Letting in the light

by Steve Watson in September 2023
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Current affairs

Independent magazines come in all shapes and sizes, covering all sorts of different subjects and niche interests, but the one thing that unites them is their sense of purpose. Everybody knows that it’s difficult to make money out of these small, idiosyncratic independents, so that tends to mean people only bother when they care so much about something that they just have to see it discussed in print.

This deep sense of purpose often has a political undertone, but at an event in Bristol next month, four independent publishers will come together for a conversation that places politics front and centre. Left in Print will be held at Rova bookshop in the city’s Christmas Steps, and it will feature Phil Wrigglesworth (editor and art director of Left Cultures), Erin Mathias (editor of The Paper), and Max Jeffrey (art director of Stir to Action), hosted by Eliz Mizon (strategy lead for The Bristol Cable).

I wanted to know how this collection of publications came together, so I called Phil from Left Cultures to find out more…

This looks like a great idea for a panel discussion. How did it come about?

Part of our aim with Left Cultures is to be as inclusive as possible of all platforms on the left. That involves bookshops, magazines, museums, festivals… all these different outlets that you’re bringing into one space to try to funnel people out into interesting environments. We know there’s discrimination in the system against leftist ideas – that’s just how it is.

But once you get going you start to find like-minded folk doing different things that can work well together. This event is an example of that: we’re bringing together four publications that are regionally quite closely connected, to speak about left ideas in print. So we’re a culture publication, celebrating art and creativity; Stir to Action is more about radical economic thinking; The Bristol Cable is a left newspaper that’s reporting on leftwing issues in the region; and The Paper is a Welsh newspaper using tabloid design to push forward unrepresented ideas and underrepresented creativity in Wales.

Rova opened its doors just under a year ago, and it’s a brilliant shop, in a brilliant location, and this is their first event so we’re hopefully going to set the tone for what can be done there.

What sort of things will you be talking about?

We’re going to pose a question about what we’re all doing these days, and by ‘we’, I mean visual communicators, designers, and journalists. I know people have to make a living, but there are activists out there doing amazing things and giving up amazing amounts of time and energy to create great projects – why aren’t we jumping on board and making them look good? Why aren’t we making them read better? That’s what we can bring to the table and we should be doing that.

There’s a reason why advertising companies spend billions of pounds a year parasiting off our talent – it’s because it works! We should be doing that on our own time, stepping up to the plate. I’m an illustrator, and in some ways I personally feel that perhaps visual communications have dropped the ball a bit. As illustrators we have a lot to offer and a lot of power at our fingertips. We’re broadly talking about the left here, but more generally, if you’ve got something you feel really passionate about that’s progressive, you should try to contribute to it because you’ll feel good about it. So that’s what we’re saying here. What are you going to tell your kids? “I managed to get dog biscuit sales really high?” Or are you going to tell them that you worked on something that changed the environment in your local region – something you can be really, truly proud of.

And that’s something that tends to unite independent magazine makers isn’t it? People create these magazines because they’ve got something they believe in and something they want to say, rather than because they think they’re going to make money out of it.

At Left Cultures we want to say what we want to say. We’re creating a melting pot of ideas – there’s people who disagree with each other’s politics in there, but we’re anarchist-friendly, we’re socialist-firendly, we’re communist-friendly. We’re full fat left-friendly. The only thing is we won’t allow anyone to say that New Labour were any good.

We know we’re a small magazine, but this is important stuff, because when you don’t tell stories or put forward points of view, people won’t come to them. They might work it out for themselves in the end, but when you build a platform and you voice these ideas, it legitimises them. So it’s really important that the left put out voices in print and across all media, because if you don’t put your ideas out there, then that space is vacated and those ideas disappear.

Part of the right’s success is to convince people that things can’t be done. But if somebody tells a story, or makes a film, or a piece of music, that brings it to life and it can be really persuasive. So we want people to read the magazine, go and engage in the culture, and feel they have agency in themselves. You go down the pub and if somebody says something you don’t agree with, then you have a bit of agency to call it out. But to do that you need to have some kind of political education, so that’s what we want to enable.

Mark Fisher says, “The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction, which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.” Perhaps what we’re doing with this first event is putting a little tear in there and letting in a bit of light.

Left in Print, Tuesday 10th October

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