The Daily Heller: Civilization is Made to Answer a Need in Me, Not You, Says Richard Turley

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When I first wrote about Civilization in 2018, this gargantuan broadsheet newspaper was what New York Magazine called a “jumbo-sized, black-and-yellow paper … anachronistically heavy on text, to the point that it’s hard to take in all of the information on a single sheet. The design is intricate and playful, punctuating the pages with cartoons, mini feature boxes, and lists.” It was also very readable, if you invested the time.

In its latest incarnation (No. 6), co-founder and designer Richard Turley has pulled out the leading. It is a tough read—if that’s what you want. There is a lot of meat in the coverlines: “$7 Yeezyz,” “Parties in Rap Videos,” “Tiny Egg Treats,” and the corner banner: “Hate List/Are You On It?” There are at least a dozen articles quoted on the front and back covers, with reference numbers to specific placement on the pages where texts are continued. There is a navigational method to the madness, but there is also maddening chaos running throughout the 16 pages.

Turley’s sly intention may be to take readability to the limit in our age of noisy internet babble. As stated above, if one is truly invested in squeezing out meaning, it is possible to read the stories, savor the factoids and enjoy the interviews, all while experiencing a printed publication that is taking current media (i.e. civilization) to task and taking its audience on a mindbending journey down the all-too-proverbial rabbit hole.

I am more than amused. I am in awe of the brutal and visceral wit pervasive within and without Civilization‘s decidedly complex, no-holds-barred layouts. But just in case my interpretation of the designer’s goal is total bullshit, I asked Turley to weigh in.

What is the reason for your up-yours-design?
—To do something unlikable, repellent, horrible, ugly.

—To do something that felt like the feeling inside. NYC 2022. A hellhole. A cesspit. Dimes fucking square. 

—To trade in unswerving negativity. Depths-staring. Naval-gazing. Staring into the mirror and seeing nothing come back. 

—To not delete anything. I forbid myself the use of the delete key. Any thought made had to be retained. Scribble out instead. Like paint. Chiseling through the mess. Layers upon layers. It’s not really about designing, it’s about making it. Scraping through the excrement. 

—To create a divine work. To understand that meaning comes from intent. That every gesture matters, every thought is sacred, and to keep them all. That each one of those thoughts speaks to someone, reaches someone. That those intentions ladder, grow, develop, knit together. Like roots of a tree reaching out to their neighbor. 

—Was about trying to do something new with something old. The paper in its physical form has always been about that. To take an archaic form and push some new meaning into it. 

—To make a product that is more about its production than its conclusion. 

There are some contradictions in this issue. The cover is enticing. The coverlines are engaging. The hate list banner is intriguing. But do you think your readers will invest the time to dive in?
I honestly don’t care. We’ve never produced that thing for anyone other than ourselves. It’s made to answer a need in me, not you.

Am I being too literal in interpreting this melange as your take on our civilization in 2022?
Absolutely. Bang on. See answer No. 1.

What are two or three of your Easter eggs? There must be surprises for the intrepid reader.
Not sure it’s an Easter egg, but a lot of the best text is by a porn actor having a breakdown. 

While it is chaos, it is beautifully chaotic. What can you do next to alter the paradigm of publication design?
I don’t know what I can do. But the medium still has legs. You just have to get over it needing to be useful or in any type of service to anything. All the best magazines are feelings. You pick them up and feel them before you’ve turned to the first page.