What happens when the first publication you ever make is supposed to represent an established and iconic Australian brand?
→ Isabella Lloyd
The parameters for my semester one project seemed simple: create a magazine under the banner of The Lifted Brow – Australia’s own attack journal heavyweights.
Myself and five others were instantly drawn to this project. Our magazine was to have the same mix of art and words as well as the familiar, legitimate layout of TLB with bold fonts, creative titles and big names. This was the second year of the project, the team before us created Tongue in Cheek: The Mouth Issue a play on the pun with articles on all things related to the mouth: voice, freedom of speech, fun facts about teeth and a naughty mouth-related how-to.
Naturally, our first task was to brainstorm; what are we interested in, right now? For me, life was overwhelming. I had recently moved back to Melbourne from a two-year hiatus overseas and at my country home and was embarrassed by how little I remembered the public transport system and social scene. I was feeling nostalgic for my all-too-recent days spent on a lawnmower or in the garden at my next-door neighbour’s farm, picking kids up from kinder and cooking in bulk.
Serendipitously, others in my group felt a similar sentiment. Bec recently had an alarming realisation that she was experiencing life through a snapchat filter, Dean saw politics going backwards, Tessa felt as though going back to her suburban home town was like going back in time, Lauren was amused by rules and advertisements of a bygone era and Clare was passionate about living a slow life. We bounced around ideas of nostalgia, recurrence and déjà vu and, tying in with last year’s The Mouth Issue, we landed on The Back Issue.
We took our neatly packed idea to TLB’s publisher Sam Cooney, who was also (thankfully) our mentor for the project. He immediately sensed the tight boundaries we’d put on our magazine and encouraged us to make it broader – it could be anything we wanted it to be. A guiding mission of TLB is to publish and champion work from those in the margins, be they literary, demographic, socio-political, age, viewpoints and so on. He was worried that The Back Issue would be too restrictive on submissions and that we were establishing a narrow ladder for future BSP students to climb.
This was how we landed on The Comeback. While we loved our theme, we didn’t have to be wedded to it, allowing ourselves to be guided instead by our own mission statement. ‘We are a platform for established and emerging artists – our pages are open for second chances and pieces that have been previously rejected. We are breaking the barriers of publishing, unpicking the art and culture around us with a quizzical/critical eye’.
The actual look and feel of TLB governed a lot of our pitches, both our own and around Australia. Pieces were playful with an informed edge along with poetry, fiction and deeply-engaged nonfiction that were unpredictable and sometimes provocative. We knew we had the privilege of representing an already established platform and used this to bring big names such as photographer Prue Stent and writer Anna Spargo-Ryan on board. This way we could publish new writers and artists (including ourselves) alongside well-established ones.
Being under The Lifted Brow brought in way more submissions than we’d expected. People were excited to be published in association with TLB and we all felt (quite a daunting) responsibility to their work. To the outside world, we were part of TLB, a brand fourteen years in the making. But in reality, we were six twenty-somethings, four of us brand new to the course and all of us new to making a magazine. This was our first real-life dabble in structural editing, copyediting, creating a layout and proofreading. Though we were students, we had to show utmost professionalism, especially on behalf of TLB.
Sam reminded us of this and shared his resources at every opportunity. We got to learn directly from TLB’s own schedules, flat plans, style guides and reading reports – an opportunity usually unheard of in student publications. We were reminded to respect the writer, providing a community and support network for ourselves as new editors and our new writers. A writerly way of morale-boosting. Little things like confirming receipt of works, giving rough estimates of timelines and thanking writers were all important reminders around how daunting it is for someone to submit work – referring at all times back to our mission statement.
The artwork in our magazine is a defining point for The Comeback. In the beginning, we had all sorts of ideas around retro artworks mixed with modern photography which spurred quite a visceral reaction from Sam. With years of experience he immediately knew what would look good, and especially want would endure. He encouraged us to come up with an ‘art style’, ensuring a cohesion between artworks and written pieces. In the end, our pieces reflect an Australiana childhood and memories of a pre-digital age. We’ve used watercolours and photographs taken in the bush and are proud to see this represented on the page. TLB established itself as from Australia and the world at a time when a cultural cringe saw Australian art and culture as inferior. We like to think we take the same stand.
The Comeback represents a diverse range of voices and artists from Melbourne, country Victoria, Queensland, Russia and beyond. Each work showcases the individual who wrote it/made it and all together they form a highly visual and enjoyable read. Check us out, we’re that mustard magazine with a girl’s back(side) on the front.