The Daily Heller: What Magazines Stacked Up During COVID?

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Stack is a U.K.-based indie magazine curation service created by Steven Watson that sends out a different title to subscribers every month. Watson has done an invaluable job of keeping print in print and bringing attention to those small magazine gems that rely on their respective niche audiences. Since COVID began, Stack has been my periodical lifeline—and I'm not the only grateful recipient. Here is an excerpt from a letter of thanks sent from the U.S. to Watson a few weeks ago:

"I can get anything I want delivered to the house. A few clicks of a button and my exact preferred brand and size of refried beans or tennis shoes will show up on the front door delivered in a safe, socially distanced manner. I can read any site, check out any artist portfolio, watch any video, or download any PDF materials as long as I tell the machine the exact thing I'd like to see at that exact moment."What I can't order is surprise. What I can't order is the feeling of turning the corner and seeing a mural I hadn't counted on, or checking out a small museum to run headlong into a piece I hadn't expected, anticipated, vetted, rated, or checked out online reviews of and picked the color before purchase. That's what Stack provides. I don't know what's coming each month, but I know that it will be something selected with care and something I do not expect."

I asked Watson to share, in his own words, his favorite COVID-era magazines. Here are his top three, and a few extras (that I like) for good measure.

"We sent out Delayed Gratification in the summer because it was their issue looking back on the period from January to March, so of course they did an amazing job of telling the story of the first reported cases in Wuhan, then mapping the virus as it shut down China, then arrived in Italy, the U.K. and USA. One of their great strengths is their ability to use statistics and graphics to paint the big picture, but then also get in really close with first-person storytelling from the front line. They’ve got an interview with a volunteer ambulance driver in the Bed-Stuy Vollies (I think I’m getting that right) that really opened my eyes not just to the impact of the virus on New York, but also just the fact that there’s such a thing as volunteer ambulance crews in the richest city in the world. They did a great job with the issue, and I also had a more personal reason for wanting to send the magazine out—before COVID, we shared an office with the Delayed Gratification team, and I was really missing hearing them talking about their stories, thrashing out headlines, etc., so delivering their magazine felt a bit like we were still working with them in some way."

"I was also really pleased that we sent out Safar, a magazine based in Beirut. This was during our first lockdown here in the U.K., and everyone was really feeling the effects of the limitations, but speaking with the team on Safar I realized things were much worse there. Their lockdown was extremely harsh and punitive, and it was happening at the same time that the Lebanese currency was collapsing and the streets were burning at night. We were able to provide the funds for them to print their issue here in the U.K., and at a much larger scale than would otherwise have been possible, and our subscribers loved getting this glimpse of a totally different world. (It’s worth saying that the issue really wasn’t about COVID—it had some mentions in there, but the focus was really on wider issues surrounding design, creativity and social justice.) And it’s extremely fortunate that we managed to make it happen before the explosion in Beirut—their studio was destroyed, and amazingly they’re having to work even harder now to keep things moving. We caught up with them after the blast to find out how it had affected them."

"But my favorite over the last few months was Fukt, and I think in large part that’s because it has nothing to do with COVID. Fukt is a magazine based in Berlin that focuses on drawing—each issue it comes up with a different theme to help it explore the art and craft of drawing, and the issue we sent out is based around storylines, or the construction of narrative in drawing. I love the fact that they took on such a broad subject (after all, virtually any drawing, from cave paintings on, could be said to contain narrative) and they approached it with such warmth and humanity. The whole thing just felt incredibly affirming and fulfilling at the end of a difficult year. It also has a totally excellent concertina cover that continues their reputation for playful, disruptive cover design—it makes me smile every time I pick it up, and I know it went down really well with our subscribers, too."

The Nib—"Using comics to tell serious stories (and some silly ones, too), The Nib focuses on a different theme each issue—we delivered their 'Animals' issue last year, which included memorable graphic reporting on the illegal animal trade, bullfighting, vegetarianism and a unique viewpoint from inside Guantanamo Bay."

The Modernist—"Published in the U.K. by Manchester’s Modernist Society, The Modernist celebrates modernist design and architecture with an often perverse zeal; this is the only magazine I’ve ever seen that would make a public litter bin its cover star."

Aww—"Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the unrelenting grimness in the world? Then you need Aww, with its 'animal-themed illustration therapy'—a lovely, crazy playground for illustrators to indulge their flights of fancy while drawing animals."

Nork—"Published in Tromsø, high above the Arctic Circle, Nork expresses something of the Northern point of view. This latest issue is themed 'The Holy Cosmos,' mixing sci-fi and spirituality to produce a dark, fantastical view of the world."

Fotograf—"A contemporary photography magazine published in Czech and English editions, Fotograf is a brilliantly provocative title that wants to challenge and inspire its readers. We delivered their 'New Utopias' issue to Stack subscribers last summer."

American Chordata—"A literary and arts magazine based in Brooklyn, American Chordata is a volunteer-run organization printing exceptional short stories, essays, poems and photography. The name can make it sound like this is a particularly American enterprise, but the current issue also contains work from India, The Philippines, Russia, the U.K. and Europe, delivering a broad and varied collection of perspectives."