Last year we chatted to Helen Sullivan and James King, the duo who started the local magazine of writing, Prufrock. A short while ago, Prufrock celebrated its first anniversary, and to mark the occasion, received a brand-spanking new look. We checked in with Helen and James again to find out more about the Vol. 2 design, as well as what new editorial treats the gorgeous publication holds.
Where volume one was encased in a soft pastel cover with whimsical illustration, volume 2 presents a dramatic change with its stark black and white photograph of a monumental urban scene. Please tell us more about the look of the new cover and some of your thoughts behind this…
The cover image was taken from inside the Werdmuller center, looking out – it’s from UCT’s manuscripts and archives library. We have a wonderful and unusual piece in this issue by Sean O’Toole, about the Werdmuller and its immanent destruction. He’d asked us if we could leave the piece without illustration, as his descriptions would be less evocative if accompanied by definitive images. We agreed, but also thought that the building was just too fantastic and bizarre to leave out entirely, so we put it on the cover. We’ve wanted to have photographs on the cover for a little while, but our previous colour schemes didn’t really allow for them. I don’t know how stark and monumental the photograph is. I’m personally very fond of the building, so perhaps that clouds my judgment. To me it’s sort of quaint and nostalgic. There is also a little punctum in the image, which really clinched it for me. It’s on the front, near the spine. Perhaps most people will miss it, but seeing it shifts the context of the image in a nice way (I’m not going to give it away, you have to look for yourself).
The new masthead design is rounded, bold, almost cinematic in quality. What is it saying?
You might be saying that it has a cinematic quality because the typeface was recently used by Sofia Coppola for the titles in ‘The Bling Ring’. For me it is more suggestive of local sign-painting than cinema. But perhaps you’ve seen through to something more interesting – that local sign-painting has international cinema and style as a referent. We’re conscious of our position here, and how we relate and are compared to international equivalents. I think there is something to be said though, for the human quality which comes from our signs being hand-painted (and our magazines as well, if you’ll allow the stretched analogy). That aside I think it’s just fun, and a more fitting treatment than we had before.
Although the layout design remains essentially clean, there also seems to be more experimentation going on, Sean O’Toole’s The Beauty Error, for example. Is this a response to the pieces, or a hint at a new direction?
The experimentation in Sean’s piece is my compromise on his condition that the text wasn’t ‘illustrated’. I wanted to suggest some of the curves and corridors of the Werdmuller center without actually showing them. It’s also appropriately difficult to understand and impractical, which is the other hallmark of the building. It’s not so much a new direction as an amplification of the old direction, which was to fit the design to the text. Sean’s layout, is as a result of pursuing that idea more rigorously, and with less regard for taste or decency. There are more experimental ideas which will be pursued in the next few issues, but I think it’s important not to get far-out – the text is always the most important thing.
What new colour palettes have you introduced and what should we look forward to in the subsequent issues?
We haven’t planned them out exactly, but I’ve been dying to do a lumo book, which that might happen soon. I think that we’ve pretty much covered (in the broadest sense) the possible combinations of secondary colours which can be used to mimic four colour printing in duotone. I think for the next few issues I’m just going to pick colours which I like.
Photographs are larger and hold more presence on the page. How will you be treating images in further issues?
I have a stack of ideas for photographs which I’d like to pursue. Most of the them, however, involve changes to the process of printing or making the magazine, and would be (for the time being) prohibitively expensive. But we’ll get there soon, I’m sure. The duotone process produces photographs which are dull or washed out, and as pretty as they may be, the printed result is often far from what the photographer intended the image to look like. For that reason, we’ve been hesitant to approach photographers as we haven’t want to disrespect their work. This last issue was printed in black and red, and we could at least reproduce b&w images faithfully, so we tried to make the most of the opportunity. We asked Dave Southwood if we could use his Stowaway series, which is both beautiful and moving, and also sat quite happily with the darker tone of the issue. Besides photographs, we’re always looking to get a variety of different hands into the illustrating of the magazine and will be pursuing that more thoroughly in the next few issues.
The tone of this issue is distinctly darker than previous issues. Do you think this is just coincidence or perhaps a response to something?
Oh a little bit of both. Many of the submissions we got were scarier, and darker than for previous issues. As the last elections were happening perhaps people were reflecting on the last two decades or so – what they’d done, how far, or not, South Africa has come. Winter was on its way – when the issue came together it did seem to make a strange sort of sense. But then there’s Genna Gardini’s wonderful poem, which expresses an intense feeling of love – all of it was intense, I don’t know. And we’re a year old, and look more serious (partly it was kind of impossible to publish these stories wrapped up in pastels), and are ready to take on a bit more. I suppose if you want to reflect on things at the moment, or look into what you South Africans are thinking about, you’d be able to do it through the latest issue in a really interesting way.
(Also, the last issue was produced while Helen was in New York, and Prufrock missed its mom. Or rather, Helen is the force which usually keeps the tone of the magazine up, with her bright and sparkly personality. If it weren’t for Helen, the tone would just spiral down so far down into darkness, that eventually it would just be 63 pages of solid overprinted black, with just a drawing of a hand giving you the finger on the last page.)
Since we last spoke, just after issue 2, what have been some of the submissions highlights?
Rosa Lyster’s pieces are great: she’s written about picnics in books, about Narnia, and in this last issue about being 25 and ”If someone had asked me then where I saw myself in five years’ time I would have just lain down on the floor and wailed.” Genna’s poem that I mentioned is just wonderful. Efemia Chela’s “Chicken” was nominated for a Caine Prize, and Nick Mulgrew, who wrote “Vida Loves You,” about drag kings and queens in Cape Town, was awarded a Silver Special Merit Award in the Features category for the story! The story was nominated for best feature and Nick for SA Arts Journalist of the Year. So that felt like great validation for us; we felt really lucky.
What new themes and threads can we look forward to in the content?
We’re hoping to publish more and more nonfiction, and we’ll be bi-monthly from August! Maybe we’ll start writing more about food, perhaps a recipe to match each issue’s cocktail. We’ll find more and more pieces in other South African languages. The upcoming issue might feature a Xhosa translation of ‘Death Be Not Proud.”
With Prufrock now a bimonthly, has this become a fulltime gig for both of you?
Not yet, but it would be wonderful if that could be the case! One day we’ll have an office and a hundred thousand interns. And journalists everywhere writing about the most wonderful and important things.
Is there anything else you’d like to add…
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