September marks this blog’s one year anniversary, and to celebrate I’ve managed to ensnare an industry big cheese. As this venture is my ode to magazine writing, and indeed my audition piece for a future career in journalism, who better to mark twelve months of interview and review than Bizarre supremo and editor David McComb. David was kind enough to give up his time to answer some questions about his publication, and what goes in to producing the monthly assault on our senses that is Bizarre magazine. Thanks to David’s candour, the Alt Girl botherer blog celebrates its first birthday with an exclusive look behind the scenes of an alternative magazine that has spearheaded the industry for many years. I hope fans and aspiring contributors alike will enjoy reading the interview, and if you’ve ever wondered what goes into an issue of Bizarre, look no further. Thanks to everybody for your support this past year, and I hope this is adequate reward for following this blog…
Welcome David, it’s a real thrill being able to feature Bizarre magazine’s head honcho to help celebrate my blog’s one year anniversary. How are you doing?
I’m good, thanks. I’ve just finished editing the text for the first instalment of our two-part interview with HR Giger; a feature I’ve been working on for three years, gently negotiating an exclusive audience with the master of dark art. It’s a thrill that the Giger interview has finally come through.
Would you be so kind as to tell us a little about yourself and your role within the magazine? What would you say are “must have” qualities for a Bizarre editor?
I’ve been editor of Bizarre for five years. Before that I was managing editor of the magazine – which is all about setting schedules and paying invoices – and prior to going full-time on Bizarre I was a freelance journalist working for Empire, Chat, FHM, Zoo, Top Of The Pops, Smash Hits and dozens of other mags.
Before hawking my wares as a freelancer I worked in videogame magazine publishing – editor of Nintendo Official Magazine, launch editor of the Pokémon Master Guide series – and I also spent two years of soul-crushing misery in business-to-business publishing after leaving the magazine journalism postgraduate course at City University, London.
While people might think editing Bizarre is a bacchanalian orgy of perverse parties and wild cover shoots, being a magazine editor is all about running a business. In order for the magazine to survive I need to balance budgets, manage schedules, engage freelance contributors, make sure all invoices are paid and watch deadlines like a hawk, so that the good ship Bizarre can sail onwards on smooth waters.
I do get to make a final decision on content and steer the direction of the magazine, but most creative ideas come from my contributors, and these days I don’t actually write much for Bizarre. My role is more of a curator than a creator.
Now it’s more important than ever for me to keep my business head screwed on as Bizarre is produced independently of Dennis Publishing. Dennis still owns and publishes Bizarre, but since last December my little company – Blackthorn Communications (www.blackthorncommunications.com) – has produced all the magazine content, run Bizarremag.com, and managed Bizarre’s Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter feeds. There’s no big company to protect me any longer, so I need to be sure the business is running efficiently, and ensure I have enough money to pay my contributors and make sure my taxes are taken care of. But as I get to work from home, in my own office, and surrounded by my own stuff, I’m happier than when I was commuting into London every morning and getting enraged by dumbass strangers on London Underground.
Your magazine richly deserves its tag line “The World’s #1 Alternative mag” following years of innovative and exciting content. Is there a Bizarre mission statement or credo that you could share with us? What are the publications main goals and objectives?
Our goal is to stay one step ahead of the pack, and showcase the best in alternative culture before anyone else.
Sometimes I forget how ahead of the curve Bizarre is; but you only have to look at the steampunk theme and special appearance from Viktoria Moskalova at the Paralympic Games closing ceremony to realise how Bizarre has consistently spotted trends and stars before anyone else. We first featured Viktoria on the cover in June 2008, and have been celebrating steampunk culture for over six years, and it was great to be reminded how innovative Bizarre is, and how our grotty little magazine helps set the agenda.
Unlike most magazines, Bizarre isn’t driven by release schedules or celebrity misdemeanours, and we have free reign to publish whatever the hell we like. We don’t always get it right, and there are some issues I’m pretty ashamed of as we didn’t achieve what we’d set out to do. But, overall, I’m proud of the fact that Bizarre consistency showcases intriguing subjects from the darker side of life, makes people think, and shows anyone who thinks they’re weird that there are plenty of other folk out there who are into the same things as them.
The last issue of Bizarre featured latex legend Bianca Beauchamp, and the current issue (released September 25th) features the incredible Masuimi Max. How do you go about recruiting such industry greats every month? Is the mag’s reputation such that these women come to you, or is there a certain amount of grovelling and negotiation involved?
Bizarre has a fantastic relationship with Bianca and Masuimi – they’re my favourite models of all time, and are delightful to work with, professional when it comes to supplying images, and always look stunning in their cover shoots. Bizarre treats all its models with respect, and we always do our best to give our cover girls a voice in the magazine, rather than simply printing their sexiest pictures – so there isn’t much grovelling and negotiation involved. We do the right thing by our models, and what goes around comes around.
May I ask what goes into an issue of Bizarre? How far in advance is content produced, are you looking ahead to Halloween and Christmas issues way ahead of time?
We’re currently planning our first issue of 2013! Because so much work goes into features – briefing writers, gathering images, editing copy, designing layouts, editing pages and so on – the bigger articles have to be planned months in advance. Our reviews and news content come in a little later, so that we can be as up-to-date as possible when we hits newsstands, but the magazine features are now prepared months in advance of publication.
Each issue of Bizarre begins with your “Photo Assault”, a feature that has made me turn the page quickly and peek back gingerly at times. That must be an interesting decision process for the guys involved; are there limits or parameters to what can actually be printed?
If you’re freaked out by the images in Photo Assault, you should see the pics we choose not to print! Because Bizarre is distributed via newsagents and supermarkets, we need to be careful not to print images that could be considered obscene, or images that are gratuitous and have no journalistic value. It’s a tough balancing act as our readers want shocking content, but we need to self-censor ourselves because, if the magazine is withdrawn from sale and subsequently banned from supermarkets, that would be the end of Bizarre. But it’s always a dubious thrill to look at the hideous images our intrepid picture editor, Tom Broadbent, dredges up each month, and poring over pictures the rest of the world (thankfully!) doesn’t get to see.
This blog is all about alternative women, and celebrating individuality and expression. “Alt” is an ideal that a lot of publications are buying into these days, but Bizarre is the original and best. When considering women to feature within your hallowed pages, what characteristics or traits are you looking for?
To be honest, I tend to stand back and let Bizarre’s art director, Dave Kelsall, make a decision on the girls we use, as he has an infallible eye for spotting models who are perfect for the cover of Bizarre.
But being a Bizarre model is about more than sexy good looks – it’s all about attitude. A great example is Radeo, who we featured on the cover of Bizarre in June. For visual impact she’s a fantastic cover model as she’s hot as hell, has great body art, and has idiosyncratic stars tattooed on her nipples. But what made Radeo a great Bizarre cover girl was the spunky interview she gave us, where she raved about science-fiction, action movies and her insane ramblings on Twitter. She’s not just a pretty face – Radeo’s fun, sexy, exciting, and the sort of person you’d want to party with until dawn.
Fetish is an important element in Bizarre, and in particular latex. Is it a happy coincidence that you feature lots of latex lovers, or do the higher ups at Bizarre towers have a particular penchant for the squeaky stuff?
You may not believe this, but we don’t actively look for latex shoots! It just so happens that some of the most exciting girls are shot in latex outfits, and so we end up bouncing back to the rubber theme time and time again.
Latex is a sensual material with strong connotations of kink, so you get a lot of imaginative, outsider designers creating clothes that look like they were tailor made for the cover of Bizarre. From Ruby True’s slinky latex fox outfit, complete with inflatable tail, in August 2011, to Bianca’s kinky pink number she’s wearing on the cover of our current issue, latex is a material that’s inspired innovative designers to create unique costumes, which become mind-blowing when one of our cover stars slips into them.
Another key element in an issue of Bizarre is artwork. Be that celebrating new artists from various mediums, or body art from readers and practitioners alike. Would you say art is as integral as any other facet of the magazine?
Outsider art has always been a part of Bizarre’s DNA, and it’s becoming more important all the time. With the mainstream success of shows such as Miami Ink, more and more people are looking at tattoos as a valid form of art, as well as a means of self-expression. And as Bizarre has always celebrated the best ink from around the world, it makes sense for us to devote a lot of space to our inked readers, and unique designs that you wouldn’t see in mainstream magazines.
Recently we decided to expand our Readers’ Art section in the magazine, because we were overwhelmed by the volume of contributions we receive each month. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in recession and people have more time to be creative, or simply because the internet allows artists to share their work more easily and build a portfolio, but we’re receiving more art from readers than ever before. We didn’t have enough space to print the best submissions, so we expanded the section to create a published gallery and celebrate new talent.
An innovation that has brought Bizarre great rewards is the Ultra Vixens and the cover girl search. It’s always a well entered competition and a very coveted prize. Are you excited by the new raft of entries that will undoubtedly come your way for the next cover girl opportunity?
We are staggered by the incredible contributions we receive for Ultra Vixens each month, and our community editor, Amanda Cobain (AKA Mandatron), has a tough time selecting the readers to put in the magazine.
We’re currently keeping an eye on models as they sign up for the Ultra Vixens website (www.ultravixens.net), and will look to arrange a London shoot sometime in future when we’ve selected 10 girls we think could be a cover star. Some of these shortlisted girls might appear on the cover of Bizarre, or maybe none of them will make the grade – but what we want to do is create an environment for new stars to shine, and hopefully discover the next big players in alternative modelling.
It’s clear that the readers are vital to Bizarre’s success, and a large portion of the mag is dedicated to reader involvement. I don’t know of a magazine that is as in touch with its readership, and knows what is desired from month to month. There’s a real sense of co-ownership and strong online community. Would you agree with those observations?
Reader contributions are the lifeblood of Bizarre. In my career I’ve worked on much bigger and more successful titles, but no other newsstand publication gets as much feedback from its readers as Bizarre, and so it’s the best magazine in the world to work on. I’d love to fill the entire magazine with reader content as it’s wildly exciting and innovative, but we also need to be careful to give readers plenty of the other sick stuff they’re interested in!
Bizarre couldn’t exist without contributions from the community we’ve fostered in the magazine and online, and I salute anyone who takes the time to get in touch with us. (And, on that point, don’t get upset if you send Bizarre something and it doesn’t get featured – we get more post than our small team can handle, so don’t be afraid to send stuff again if we don’t get back to you immediately!)
Bizarre is a pinnacle for many within the industry, fetish and alternative models/photographers hold the publication in the highest esteem. Have you got a message for those aspiring to appear in your pages, and for all those faithful fans that read every month?
To photographers and models… be innovative, work hard and be nice! There’s a lot of competition out there, so you need to keep evolving your work, embracing new ideas, and looking for an opportunity to shine. And, if you do get a break, don’t be a twat – nothing’s more likely to turn us off than somebody who’s difficult to work with, so treat us with respect and we’ll do the same for you.
To readers… keep buying the magazine and help Bizarre to survive! In these dark times of recession, magazine sales across the board are plummeting – and if you don’t support Bizarre, it will eventually disappear, just like all those other great magazines that have died in recent years. My team and I will always bust a gut to bring you amazing stories from around the world, and give our readers a platform to showcase their talents… so don’t forget to buy the magazine now and again, and don’t just borrow your mate’s dog-eared copy!
Thanks very much for your time and helping me to celebrate a year interviewing alternative artists on my blog. Good luck with the future of Bizarre, and thanks for the hard work of the entire team. Could you give us any hints at possible future content/features we may see in Bizarre in the future?
Some forthcoming attractions include… the second part of our HR Giger interview, Bizarre spends the night in a cursed mansion (and just about survives), more world-class body art, exciting HP Lovecraft news and much, much more!
I can not thank David enough for all the time and effort he put into this article. With deadlines and issue releases looming, he managed to fit in a detailed and very informative interview with the Alt Girl botherer blog. He came across as a very endearing character, and someone who impressed me with his dedication to helping out a creative project. I wish him and his magazine all the success in the world, and I for one will be supporting Bizarre a lot more from now on. A great publication, with a massive heart behind it. They care about their readers, and I hope if nothing else, that fact shines through in this piece.