Blanket: Something to Snuggle Up With

I first found Blanket magazine I guess about a year ago, not quite sure when but issue 14 was out anyway. I am not even sure how I found out about it, perhaps it was a link or perhaps a I just stumbled across when I was researching the possibility of starting up a magazine myself (still have this project on the books, but that’s another story). Anyway, I have just completed a review of all seventeen issues currently available.

A screen shot of the Issue 17 cover
A screen shot of the Issue 17 cover

The magazine is essentially a portfolio publication. Each issue has a theme to which contributors can respond. There are interviews with designer/illustrators/photographers accompanied by many examples of work and there a sections show casing general work not related to the theme.

The magazine comes to you as a PDF from a website (blanketmagazine.com). As such it is a kind of hybrid, being purely digital but design and layout are more akin to a printed magazine. Being a portfolio magazine for me, at least, this has some advantages over other magazines of a similar ilk, and some weaknesses too. What are the similar ilk? Well in printed form these might include Monster Children, Wooden Toy, Empty, Curvy (produced by Yen Magazine) and perhaps Dumbo Feather (for the interviews), the annual Semi Permanent publication and IdN. Each of these latter publications are to varying degrees more focused in their content than Blanket.

The PDF format sets this publication apart from most other on-line portfolios in that it is a collection of the work of numerous creators rather than individuals displaying their work in conventional websites and/or blogs. It is true that there do exist sites where individuals can post their work, FFFFound! is perhaps an example of these kinds of sites. The problem, as I see it, with these sites is that they show the work of each creator in isolation, even in FFFFound! while the work may sit on page it is a list so perhaps you could say the work is semi-isolated.

This brings me to the advantages that I can see. Compared to print magazines it is cheap to buy. True they have introduced a subscription fee beginning with issue 16 but it is a measly AUD$2 which makes it about the cheapest magazine around (previous issues are all free to download from the website). There are also some pages devoted to advertising but they are still relatively few and gathered together near the back. Delivery comes via a link embedded in an email and since the introduction of the subscription fee includes a free font as well. For those who worry about the amount of paper in the world the electronic delivery is an obvious advantage.

Compared to other on-line showcases the real advantage for me is the arrangement of the content. Each issue contains the work of several dozen illustrators and photographers. These are arranged in print magazine style often with the work three to four contributors to a page. Some may say that this dilutes the individual works but I would argue that this is more than compensated for by the possibilities generated by the juxtapositions. The work of individuals does work on it’s own but also in concert with the work of others and this has created for me numerous visual surprises.

Issue11
Screen shot from Issue 11 showing image juxtaposition

Having said all this there  are problems with the magazine. Some of them may be due to the fact that by making it initially free funds, advertising notwithstanding, must have been very tight, but I am not sure this can explain all the problems. Some undoubtedly are, such as certain performance inconsistencies issue to issue, like whether or not it automatically goes to full-screen mode, and the lack of links/contact details of most contributors (only recently remedied in issue 17), these links are vital if the showcase aspect of the magazine is to work. It would also be nice to see embedded links on the contributors page at the back linking the contributors back to their work (anyone who thinks that PDF magazines are easier to prep for release than printed ones is deeply misguided).

The main difficulties I have with the magazine are, however, design related. This magazine appears to have been intended in its original conception to have been printed and it has not made a complete change to an electronic presentation. Thus will the cover and many of the show case pages make use of the single page per view arrangement all pages have two pages numbers (that, apart from the cover, obviously differ from the page number displayed by PDF reader software). To me this suggests that the magazine is still design using facing pages during layout in InDesign (it is designed in InDesign, I checked). The table of contents refers to these pages numbers but you can’t jump to the pages mentioned, no embedded links, so you have to estimate and key in a number into the reader. This can get really annoying if you are searching for a particular item and the idea of having effectively three page numbers per page is patently ridiculous).

Page numbers, running heads and footers jut into the page usually vertically. I have no problem with this per se, though occasionally they do rather intrude into and disrupt the beauty of some images. They do highlight a problem with the underlying grid, or perhaps lack of one. While this is not a glaring problem I came away with a feeling that overall the layouts feel just a little sloppy. Something that a complex grid can address without compromising positional freedom greatly. This sloppiness was not helped by the fact that the pages tend to wander across the bottom of the page a bit.

Screen shot of a spread from Issue 6 showing instrusion of headers and footers
Screen shot of a spread from Issue 6 showing instrusion of headers and footers

One of the aspects I also like is that in the later issues there is a ‘font of the issue’. I like it because it has forced an improvement to the typographic design of the magazine. The early issues were typographically speaking, pretty weak. Now it is getting better, not that there isn’t a long way to go though.

There is one final element I want to comment on and this has to do with the way the PDF is generated. The result of the way it is generated some of the images a very low resolution, the pixelation is very obvious is some images. Now this could be due to low res images being supplied by contributors – though the editors should insist on resubmits if this is the case – but I doubt it because in some instances only some of the images of an individual contributor are affected in this way. Thus I suspect that the problem lies in the way the final PDF is generated. My guess is they are using InDesign’s built in PDF engine (File > Export) which is far from perfect as it can get overwhelmed by image rich documents. This is a problem that really needs to be solved because I suspect that a large portion of the readership is very design literate and for them resolution errors scream amateur. Find out how to use Adobe Distiller guys.

Look I don’t want to sound like I’m down on this magazine. I like it a lot. I like the content and it is a rare thing for me not to find something useful or just interesting in the each issue. Mostly I like the way it’s presented too. It’s just that there are a few relatively little things that let the magazine down, but they can be easily fixed. Finally, would I recommend this magazine? Absolutely. Is it worth the subscription fee? Definitely. So what’re you waiting for, go download a copy.

Issue 18 is due out early October and I’m looking forward to getting it.

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