• Jeremy Lehrer

Beach Reading Alert! The RCA's Lively New Magazine About Death

Now that summer is almost here, there’s no better way to enjoy a day on the beach than delving into a magazine about death. That is the theme explored with life-affirming verve in the 16th issue of ARC, a magazine published by students at London’s Royal College of Art.

The 82-page journal, with a mix of fiction, essays, and found material, feels like a distant cousin of McSweeney’s and Lapham’s Quarterly. In one interview, the designer Julijonas Urbonas talks about his concept for a “Euthanasia Coaster,” a way for the terminally ill to leave the world more joyfully than current options allow. Holly Antrum writes about her visit to a Paris cemetery, and Ali Smith contributes a short story that neatly segues from one melancholy recollection to another, the recurring threads being the presence of death, cats, pocket change, forgiveness, and lost love. In “Rotten to the Core,” Pil and Galia Kollectiv reflect on the significance of the celebrity demise and our contemporary view of dying; Steve Jobs’s death provides the prologue.

The cover of ARC's death minded issue #16. (All images copyright Royal College of Art.)

The writing is illuminating and amusing, though there is seriousness and even outrage: “The Most Dangerous Part of Your Day” considers killing as it is institutionalized by the death penalty, as well as the targeted assassinations of so-called enemy combatants.

The entirety of the magazine was written, edited, and designed by students at RCA. Fittingly for the subject at hand, the pages are rendered in black and white. The only color to be found is the royal purple on the cover, spine, and back. Despite the spartan guidelines, the interspersed imagery does a lively job of providing visual pacing. For instance, Holly Antrum’s cemetery reverie is a thin column of unbroken text running down the middle of several pages, evoking earthworms and gravestones. The layouts vary in orientation and shape, playfully rendering the mood of each piece, and making this journey through death a more lighthearted affair than one would expect. (Perhaps that’s appropriate. As Chiara Siravo tells us in an overview, the descent into hell has been envisioned differently by various philosophers, writers, and religious thinkers over time.)

One piece features excerpts from correspondence between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the magician Harry Houdini about their investigations into a purported medium.

The title for each story is set in large letters superimposed onto the actual text and block justified across the page, reminiscent of the headlines of a 19th-century newspaper. The overlay is slightly annoying, but it’s a fine metaphor for the steely dominance of our mortality: However much we try, we can’t avoid dying. And while the initial sections are on uncoated stock, the final folio is on coated paper, suggesting that in the end, whatever difficulties death may present us, there is grace. (Or gloss.)

As with all passages into the next world, this issue of ARC marks a new beginning, at least for editorial fundraising. The budget for the magazine—all $6,345 of it—was generated through a Kickstarter campaign. The donor levels included “La Petite Mort” and “The Graveyard”; naturally, “The Death of Print,” asking donors to pledge $12 or more, garnered the most support.

Drawings by the artist Thomas Dowse appear throughout the issue.

The interview with Julijonas Urbonas is juxtaposed with a clothoid loop diagram, showing the route of a rollercoaster.

The piece "Kensington Gore" provides a humorous, if morbid, riff on dying. As the introduction explains, "Every sentence describes a death."