What is DOGEAR?

by Steve Watson in May 2012
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This month Stack subscribers should have found a nice little surprise knocking around in the bottom of their envelopes. DOGEAR is a brilliant new magazine that thinks it’s a bookmark, and as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to send it out.

But why would you make a bookmark into a magazine? I pinned down editor Joe Hedinger and pumped him for information on libraries, literacy and why small is beautiful.

First of all, what exactly is DOGEAR?
In the simplest terms, it’s just a magazine that’s also a bookmark. It’s a single piece of A4 card, folded concertina style, which gives us 10 ‘panels’ to play around with (we tend to use one as the editor’s column). We ask for submissions via our website – which displays the writing and drawing of anyone who is kind enough to get involved – and once we’ve got about 30 or 40 pieces, we whittle them down for a printed issue. We don’t have a set printing date – we just go ahead with the next issue once we’ve got enough material.

On a slightly more philosophical scale (if you’re so inclined!) I think the most interesting thing about DOGEAR is how we don’t have a set theme. It’s loosely about literature (seeing as you’ll find it in a book or magazine) but it’s really more about form meeting function. It’s fascinating witnessing the creativity that flows from giving people only a small space to express themselves in – both from a visual and literary perspective.

Where did the idea come from?
Pete (Head of Design at Fallon) was visiting Berlin a couple of years ago. He popped into Motto Distribution and after a general browse, found a few magazines in distinctive shapes – one of which was long and thin. It got him thinking, and he wondered what you could do with a more streamlined version.

Out of that dropped the original idea for DOGEAR. I originally found out about the concept when I started interning at Fallon, but didn’t really sit down with Pete until about a year later. I found out the project hadn’t moved forward as he needed an editor, so I eagerly jumped at the chance (my degree was in English Literature). A couple of weeks later, issue one was off to the printers, and, much to our pleasant surprise, we’ve been receiving a steady flow of contributions since – from all over the world.

Where did your first contributions come from?
Initially, we turned to close friends and work colleagues (and with a creative agency at our disposal, we didn’t have to wait long!) The first issue cropped up in Creative Review, and since then we’ve had pieces coming in from an international audience, and have been lucky enough to secure stockists across London, in Manchester – and in a nice tie-up – Motto in Berlin.

Have you been surprised by the number of contributions you’ve had?
Absolutely. It’s been really lovely – I don’t think either of us expected the reception we’ve got. And we’ve not just been surprised by the quantity, but the quality as well – some of the writing is genuinely inspired, and the art and design has completely exceeded our expectations of what the form of DOGEAR could offer.

One of my favourite aspects of the project is how reactive the content feels – we often have people saying they wrote or drew something that afternoon, after something happened – it’s often very fresh and topical stuff. I think that’s the beauty of the ‘littleness’ of DOGEAR – I think it makes creating something slightly less daunting. And on that note, Pete and I have had lots of conversations about the digital aspect of DOGEAR – it seems to have been integral to the success of the project. The website isn’t static – it’s presented as more of a visual feed – and looking at the stats we’ve been shocked at the number of repeat visits, often daily. It seems people are checking back to see the latest DOGEAR contributions like they would a blog or social media page. That’s brilliant for the writers and artists who get involved – there’s a ‘live’, hungry audience waiting to check out their work.

You’re taking bite-sized pieces of content and making something lasting out of them – sort of like a great Twitter feed printed on paper. Is DOGEAR a product of its time?
To some extent, yes. I think the idea itself could have existed well before now, and would still have been interesting – but I do wonder whether the behaviour encouraged by our more digital age has contributed to the appeal of DOGEAR. The readers of the magazine and site have mentioned how they ‘dip in and out’ of the contributions – it certainly seems as if they enjoy the project as (for want of a better phrase) ‘disposable literature’. The printed version just lessens the ‘disposable’ aspect, adding an element of permanence that I think is perhaps more appealing now than ever before.

More interestingly, I think the rise of blogs and social media has encouraged people to be their own publishers – and things like Twitter have made ‘crafting’ a piece of content (i.e. reducing it to 140 characters) accessible. ‘Small’ encourages you to produce and read – it suggests there’s more time for both (and we all know how little time we think we have). I think it’s an exciting time for art forms like poetry – I wonder whether we’ll see a re-appraisal of it, and I hope we’ll see more people picking up a pen and giving it a go. Expressing ourselves in a bite-size manner isn’t only the practice of a handful of language-geeks like me anymore, and I hope projects like DOGEAR are another way in for budding creative types.

What’s the plan for the future? Where will DOGEAR go from here?
One of the original ambitions of DOGEAR was to support libraries and independent bookshops by distributing it free in any stockist that would take us, and that continues to guide us. Fortunately, we’ve had great support from a lot of shops, and are due to meet with a head library stockist soon to roll out the magazine across more sites beyond Islington Central Library. I love libraries, and I am really keen to see how something like DOGEAR can encourage literacy and artistic expression – if it inspires someone to pick up a book, pen or paintbrush, then I think that’s our ultimate aim.

Pete is heavily involved in another project called Family Affair, which organises events to support MacMillan Cancer Trust. He’s about to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and raised money by selling art prints inspired by the idea of that cycle journey. We’ve already chatted about how DOGEAR can be the next Family Affair activation – perhaps in support of children’s literacy. I’d love to invite artists to design bookmarks which could help us raise money. Other than that, we are enjoying being inspired by people’s contributions, and are happy to create a little community of artists around DOGEAR. I feel very lucky that the whole thing has done so well. It’s a lovely hobby to have.

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