Freak Sheets: magazines that set out to change the world


Yellow peril: Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the Yellow Book were regarded as grotesque and decaden

Yellow peril: Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the Yellow Book were regarded as grotesque and decaden

Spare Rib was branded a ‘freak sheet’ by Punch. Christine Roche drew the January 1980 cover 

Spare Rib was branded a ‘freak sheet’ by Punch. Christine Roche drew the January 1980 cover 

Martin Sharp’s cover for issue 7 of Oz is now a design classic but the magazine’s editors were imprisone 

Martin Sharp’s cover for issue 7 of Oz is now a design classic but the magazine’s editors were imprisone 

When editors and publishers discuss their magazines, they talk of informing and entertaining their publics; perhaps of creating a ‘marketplace’ for readers and advertisers. But the creators of some periodicals want to do far more – they want to change the world. Such crusading periodicals put themselves in the van of the fight to propagate ideas, be they artistic, political, social or cultural. The magazine may be decried – their creators even attacked and imprisoned – and most of them ultimately fail. However, many have, indeed, changed the way the world thinks and acts.

Among the examples to draw upon, artists have used magazines to bring their manifesto to society’s attention. These include The Germ from the Pre-Raphaelites, Aubrey Beardsley’s Yellow Book, Blast from the Vorticists, and the Surrealists with Minotaure. A similar trend can be seen in political and societal movements, be it the free trade agenda of The Economist; Encounter being secretly funded by the CIA; the feminist drive of Spare Rib; and the counter-culture battle of the Sixties led by International Times, Oz and Time Out. The ideas that these magazines espoused were regarded by many people at the time as outlandish. As recently as the 1970s, Spare Rib and Gay News were lumped with the Crucified Toad as ‘freak sheets’ by Punch. However, the ideas set out in such alternative magazines now pervade society and popular culture; and Punch is no more.

This research will examine the relationship between magazines and movements over 150 years. It will explore the way ideas have been proposed, encouraged and fought over (in some cases, literally). Each title will be put in context, examining what the founders were trying to achieve and what they were rebelling against. Many of them had to exploit innovations in print production technology to make their magazines achievable financially. The reaction of the mainstream to such crusading magazine will be examined. Although the focus will be on British magazines, some examples will be from other countries and most will have a global resonance.


Members involved in this research

Anthony Quinn


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