An interview with magCulture's Jeremy Leslie on ModMag NY Edition
Since 2013, ModMag has been an annual event in London, a gathering of great magazine-making talent from the UK, the US, and Europe, organized, curated, and moderated by Jeremy Leslie of magCulture. ModMag has developed into a brilliant symposium of magazine thought and inspiration, with a dynamic mix of exciting independent publications and state-of-the-art mainstream magazines. For editors, art directors, publishers, and creatives of all kinds, MadMag has been an ongoing celebration of magazines: past, present, and especially future.
So it’s very exciting news that ModMag is finally coming to New York City, on May 30 at Parsons School of Design. In collaboration with Parsons and AIGA NY, ModMag will present a stellar of creatives, including Gail Bichler, design director of The New York Times Magazine, Michele Outland, creative director of Gather Journal and Bon Appetit, Richard Turley, former creative director of Bloomberg Businessweek, who has recently returned to magazine-making, Omar Sosa, creative director of Apartamento, Emily Oberman, designer of No Man’s Land, Alexander Tochilovsky, curator of The Lubalin Center, and many more. Ticket and event information is available here, and SPD members get an exclusive discount through the SPD site here.
For those who want a preview of the event—or if you can't go and want to see what all the excitement is about—magCulture will be launching a pop up version of their famous London shop from May 15-29 at Vitsoe, 33 Bond Street in Manhattan. They'll have a rich selection of international and New York indie publications for sale.
To find out more about ModMag, SPD talked with magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie, who organizes the event. Later this month we’ll also showcase some of the amazing talent that will be featured at Mod Mag.
SPD: What is ModMag, and why are you doing a New York edition?
Jeremy Leslie: ModMag started as a launch event for my 2013 book The Modern Magazine. It brought together a number of the people I interviewed in the book for a one-day “live version” in London. Like the book, the aim was to highlight the great work being done in editorial design — despite the business challenges the industry faces there are great magazines being made and I felt that work was being overlooked. We’ve now organized it five times, and it’s gotten bigger and better each time to become a part of London’s design landscape, a barometer of magazine innovation and creativity.
When Adam Moss, editor-in-chief of New York magazine, joined the London lineup in 2014 I remember him saying there was nothing like ModMag in NY, so I’ve had a New York edition in mind for a while. London and New York are the two big capitals of English-language magazine publishing so it seems a natural extension.
SPD: What can we expect to see and experience at ModMag?
Jeremy Leslie: You can expect a busy day of talks from a carefully selected series of speakers: people from big magazines, small magazines, new magazines, established magazines. I program it like a print magazine; each speaker is carefully briefed and the running order and timings are designed to vary the pace and flow of the day – it’s never just a run of portfolio talks. You’ll be inspired and buzzing at the end of the day, excited to get back to your own work!
SPD: Is this only about independent magazines? What can folks who work at big corporate mags learn and take away from ModMag?
Jeremy Leslie: I believe in great magazines, whether they be famous international brands or tiny independent start-ups. The lineup reflects this: from The New York Times Magazine and Bon Appetit to leading indies Apartamento and Migrant Journal, we hope to inspire everyone working or hoping to work in publishing. We’ll also be highlighting a group of NY indies; they’ll be added to the lineup this week.
SPD: Why are you still so excited about the state of magazine publishing?
Jeremy Leslie: For the same reason I was always excited: magazines are the root source of graphic design, where content and presentation combine to create unique, uninterrupted, experiences. I still get surprised by new launches and the ideas behind them.
SPD: To what extent do you think that indie magazines have revitalized or represent the future of magazine publishing?
Jeremy Leslie: The new generation of indies have reminded us of the essential power of print as a medium: its physical and tactile qualities, the way it engages multiple senses (sight, touch, smell, sound) and, perhaps most vitally today, the way printed content can’t be altered or deleted. It’s on the record! The influence of the indies is everywhere. One of our speakers, Michele Outland, is the perfect example of this. She’ll be talking about her own indie, Gather Journal, as well as her new role as creative director of Bon Appetit.
To provide a broader answer to this, we’re opening a popup version of our London magazine shop in New York. MagMagMag, a collaboration between the magCulture Shop and Vitsoe, will be open from May 15-29, in the run up to ModMag. Visit to browse and buy from a selection of 60 international indies. [Vitsoe is located at 33 Bond St., in Manhattan.]
SPD: Is ModMag just for designers and art directors, or will there also be editors and other magazine makers?
Jeremy Leslie: The line between design and editorial has always been a loose one and has become increasingly irrelevant. Both designers and editors will be speaking; we don’t draw a distinction. We’ll be hearing from some of the best magazine-makers around and hope the audience will reflect that – designers, editors and publishers will all get a lot from the day.
SPD: In the press release for ModMag you say that "this edition of ModMag will focus on the life and death of magazines." How will that manifest itself at ModMag?
Jeremy Leslie: The overarching idea is to celebrate what we do as magazine makers, but threaded through the day is this theme of the life and death of magazines. Magazines reflect their time, they inevitably come and go and we need to understand that and not freak every time another title shutters.
Herb Lubalin’s trio of 60s magazines are acclaimed for their typography and political boldness, but failed for reasons beyond their maker’s control. Alexander Tochilovsky from the Lubalin Centre will be telling that story. New magazine No Man’s Land was conceived to support woman-only space The Wing, but its arrival coincided with the #MeToo movement and as a result has developed into a far larger project. I’m looking forward to hearing from Pentagram partner Emily Oberman about her work on that. And Pan-European indie Migrant Journal is halfway through its self-defined run of six issues; after six it will be mission accomplished and they’ll cease publishing.
SPD: Is there one person at this edition of ModMag who you think is going to be a "don't miss" event?
Jeremy Leslie: I’ve seen most of our guests speak before and can recommend them all, but given the transatlantic nature of the day I’d first pick fellow Brit Richard Turley. He made a huge impact at Bloomberg Businessweek before leaving for TV and branding, but has recently worked on a series of indie publishing projects including the self-initiated newspaper Civilization, about life in New York. He has a unique view of publishing and I’ll be live interviewing him about that. I want to highlight Gail Bichler too; she and her team at The New York Times Magazine are producing the best editorial design in the world right now. She hasn’t had the opportunity to deliver a major presentation in her adopted home city for some time, so am delighted to give her a stage to do so.
SPD: From your position as a maven of magazines, which three magazines are really killing it right now?
Jeremy Leslie: Three is difficult! I’ll stick to ModMag examples. I’d point you to MacGuffin for the way a magazine should always surprise you; to Mushpit (designed by Richard Turley) for its astonishing alignment of editorial and design intent, and to The New York Times Magazine again, as a reminder to always aim for the absolute best.
+ As part of ModMag NY, the magCulture Shop in collaboration with Vitsoe will present MagMagMag, highlights from the London shop in NYC: "an international mix of our favorite magazines and New York indies." The shop will be at Vitsoe, 33 Bond Street in Manhattan, from May 15-29.