With issue #17 now wrapped up and spinning round the presses of Taylor Brothers, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the last few months, and give an insight into how we turn the submissions we receive into the magazine that will soon be winging its way into bookshops, bike shops and panniers in 20+ countries worldwide…
I’ve been involved with boneshaker since #12 – first as a designer, then as part of the creative team, and now as the creative director. When I first joined, we’d normally meet in the Greenbank pub (see its cameo role in Skipping Digging in issue #17), to chat about the mag and enjoy some pizza and a few drinks. The main problem with this was that by the end of the night we’d be planning adventures instead of the next issue, and any decisions made were quickly lost in the haze of a hangover the next morning. To stop this becoming a recurring issue, we’ve recently started meeting at a lock-up in the east of the city – lovingly known as the Bike Cave, complete with bikes precariously hanging from the ceiling, posters from the web shop lining the walls, and barely enough chairs for the four of us to sit down.
We meet every Friday morning – James + Mike (the editors), Owain (designer) and myself. And almost always a pack of crumpets. We’ll start by collecting and collating the stories that are sent through to the Mike & James. It’s a magazine like few others, in that we’re led by the submissions that are sent in to us, from all corners of the world, and by all kinds of cycling enthusiasts – we’re not just reprinting the work of professional journalists, but helping the tell the stories of the positive change that bicycles bring around the globe. This does bring a few challenges (see below!), but the obvious benefit is that each story has its own individual voice, and that giving a platform to enthusiasts opens up the publishing process to anyone who has experienced the joy of life on two wheels.
The words often come to us in a very free-form, unedited state, sometimes from people for whom English is not a first language, and Mike and James try to work with their natural enthusiasm and turn of phrase rather than glossing it all away with over-editing.
Once the words are finalised, Owain and I join the process to help develop the layouts and artwork – as with the words themselves, the design of the mag is a collaborative process, involving illustrators and designers from around the world, and we’re eternally grateful for the passion they have for the magazine and the talent that bring to the team.
With some submissions, like The beauty of not knowing, the artwork that’s submitted is fantastic, and the struggle is narrowing it down to just a few pages – we could have filled the whole magazine just with the sketches and photos from that one trip alone. At other times the photography sent in will leave us open-jawed, like Here Comes the Night from issue #16, showing mountain bikers riding under Norway’s midnight sun. Again, the problem for us there was narrowing it down into an 8-page article.
But with some articles, the writer has clearly been too busy cycling to take photos of their story, and that’s where we rely on the creativity of illustrators – selecting an artist whose style suits the sentiment of the writing or can be used to emphasise an element of the story. In issue #17, Leaving London needed something quite sombre and slightly melancholy, and Sarah Kirk’s style, full of atmosphere but muted in colour was perfect for the job. By contrast, Caroline Beck’s Fatbike Bushwhack around Kangaroo Island needed something to reflect the heat of the tropical sun, and Alex Moore’s vivid, graphic style was spot on.
With artwork and writing complete, it’s then a case of commissioning the designers. The hardest part of this point in the process is retaining each designer’s personal style, while keeping it consistent with the rest of the magazine. When it works, the designs are unique but unified, bringing out emotion of the writing and drawing the reader into the story – perfectly shown by the choice of colours for Cycling Laos, the use of white space in How to breathe, and the scanned-Tweed texture of Ring in the Old.
We also try to use the magazine’s strong visual identity to draw people in who might not otherwise consider the more political or poetic side of cycling. With Bike Bloc – an article about the creative use of bikes in activism, we weighed up one option based on protest graphics; a confrontational red + black design, with a grungy, block typeface, against a much cleaner, more futuristic design, playfully based on blocks and cubes. The obvious choice was the first option, but Mike rightly pointed out that the theme of text was about challenging the typical tropes of activism and looking at ways of campaigning more creatively, and so the second option was a much better fit for the writing – see what you think when you get your hands on a copy of #17!
Once all of the articles are designed, there are a few more late nights, a couple more pizzas and then we’re ready to package up the files and send them over to Taylor Brothers for printing, binding and foil-blocking. And then, after six months of blood, sweat, and maybe a few tears, it’s signed-off by the rest of the team, and we set about telling the world the new issue is ready, organising distribution, talking to stockists and waiting for the boxes of mags to be delivered to the Bike Cave so they can be cycled (locally) or shipped (further afield) to your door…
You can order your own copy here.
Chris Woodward, Creative Director