultural concerns. The premiere issue focuses on Shanghai.

Always a supporter of magazines, I present it here for all to see. As a skeptic when it comes to start-up publications in the 21st Century, I peppered Dowd with questions about his interesting gamble.

Why did you start a magazine now? It’s hardly an opportune time. The publishing industry is under siege, and print itself seems threatened. But as you know better than anybody, periodicals have been a staple of reading culture for centuries now. I think they’ll survive. Personally, I’ve come to see myself as a writer of nonfiction and a visual journalist. A magazine seemed like the right vehicle. That said, Spartan Holiday isn’t a magazine in the standard sense; I’m not selling subscriptions. It’s an illustrated journal, in the personal rather than the academic sense of that term.

How will you support it with content and money? The first issue is paid for, so every sale goes to print the next one. I’m working to build a steady business that pays for itself. If that’s all it does, fine. As a university professor, I have some access to research funding; that source can help defray my travel costs. I may pursue external grant support as well. I am very committed to this publication. I’d like to publish it for 10 years, and I intend to do it for a minimum of three. We’ll make it work.

I have more content than I can use already. In the first issue I engage the history of Shanghai and the tradition of the illustrated newspaper. I’m personally present as a character. In general, I will be weaving my own experiences with informational reflections on a place. I’m a cultural reporter, with a particular interest in the way that things pile up over time: ideas, artifacts, practices, landscapes. I have notes for many more issues than I could ever produce.

What are you hoping to get out of this project? I am hoping to build a body of work over time that integrates my writing and my illustration; that helps to reinvigorate the tradition of the illustrator-correspondent; that creates a durable connection with an audience.

What’s your next theme? No. 2 is a continuation of my experiences in Shanghai. If the first issue explores the built environment, the second focuses more on people and dialogues. No. 3 will explore my experiences in the Utah desert; it will contemplate, among other things, human prehistory, abandoned cars and the geology of the Colorado Plateau.