Ghost sign-maven Sam Roberts recently published Issue 01 of BLAG, the new magazine from Better Letters (Better Letters Magazine Summer 2022). It not only provides evidence that print is not dead, but also that there’s room for new niches in typographic scholarship and enjoyment. With the hope that it will not become a ghost zine, I asked Roberts to discuss his plans and goals for this welcome venture.
Why did you start BLAG?
There is a growing and thriving international community of sign painters and, while magazines exist for sign makers at large, there is nothing specifically focused on hand-painted work. However, I see it as more than a trade publication; it will also appeal to those with related or tangential interests such as graphic designers, type designers, calligraphers, graffiti writers, muralists, etc. I refer to the journey I’m going on with the magazine as “adventures in sign painting,” and for it to inform and inspire these international communities.
Is there a translation for BLAG?
Taken literally, it is B[etter] L[etters] [M]AG, i.e., Better Letters Magazine. However, the word itself has meaning within the worlds of signs and sign painting. In the first instance, a “blag” can be a sales pitch, and ultimately that’s what most signs are. In British English, the verb “to blag” can mean to sweet talk, or to be “winging it.” Sadly, in the absence of many formal training and apprenticeship opportunities for novice sign painters, many are to an extent “blagging it” through the early stages; they have to “fake it until they make it.”
The word BLAG also has a nice combination of letter shapes, which UTILE Studio has worked up into the logotype. This will have its color switched per issue with respect to the cover image.
How will you populate the magazine? Is it all your own discoveries?
The first issue includes a mixture of external contributions and pieces that I’ve written, largely about other people and their work. I see the magazine as serving the international sign painting community, and so should reflect their needs. To that end, I am taking submissions and, in the future, will have more of an editorial role while still penning pieces myself. As well as the print magazine, there is a monthly email newsletter (free) and weekly articles published online at bl.ag. These also feature contributions from others, which will continue to grow in weighting over time.
Do you foresee it only being UK signs?
Absolutely not. I’ve covered topics from all over the world on the bl.ag site, and the print magazine continues with this international perspective. Issue 01, for example, has material from 16 different countries, including Austria, Panama, Peru, Poland and Singapore. I want to celebrate and share work from around the world with each issue, and the second one already has pieces lined up from Brazil, India and Japan.
Why are ghost and old signs so damn popular and appealing to people these days?
While there are ghost signs in the magazine (see the regular Ghost Sign Corner feature, for example) the focus of BLAG is contemporary sign painting and its practitioners. Many quickly dismiss sign painting as a “dying art” but the fact that there is interest and demand around the world for this magazine shows that it is anything but. I’ve just done the shipping data for the first issue, which is now on its way to locations in 29 different countries on five continents—Africa, where are you?!