Knock knock, KnockBack

by Caitlin in November 2011
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Of all the lovely magazines sent to the Stack offices, the one that had me literally snorting with laughter was KnockBack. Written as an alternative to the vast array of women’s magazines in the shops, it’s short and snappy and is happily devoid of the kind of features that make you want to throw up: ‘How to tell if your boyfriend really loves you…. From his shoes’, ‘What every man wants in bed’, etc.

I caught up with co-founder Marie Berry to find out how KnockBack got started, what it’s like publishing an independent magazine, and where the ideas for those eye-catching covers come from.

Why did you decide to start KnockBack?
In 2005 I had a cupboard full of Word documents that were the product of isolated ranting. I thought I would publish them and did a three-day Quark course, but when Sarah Semicolon saw me clutching a handful of purple text (my printer ran out of black ink) in purple boxes, she said she would try and help. The brief I wrote her is one of the most deranged pieces of writing I’ve ever created, but somehow she translated ‘stars and magazine stuff but cool’ into the KB you see today, which most people agree looks ‘bangin’.

KnockBack is often touted as an anti-Cosmo feminist magazine. Was that always your intention?
Anti-Cosmo is accurate as we wanted to produce something more interesting, relevant to us and not a pile of shit. We started KB as a reaction to the sudden influx of magazines like She, Red, Grazia etc. The feminist label was tacked on by the Guardian and we’ve been enjoying it ever since, although our motive was entertainment before politics. We just wanted to make the point that women are funny and interesting and not obsessed with shoes and sex. With that in mind we have recently expanded our content to cover things aside from shoes and sex.

Why is a print magazine still an effective tool for getting your message across?
People enjoy the tactility of magazines, they last longer than websites (it’s harder to click away). Magazines, or ‘zines more specifically, are diverse, they are still pushing boundaries (with thanks to people like Stack). For me having a printed product represents that idea of actually doing things instead of talking about doing things or criticising other people who have done things. It’s about making things and holding them and giving them to other people. Also I don’t know any web developers, but I know a ton of printers (all called Alan, bizarrely).

What difficulties have you faced publishing without advertising?
It’s hard to say having never published anything with advertising, but for what it’s worth it’s been smashing. I have no interest in running adverts, nobody seems particularly eager to have us promote their tat and every issue so far has just about sustained itself financially. A mysterious benefactor (MB) got the ball rolling with the first issue which had a print run of 1,000 and was black and white with a two-colour cover. Our MB was sick of me talking about how shit women’s magazines were and gave me a cheque to prove I could do better. Which was nice of him. That issue asked for donations from satisfied readers, and although we never paid him back, we paid for the next issue and so on. Having said that, maybe if I sold space to adverts and ran KB like a business, the magazine would still be free and I could give up my job in marketing (there, I said it).

How has KB changed/developed from the first issue and how would you like it to develop in the future?
We don’t swear as much now, we print two colours throughout, we use spell check, our contributors stick to word counts, we let the occasional exclamation mark slip in. We don’t talk about shagging (as) incessantly and we’re more mature. Actually I think that’s the most remarkable difference, because we release issues so sporadically you get a sense of how we’ve changed from issue to issue. It’s quite clear the first one is written by angry, single 24-year-olds and the most recent by women pushing 30. In future I would like to produce an issue that doesn’t have a single typo (there are two crackers in the latest issue, first to find a third gets a badge).

I really love the covers of KB because they’re so different from any other magazine, where do the ideas for the covers come from?
The mirrored issue came from Sarah Semicolon. She said ‘I want the next issue to have a mirror for a cover, and I want the cover line to be ‘you’re so vain I bet you think this ‘zine is about you’. Then she said she’d pay for the extra cost of it so that was me sold. The deal didn’t last, nor did the line, but the mirror stuck. You can do your make up in it. After that we felt obliged to up the stakes so the Hardcore issue’s cover was chosen ‘for her pleasure’. Next up is the Media issue, which I’d like to be knitted, edible or that wallpaper you get with felt shapes on (until we have a good idea that we can afford). I like to think having beautiful covers means people treat KB a little nicer than they do most ‘zines. Nobody puts KB in the corner (I hope).

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