8 Magazines You Didn't Know Were Started in SF
I still remember when the alternative kid on my block showed me an article in Thrasher about a crazy skateboarding trick in an empty pool. The acrobatics were awesome, but I recall thinking, “You can have a whole magazine about something like that…? Wow.”
Twenty years later, I blog about tech for Wired, another title that inspires awe in readers. The other connection between the two reads? Both are groundbreaking publications founded here.
San Francisco has never been known as a publishing hub, but more of a publishing birthplace, where experimental publications spawn new genres and gain widespread design influence. But a few of our local magazines have had, or continue to offer, real stopping power. Here are eight standout titles that have called this city home.
Whether you are building a modern home or just reworking your studio apartment, Dwell offers inspiration and the chance to gape at the world’s most stylish abodes. The magazine captures the essence of both high-end real estate and the tidal wave of home DIY-dom. Exquisite photography and a contemporary minimalist design aesthetic punctuate each page, bringing the feel of the decor you’re gawking at to life.
Before the Internet made snarky irreverence a commodity, there was Might. Founded in the early 1990s by a group of 20-somethings including Dave Eggers, Might was a monument to the random, the odd, the tongue-in-cheek. It once featured a detailed mock obituary of D-list TV star Adam Rich (Adam helped with the story). It also featured a long narrative on the name Phil Campbell. While the rag folded in 1997, its spirit lives on to some degree in McSweeney’s, not to mention the select anthology Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other Essays.
No magazine has codified the digital age like Wired. Started in 1993 as Silicon Valley was getting its legs, it makes the cool and weird digestible for the average reader, and compelling for the advanced. If you want to get a sense of tomorrow’s technology conversations, pick up an issue. The magazine has also pushed the boundaries of design with slick layouts and even heavy stock paper for its cover. It was one of the first to invest in lush infographics, an editorial tactic that has become widespread. Wired is a multiple National Magazine Award winner for general excellence – the “best picture” of magazines – as well as design.
You will never find Pop-Up in a newsstand. It’s a spoken-word magazine designed to capture ethereal stories for one night – and then vanish. Contributors range from journalists to filmmakers to photographers to DJs. None of their presentations are recorded, bucking an age increasingly dependent on digital archives. A night at Pop-Up is meant to be a human experience, one that no print magazine can ever completely provide.
Speak’s publisher claims the avant garde mag was aimed at “people who fancied a thoughtful and provocative read.” Much of that provocation was in the covers – under the art direction of Martin Venezky (check out his centerfold in The Bold Italic's SF By Design print issue). Singular artistic impressions unto themselves, they garnered global praise and criticism for their far-reaching attempts to reimagine the face of a magazine. Not until the 11th issue was it apparent that there was a title, as the word “speak” had been relegated to the background or even halfway off the page before then. Though the magazine closed its doors in 2001, you can still order all 21 of its issues online.
For nearly two decades, Emigre published wonderful essays on modern print’s vast book of typefaces and graphic design – digestible for even the nonprofessional – while designing their own fonts. Although the magazine went out of business in 2005, copies and reproductions of the typefaces can be found everywhere from SFMOMA to the Design Museum in London. Not all are under a glass case however. You can still buy most of Emigre’s fonts online.
Thrasher seems to have been around as long as skateboarding itself, cataloging the concrete at almost every slide of the rail. As the iconic hub for a pastime that still remains on the fringe, Thrasher has spent decades bringing new facets of the pools, curbs, and kickers to the page. The publication bursts with razor-sharp photography and design that feels a step above classy graffiti. More importantly, it covers a sport with endless gear and badass athletes while offering compelling and often personal stories.
You don’t hear the term zine often anymore, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one covering ’70s San Francisco punk subculture than Search & Destroy. Its founder, V. Vale, was working as a clerk at City Lights Books when he borrowed money from beatnik legends Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti to get the publication off the ground. Vale pounded out the early versions of the zine on an old typewriter and distributed them at shows. After beating the streets for long enough, he was able to turn Search & Destroy into RE/Search, an actual publishing company.
This story originally ran in Volume 3 of The Bold Italic magazine – SF By Design – which is available for purchase as a single issue or with a subscription