Until Now is a magazine about coming of age. The first issue combines personal essays with contributions from both new and established illustrators and cartoonists. The magazine was created by Alex Citrin for her MFA thesis in Illustration Practice at MICA. I interviewed Alex about the experience of being a first-time editor and art director and the process of creating a new print magazine.
What was the inspiration for Until Now?
For my thesis, I initially thought about doing a graphic novel about being in high school. The idea of coming of age has always been a huge interest of mine, and it’s permeated my work as an illustrator. Some might call it an obsession. I once had a boss who teased me for “always telling stories about hating high school.” He wasn’t wrong.
I think it’s so fascinating that the first big decisions we make as teenagers end up as the building blocks of who we become. Of course, we all change over time and there’s a point at which most adults view their teenage selves as an entirely different person– a stranger, even. But you still embody that person to some degree. In the present, you can’t accurately predict who a person will become, but you can look at a person’s past and gain a deeper understanding of who they are now. I think that’s why the topic of coming of age strikes a chord with people, and why it’s something I could talk about all day. I needed a topic for my magazine that I wouldn’t get sick of and this was it.
The stories and comics in the issue are all pretty personal- as I suppose any coming-of-age story would have to be. Can you talk about your process of finding and working with contributors for the first issue?
For this first issue, the prompt was fairly open. It was simply “coming of age” with no restrictions on topic or tone. I expected a lot of redundancies, but every writer had a very different take on the topic.
The first decision I made about the content was that the writers had to be professional writers. I reached out to writers whose work I admired, and I knew about a third of them personally. I leaned towards writers who I felt wouldn’t be afraid to get personal based on their prior work. All of the writers pitched me their ideas, but aside from some very light clean-up editing, they were left to their own devices. They’re personal essays, after all. As it turns out, writers really let loose when you tell them they can just run with an idea! When the writing started coming in, I realized this might be more than a master’s thesis and could be an actual sustainable project.
I treated the three guys who did the stand-alone comics more as writers, which in a lot of ways they are. Comics are inherently narrative illustrations but self-contained within their own little world, so I only have to be familiar enough with that world to trust the comic artist in question.
As a first time art director, was your illustration background helpful?
Being an illustrator completely informed how I art directed other illustrators. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent art directors, so I tried to compartmentalize what it was that made working with them so enjoyable. There’s a big difference between art directors who take their role as a pure management position versus those who are hands-on with the people they hire. Good art direction is a collaborative effort between art director and artist. I like to be specific with artists about why I’m hiring them because I know that’s helpful to me. It encourages an open dialogue.
I’m guessing this is a popular question: what made you choose to create a print magazine, and do you foresee an online component in the future?
It is a popular question, but one I always enjoy expanding on! Going digital definitely crossed my mind, but I’m more intrigued by the physical value of print and the subsequent value print imbues on the content it carries. Personally, I don’t believe print will ever die. Ever. Publishing is a fluid industry that is ultimately about sharing ideas. You can apply that to any platform, but I don’t consider those platforms to be in competition with each other. Sometimes you need to absorb nuggets of information and images at a rapid pace, other times you want to sit down for an hour and read and re-read something that feels nice in your hands. These are inherently different experiences and I felt print was the way to go for Until Now.
For now, I feel Until Now should stay a print publication and the web content will be kept on the minimal side, but I would like to expand it’s online components. Moving forward I’d definitely like to look into some more interactive online features and more process-oriented “behind the scenes” content, maybe even some tie-in digital only content.
What are some of your favorite print magazines?
Apartamento is my number one favorite magazine of all time. I love how seamlessly it moves between photography, illustration, and design without ever feeling piecemeal. That’s a difficult effect to achieve and they do it so elegantly without sacrificing humor. I enjoy Lucky Peach for basically the same reason, although it’s an entirely different feel. That whole slew of gorgeous, independent food magazines – Cereal, Cherry Bombe, Diner Journal, Gather, and Kinfolk- show that caring about food is just as trendy now as it was in the 1980s, but instead of spending hundreds of dollars at Le Bernardin you’re buying Lucky Peach to figure out where the best pho in Hoboken is. Plus all those Lisa Hanawalt drawings. I mean, that’s why I buy it.
I also like fashion magazines like Worn Journal, The Gentlewoman, and the new-ish Adult magazine, which is completely brilliant in concept and design. I also cherish my stacks of old Holiday magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. They’re giant, large-format magazines- lots of full-bleed photography and overset type. I remember wanting to cut them up for collages but I never did because they were too beautiful. Holiday folded at some point in the seventies but recently relaunched, which is crazy! I haven’t gotten my hands on the 2.0 version yet, but that will be my next purchase.
Is there a second issue in the works?
Yes! Since I’m moving back to New York this summer I know the pace will change a bit, but I plan to run it as an annual. I’ll start casting a net out for writers and artists around July. I’m looking to introduce more interviews and some photography as well. It’s funny, I graduated last week but I haven’t had any real time off because what started as my thesis is now an actual thing I keep working on, and I don’t want to stop. It’s my baby!
You can pick up a copy of Until Now at these retailers.