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Jandos Rothstein

The Tease of Teaism

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 05/22/2008-13:35 PM

Tea: A MagazineTea comes with a lot of visual associations, but from the Japanese tea ceremony to the silver tea set and tinkling of china cups, the common link is ceremony and elegance.

Little of that expected aesthetic is to be found in the current iteration of Tea: A Magazine, which uses typefaces, colors and grid erratically in its haphazard effort to honor the world’s favorite beverage. I often marvel at the magazines that focus in on single flavors: Cigar Aficionado, for example—maybe you like cigars, maybe you even love them, but do you really want to commit to receiving 1,500 oversized pages about them in the mail every year? I don’t think my hot beverage of choice is worth reading about (Black Coffee: Just Drip, No Flavors Added Monthly just doesn’t seem like it it would garner any readers) but others, like Chile Pepper, which I had thought had folded is still going strong. It works as single-flavor glossy because it’s really more about how the chocolate pudding tastes with peppers, than the peppers themselves, and tea seem a topic equally lilkely to inspire content. CP looks, if not beautiful, then at least like what you’d expect it would: a menu for TGI Fridays. T:AM seems to cover tea’s various constituencies in its editorial mix, but the design is studied ugliness: goopy, clashing, pastel colors, out-of-the-box Quark Scotch rules, intersecting frames, and an excess of drop shadows and other type effects. There seems to be a smell of mothballs about the design—not Jasmine.

Sure, there are lots of glossies out there that are just as out of sync with content as this one, but most of those have problems that go deeper than design. T:AM may not be editorially brilliant but it is finding a variety of stories around its narrow focus. It is a magazine you can look at and say that this could be a real honey.



[EDITOR'S NOTE:Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Buyer’s Remorse

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 04/28/2008-14:55 PM
Remarriage

reMarriage is the magazine for “Before, During, and Happily Ever After.”

I suppose that “before, during and after” remarrying is not as broad a topic as “before, during and after the bris,” nor as weird as “before during and after the funeral,” but the cover lines, “Bride’s Dress Dilemma: Pouf or Posh?” “Today’s Mix and Match Families,” “Losing Friends in the Divorce,” and “Stepping into Teenage Angst,” do suggest a freewheeling attitude towards content that most magazines, and nearly all bridal magazines, eschew.

reM doesn’t just tell us that not all marriages work out, they demonstrate it on every page with the unhappy union of Bodoni and Avant Garde, the quarterly’s two signature fonts. While both faces were indeed iconoclasts in their day, I worry that that’s not enough to overcome the substantial generational difference. Has Ms. Garde really thought about what it will be like living with a face 170 years her senior? Will life still be good when his pairs no longer kern?

Both fonts are used in the magazine’s flag, which does not merely rely on the oil and vinegar type combo to undermine the unity of the mark, but also mixes colors, runs part of the name bottom-to-top, and interweaves two letters in the otherwise loosely tracked logo.

Inside, the colors run to the murky, the grid use runs sporadic, and the use of rules runs generous. The muddy colors I would guess, reflect the editorial attitude—a thin patina of hopefulness over the rough terrain of a cynicism richly earned as youth faded in unhappy matrimony. “It may take years” for the shouting to subside in a new marriage warns the editors on page 9. On 11, the stepmom’s “Bill of Rights” urges small kindnesses that would seem modest by Gulag standards.

The articles are not awful, though most would benefit from tighter editing, and a bit less self-promotion on the part of the writers, many of whom are clearly trying to drum up business writing for a regionally-distributed magazine. And the design shows, if not exactly flair, a small spark, on occasion, though one that is often doused by a heavy handed approach. An article on merging established households has attractive imagery combined in an engaging way with call-outs for specific decorating problems and solutions. Too bad overlapping 20pt frames overwhelm the photographs, and the headline is given a gimmicky graduated screen that adds little interest to the design, and only dubiously connects to the topic.

Other articles, though, are a hodge-podge of stock art, tiresome tropes (the Bill of Rights is surprinted on a picture of a scroll) and novelty fonts. An article on the politics of merging families never settles on a column width, and is bafflingly illustrated entirely with pictures of cardboard boxes and scraps of floorplan.

All in all, the magazine isn’t pretty, but I do intend to leave it on the coffee table for the benefit of my father in law, who once introduced me as his daughter’s first husband.



[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

The Best (or Only) Use of Chiaruscuro On the Newsstand

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 04/23/2008-13:48 PM
Hi-Fructose

I was attracted to this issue of Hi Fructose because it had the best (or possibly the only) use of chiaruscuro that I’ve seen recently on the cover of a newsstand magazine. Hi Fructose covers the naive-by-choice school of art-making along with publications that include gallery or illustration-focused books like Juxtapoz, Beautiful Decay, and, to some extent, the grafitti mags.

No question, HiFruc has a cool collection of imagery ranging from work by people I’d want to hire as illustrators, people I would have wanted to hire if I still worked for a free alt weekly, and a few I’d be scared to be in the same room with. However, it also suffers from many of the excesses of the PunkArtMag "genera"—sometimes using artwork like backgrounds for type, or cropping painting in ways that damage the effectiveness of the imagery.

It is, of course, a delicate line between the button-down gallery-in-a-book approach of establishment art journals like Art in America and the free-for-all skater mag attitude that pubs like HiFruc ape. In the magazine’s defense, it goes native less frequently than some. The Kimidz(?) spread above, and Kukula (below) seem reasonably responsible blends of design and art elements. But not all HFruc pages are so easy to parse—it would be easy to miss the editorial page on the bottom spread because it visually blends into the ads next door.

Below: Brian Dettmer’s obsessively carved books would hold their own at the American Visionary Museum.

Below: The magazine could do a better job juggling the chaotic ads and art elements it publishes. Stricter advertising standards and more white space would both help.



[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Missbehave's Eureka Moment

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 04/14/2008-11:46 AM

I wasn’t there at the eureka moment that spawned Missbehave, but I imagine it went something like this:

Editor: “We need something different ... something like a magazine, but not like a magazine ... something bold, yet decisive ... wild, frilly and feminine, yet sturdy and down to earth with machismo and swagger ... a design that speaks Indo-European with an outrageous fake French accent ... [art director begins to look uncomfortable, time passes] ... something sweet, yet sharp….soft, yet dangerous…crunchy, but with a hot molten center…..[more time passes, art director begins flipping absently through a copy of the Village Voice] ... something grassy, with good legs, yet impudent and saucy ... [more time passes] ... something ... oh, I don’t know, WSY?”

Art Director [By now feeling hostile, yet caught off guard, never imagining that editor would ever stop talking stares at the random Voice page in front of her hoping for something—anything—to say. She points to a club ad—one of those single column jobs, in which every band name is as big as possible (in the case of a one-col, about 24 pt) set in a different wacky display font and set off with a smattering of rules and booger-sized pub shots]: “See this? see this?” she says. “Let’s take this ad and extend the concept to an entire magazine!”

The crazy thing is, it all kinda works. The type is such a delicate and sophisticated balance of the preposterous—a mash up of multiple eras and tastes pulled off with aplomb. More than that, the mix seems appropriate for this relatively new magazine. It would be misleading to call Missbehave a gender-bender, nevertheless the grrl-power title walks the line between Maxim’s swagger and Cosmo’s sexual sincerity a little more convincingly than most gender-focused magazines.

m

Missbehave’s models are less kempt, more ordinary, and more overtly sexual than the models that grace the pages of most women’s titles. Cover model Amber Heard’s hair is mussed, and her clothing is more revealing than flattering. On the inside, she poses, legs splayed on a beach ball. Generally, the magazine exhibits a disarming comfort with nooky that’s anything but Ken-and-Barbiesque. References include a fashion spread with furries (see Dan Savage if you don’t get the reference); and hook ups and extra-marital dalliances seem assumed rather than pondered. Yes, women’s magazines have plenty of bedroom advice and a bit of blue fiction, but it’s hard to imagine Cosmo running something like “DILF hunter.” Lede Graf: “Hugh Laurie, you’re 48 and you have needs. You live in L.A. your kids and wife do not. I don’t need a dry erase board, a bajillion years of medical school, and the Socratic method to suss out what you, my Dr House DILF (Dad I’d Like to Fuck) are afflicted with.”

Missbehave

In Missbehave, the editorial posturing can occasionally get to be a bit much—a quality it shares with men’s titles. Under the headline “How to be a Trophy Wife” is a stream-of-conciousness that begins: “Don’t pick at it! The scabs only last for four days, unless you pick at it. Stop. And even if the Restlyane bruise looks like you got a beer can heel-kicked into your nasolabials, you should never put Dermablend on your face. Unless you’re a local newscaster. Can I tell you something? Get your fingers out of my Cobb salad! No, really, ever since I swam with dolphins off of Lompoc, I find my twins—Valeska and Bentley—to be suppressive persons. They’re 8 now and it’s obvious they’re not so spiritual. We sent them to Outward Bound. We hope they catch autism. They’d be good at science.”

You know, I was hoping there’d be something I could use there. I’d actually like to be a trophy wife, but not if it means having to slog through this blather.

Missbehave

But some of the other writing, at least when you get through the off-putting ledes, is quite a bit better. There isn’t the editorial assumption that the reader is seeking self-improvement (or the appearance thereof). which seems to drive many women’s magazines, and that makes Missbehave both surprising and unusual. If there’s bluster there’s also a tone of self-confidence that the titles that orbit around fashion (people better dressed than you) beauty (people better looking than you) and celebrity (people richer and more talented than you) by necessity lack. Not that there’s none of that stuff here, it’s just kept to a tasteless minimum. It’ll be interesting to see how this title evolves.

Missbehave

A feature celebrates indulgence, although apparently the most indulgent thing they can think of is Taco Bell:

Missbehave

First spread of long fashion layout:

Missbehave

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

La Fashionista Enfant

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 04/08/2008-11:17 AM

I've written before about the propensity for satire at my old alt-weekly. But one ill-fated attempt at mirth at someone else's expense was a year-in-the-[not]-making spoof of the Washingtonian, a city magazine that, in my 11 years in D.C., has cycled through the same yearly schedule of lowest-common-denominator content over and over (and over) again. My old editor (whose name I won't mention) summed up the problem: "How do you satirize a magazine that satirizes itself every month?"

His words came back to haunt me as I tried to think of something to say about Baby Couture (the magazine that "puts the ‘coo' in Couture") funnier than anything that appears in the first issue. At least I assume it's the first issue, there is no volume or issue number to be found. That, in itself, is proof of inexperience. They have not yet suffered the wrath of a thousand librarians, who summon up the hostility accumulated during a life enduring the twin frustrations of customer service and government bureaucracy for just such oversights. No one does poison-pen like a librarian, and little raises their dander like the omission of essential cataloging information. They don't ask for much, they ARE JUST TRYING TO DO THEIR JOB!

So, I'll try to review BabyCouture with a minimum of snarkiness.

The cover hits two of the William Randolph Hearst trifecta, pairing babe Christine Costner with baby Cayden. Cayden? Now there's a name not chosen with those painful grade school years in mind.

Apart for the photogenic models, the image is not particularly suited for cover use. It has too much background detail forcing the designer to drop teasers into little nooks and crannies here and there in defiance of a logical hierarchy. Despite the typographical gerrymandering, much of the text is hard to read, thanks to both the picture and the achromatic pallet. The goofy type choices don't help-who thought kiddie handwriting would work with that ghastly wedding script? The awkward competition between cute and sophisticated remains unresolved on the inside as well.



Sensitivity to typographical conventions—from SIC-able smart-quote-driven errors in headlines such as “Flip ‘n Flop” which appears on page 14, right after “Wash ‘n Wear” on 13—does not burden the staff of of BC. They do have the whole product placement thing down though—Christina gets a 32 pt pull quote to wax poetic about her favorite brands. “Knuckleheads” is the winner for her little darlings, but she also likes “Diesel Kids and Baby Gap.”

The fashion plates are the usual pictures of children–though most are not babies. The oldest models, who are probably seven or eight, follow kiddie pic convention of imitating the jaunty poses of adult models, which sells, I suppose, the fantasy that if you dress your kids like little adults, they will quit acting so goddamn childish. In truth, it can go down like that—but only after the sort of parental behavior that can cast a pall over an entire 200,000 sq. foot suburban shopping mall, and possibly spark intervention from child protective services—potentially embarrassing for parents who shops at PradaKids.



I recognize that there are parents willing to invest $300 in ensemble outfits that will look great until the kid grows out of it in 6 months, or throws up on himself, whichever comes first. (Though in the case of my daughter Emily at that age, the smart money was on reflux.) But are there enough of them who aren’t already reading the Times’ SundayStyle section to support a magazine? And aren’t most of those Times readers there for yuks, not shopping advice? I guess time will, tell. Lets hope this title lasts until its Carters wear out ...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Photoshop Disasters: Blender's Britney Cover

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 03/25/2008-11:53 AM

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

Photoshop Disasters writes with humor about digital flim-flam, including the current cover of Blender, which brings us the head of Britney Spears.

Still, you have to admire the tasteless audacity of the coverline: “Britney Spears Has Lost Her Kids, Her Fans, Her Underwear…and Her Mind HOW WILL IT END?”

In a puddle of Red Bull, clearly ...

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Jandos Rothstein

Editors vs. Art Directors: Part III

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 03/24/2008-14:58 PM

A word on the recent Mark Newman blog post about the art director/edi... er, excuse me, I mean the editor/art director relationship. It seems the editor is always right.

As you might expect, there's a bit of foot stomping about the piece in art directorial circles—at least I think that's what it is. As we are just art directors, we can't express ourselves very clearly with words—so I'm hearing complaints but I'm not really sure what they're about. People think we art directors speak a secret language, sorta like porpoises, but no, we make no more sense to each other than we do to anyone else. Sad.

So, as I am incapable of mounting an effective counter-argument, I think I better concede his point, yes the editor is always "right" but only because he or she is defined as being so-at most magazines the art director reports to the editor. I'm actually not sure why this is a point worth making, there are very few of us who do not report to someone—editors report to publishers, publishers report to presidents, and presidents report to boards of directors. There's a lot more Dagwoods around than Mr. Bumsteads.

So why is he making it? Probably because it has never been less true. In the 1940s, when art directors were assigning a fraction of the art that appears in a modern magazine and pasting up rude mechanicals for hot-type forms, Mark Newman would have felt no need to defend his autonomy against the visual clerks who brought largely generic form to his words. It's now that the culture has grown increasingly visual, and the cognitive walls between words, images, and form have been shattered at the most successful magazines that his point seems urgent. The editorial inches, budgets, and staff devoted to art and design has never been higher. Most editors know that if they aren't visually conversant, their career will be limited and their magazine will suffer.

Now, good art directors have always been word people. The translation of verbal ideas into visual and graphic ones requires it. But, a lot of old-school editors are playing catchup right now, and they know it. But clearly, there are also and a few who haven't noticed that the nature of the magazine has changed.

There are, of course hacks in every field-art directors who can't read or understand past a headline, and complacent and blunt-witted editors, but we have entered a period in which, whether you are an art director or an editor, you must be bicameral to be fully competent. The increasing number of visually astute editors (and editors who know they should be, but aren't) has been good for us, and it's the future. No matter who's boss, we'll be getting up in each other's business for the foreseeable future.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

An Exquisite Corpse of a Magazine

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 03/18/2008-12:01 PM

Acido Surtido is a remarkable and lovely poster/magazine published in Argentina by a small editorial team with support from the Ministry of Culture. Printing only 2000 copies, I feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to review a nearly complete run of the stunning mag. In some ways, AS is similar to Lumpen in that both publications are free, both are lovely because of, and not despite of low production values, and both are the product of a cheerful but competitive collaboration among artists. Contributors at AS, I gather, work separately but meet to assemble the final arrangement of panels that make up the magazine. But, unlike the Chicago pub, Acido Surtido (which roughly translates as "Acid Mix") is almost entirely visually driven. AS is, in essence, an exquisite corpse of a magazine—while each issue is based on a theme, how contributors approach the core idea is individualistic, or even idiosyncratic. In fact, a few panels seem included not because they are particularly interesting on their own, but because they make the overall piece stronger by providing white space or a dash of whimsy in an otherwise serious issue.

While AS is both more graphic than literary, and unfurls into a poster (occasionally, one side is devoted to a single image) it is also, in every sense, a magazine. The juxtaposition of various contributor’s work create the deep interactions that the best magazines relish in—but here it is image and image rather than text and image that work together. As you unfold AS wonderful little moments occur (like the one below) in a carefully orchestrated interactive experience. The reader feels as if he or she is opening a present or untangling a mystery.

Read and see more here ...

Also, below, a link to a whole side of another issue, too large to put on this page and do justice to, based, as it is on the 25″ x 37″ original.

Acido Surtido 14

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Did Details Pioneer Front-of-Book Collages?

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 03/10/2008-12:49 PM

Left to right: Details, Esquire, Gourmet, body + soul

I first noticed it in Details a year or so ago—the first page of their newsbrief section ("Know + Tell")—traditionally the home of the most newsworthy, best or meatiest short item—had been torn down and replaced with something else: a page of bite-sized tidbits.

I don’t know if Details pioneered this approach (does anyone?) but it has very decidedly become a trend—several magazines are doing variations on this collage-like way of opening the section, in essence starting with an amuse-bouche (or seven) before the appetizers to come.

Details’ overstuffed page is still the best I’ve seen. Loaded with spare, hard-hitting language, and serious ideas, it averages more and better items than others I’ve found. It’s probably best described as a graphic Harper’s Index. Details occasionally uses a little line art on the page, but it is generally an exercise in pure typographical design—unusual and a breath of fresh air in a big newsstand book.

Esquire relies on a limited color pallet and the work of a single illustrator to hold its page together, and Gourmet’s functions more like a cover design, carving nooks and crannies in the space around a central image for type placement. Of the four here, body + soul’s stock art, sea sick colors, and vapid theme make for the weakest. They’re very proud of it though—it occupies the first page editorial page in the book.

For close-ups, click here ....

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Campaigns and Elections, Redesigned

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 03/04/2008-13:50 PM

As a guy who has made his career at the sort at publications that spend at least part of their time putting out articles on the arcane workings of government, I always take more of an interest than some would when wonks get jiggy with it. Politics, the rechristened Campaigns & Elections is on the stands this month. The magazine was, at one time, a data-driven publication—visually defined by stats and tables. But in the last few years C&E had moved in a more magazine-y direction. Unfortunately, the design—and especially the art direction—hadn’t made the change along with the content, the result was just another anonymous and dreary trade book. Politics may be cutthroat but you’d never know from a magazine that looks like Insurance Today.

But staff changes—whether editorial or art, can create opportunity, and in this case the arrival of an editor William Bearman led to good things—the introduction of a real front section, a bit more air, and a more sophisticated and contemporary typographical treatment.

In truth, the new iteration isn’t all the way there—the new design drifts off its grid too frequently, particularly in the back, the new look relies too much on ornamentation and type filters, and Helvetica seems crude and plodding when paired with their signature old style serif. They could also invest a bit more in art—there’s a bit too many cases of stock used where visual content would be better. But compared to what they had, I’ll take it.

The new briefs:

A new feature, still too much text, but not as much too much:



The old version is below ...

Cover:



The front had awkward edit/ad interactions, a problem that seems to have been fixed.

An old feature:

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Esquire Cares, Part II

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 02/29/2008-17:32 PM

Those of us who have kicked around publications for a while know that the letters page ain’t what it used to be.

And, I’m not just talking about what appears in the magazine—though most glossies are printing fewer inches of reader reaction than in years past. Readers (and more importantly readers who write) no longer have the same notion of what a letters page is in the first place.

In the old days, a mail page was one of a very few accessible forums. If you were the gatekeeper of one, you could count on all kinds of unpublishable entertainment—long paranoid screeds hand printed in tiny, careful letters on three (or 12) over-stuffed pages; amateur press packages from home entrepreneurs with uh, “whimsical” schemes; requests for pen pals from prisoners with hard luck stories—and other miscellany from folks desperate to gain access to an audience—any audience.

It really didn’t matter if you were at a college literary magazine or Newsweek—you could count on a steady stream of at once horrifying and amusing correspondence. And, as much as the crazier letters were passed around the newsroom and snickered at, it was also hard to be completely untouched by them. They spoke of lives much harder and more isolated than the ones we were living.

Of course, in addition to the crank stuff, the average magazine also received a lot more thoughtful submissions than they currently do. Why the drop off? One editor I talked to blames blogs. Everyone with something to say already has a blog or can find one on which they can comment. Audiences and communities are now found on Facebook, not the letters page. But, whatever the cause, the effect has snowballed. At my old newspaper, the letters page (not to mention the free ads in the back) used to generate conversations among readers that would go on for weeks. Mail no longer runs in every issue.

That sense of reader community that you found in print is all but gone at most publications.

So, one of the most interesting features of the recent Esquire redesign is the increased love and attention given to the letters page. And, they are honoring (if that’s the right word) both kinds of letter writers—engaged readers and whack jobs—with lots of inches for letters and a short feature that quotes “highlights from a letter we won’t be publishing this month”—a few words that hint at those not-ready-for primetime letters we all used to get, and apparently Esquire still does. “The Sound and the Fury” (possibly the best name for a letters page ever—though the new design downplays it) becomes visual through informational graphics reflecting quantity of mail on various topics (and reader reactions to various pieces) and mini featurelets that expand upon the previous month’s content. Instead of rehashing art from the previous month (though there’s a little of that) the visuals emerge from content. It’s all at least as engaging as the magazine’s newsbrief section a few pages later.

It’s all so well done, in fact, that it raised some question in my mind as to whether I was reading real reader-provided material or not. If not, Esquire certainly wouldn’t be the first magazine to “enhance” its letters page, but I’d like to believe that it’s possible to take the best of a magazine’s mailbag (and web forums) and turn it into something that would work this well in print.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Esquire Cares, Part I

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 02/26/2008-12:18 PM

I wrote a while back that most magazines were not particularly concerned with that ambassador to the reader, the table of contents page. Still true—but Esquire is an exception to the rule. TOChinations at the magazine predate January’s redesign—the book has a history of putting collaged, structuralist, and sometimes even more whimsical arrangements on its contents page. One (from late last Fall) put content in the form of an array of cubes—it looked more like a recent NYT infographic than anything else. Stunning and inefficient, that version took four pages rather than the usual two.

None of the magazine’s recent contents pages are your parents TOC, into which text is unceremoniously poured and routinely formatted. As a whole the pages vary in interest (to my mind the “issue map” version [above, bottom] is a hum-drum take on old gimmick of previewing spreads—first done (I think) by Talk) but as a group they delightfully show the potential of the page.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos new book!]

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