What Makes Esquire Stand Apart
One reason to make us all feel more excited about our industry.
I sing a song of praise to David Granger and his Esquire magazine. A dithyrambic salute, if you will. Maybe in a gospel vein, with acoustic accompaniment.
In an industry with no shortage of superstar editors-in-chief, Granger stands apart. Somehow—maybe instinct, maybe corporate research—he’s paved a highway to his readers’ brains, groins, hearts and bank accounts. Probably not in that order. At every level, Esquire connects.
But more than that, it flaunts. This, gentlemen, is a magazine. There's an almost self-referential pageantry to the enterprise.
First, I’ve got to admit I’ve never met David Granger and I wouldn’t know his temperament from his toy trains, but this is how I imagine his inner monologue as he arises every weekday morning: “Watch how it’s done…amateurs. I shall now go forth and exult over yet another day of my brilliance in the Hearst Tower.”
Perhaps it doesn’t happen exactly like that.
But it could.
Granger hires and delegates well. That’s a given. And he’s managed a long tenure as an EIC, which is an impressive feat in the hypercompetitive cagematch of New York publishing. I assume that’s a reflection of his skills as an out-and-out magazine guy. Like Sinatra, he can hold, define and gingerly tangle a melody.
Granger does more than sing a song, however. He reinvents it. In his exuberance for the medium, he constantly shreds page templates that worked just fine last month. Or the month before that. Apparently, the man can’t get no satisfaction.
Have you ever seen a thriving magazine that undergoes piecemeal redesigns so regularly? Tweaks and, instantly, tweaks again? A book that reworks sections and departments with such disdain for convention? That experiments so openly with the very idea of a “print magazine”—all in the interest of keeping attentive readers coming back to see what the hell is going on?
A new table of contents greets us, survives a few months, then is replaced with a different design; the signature “Man at His Best” section is practically a living organism, and by now, we understand that it will never be settled for long.
Granger clearly revels in this kind of rebirth—toying with, manipulating, scrubbing, reconfiguring, blasting away at…practically everything in his book. Not even his own Editor’s Letter sustains. Its size, location and sometimes even its tone are all subject to this artist’s whim. (The exception is the odd self-portrait Granger has chosen: here we observe the EIC engaging in some sort of gymnasticy move with his jacket.)
Only his covers, with their dense, often muscular typography (and lots of it), seem to hold on year to year. Nothing else is safe.
The notes Granger hits are masterful and distinct, but what are those notes, exactly? Esquire, like its core audience, is “self-assured,” “cocky,” “sophisticated,” “entitled,” “smart.” Really smart. And ever “hard.”
All of this razzle-dazzle is made to appear easier by the fact that Granger has at his disposal a murderers’ row of feature writers. Among them: Tom Chiarella, Tom Junod, Charles P. Pierce, Scott Raab, and the inimitable A.J. Jacobs (with whom, I say proudly, I once worked with at Entertainment Weekly).
These are among the best in the biz. Even if Granger screwed up half of each issue, one or more of these virtuoso writers would save his butt.
Despite my appreciation for his skills, David Granger has not reinvented magazines. Everything in the mag universe is derivative. However, the way he assigns out the edit, oversees pace and ping, stirs the broth and adds his aphrodisiacal spices—those things are special. They should be savored, particularly by those of us who love this medium.
As I roll out The Modern Magazinist blog, I suspect few posts will be as happy-shiny—or lengthy—as this one. But by launching with the focus on a pro who sets such a high standard, I thought we might all feel a little more excited about our industry.