From Free Willy to Fight Club: look inside Shelf Heroes’ ‘F’ issue

by Grace Wang in August 2017
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Art & design Film Illustration

With the brief “pick a movie and do whatever you want”, film magazine Shelf Heroes attracts a diverse range of inventive contributors. Each issue explores films starting with a letter of the alphabet, and their sixth — or ‘F’ — issue brought musings on The Fifth Element, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fight Club, and more.

But the illustrations, personal essays, and interviews take inspiration from ‘good’ films just as much as those with an average IMDb score — as editor Ben Smith tells us in our chat below, “The contributions to Shelf Heroes are less about the source than the artists that create them.” Read on to find out more…


What were some F films you were particularly excited to see contributors explore?
I have my personal favourites with every letter, but in some ways the contributions to Shelf Heroes are less about the source than the artists that create them. So in short, all of them! I could set all 40 writers and illustrators the same film, and they would all produce something wildly different. I may end up doing this when I get to X…..


What were some (that you weren’t expecting to see) that really surprised you?
By the nature of the open brief that asks for more personal takes, the majority of contributors will gravitate to something from their past. So I’ve gotten used to seeing things that wouldn’t be considered ‘great’ films, but have an emotional connection with their author. For example, Fast & Furious, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Four Weddings, and Free Willy all feature this time round.

A special mention for Ben Nicholson’s piece about Dean Fleischer-Camp’s Fraud (2016), a found-footage work cut from over 100 hours of an unknown American family’s home movies into a fictional crime narrative. The piece itself is constructed entirely from words and phrases from existing articles on the film. A brilliant exploration of reality and the power of the author.

What new F films did you come across, if any?
Nothing I wasn’t aware of previously but it gave me the chance to catch up on a few things I’ve missed. I was particularly surprised by From Here to Eternity (1953), which is about the interlocking lives of three soldiers stationed in Hawaii before Pearl Harbour. I often think of those big 50s Oscar winners as stagey and sentimental, but there was far more darkness to it than that. 


Tell us about the decision to switch from a perfect bound magazine format to loose posters and a staple-bound zine.
I chose to drastically switch the format for a couple of reasons. For one, the illustration is an incredibly important part of Shelf Heroes. I’ve always wanted illustrators to reflect their experience with a film in the most personal way, but something about locking their work away in the portrait pages of the previous issues took away an element of the original source. Hence the idea to present issue F in big, loose landscape sheets that help them feel more cinematic.

I mirrored the dimensions of 1.66:1 screen ratio for the fun of it, and it was nice to see Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled recently in the same ratio! (for more on aspect ratios, check out this great little film by Charlie Lyne). An added benefit of the loose pages is that they can be reordered by the reader to create their own compositions and juxtapositions of the films. They can even select their own cover.


Were you afraid of the limitations of producing magazine in a non-traditional format?
I’m certain it will be a harder sell in stores, as people are always wary of purchasing something they can’t easily pick up and browse. But luckily I’ve got a group of loyal stockists who have stuck by it. I always have a conflict with the commercial side of Shelf Heroes. I know full well that if we had a more traditional masthead, and minimal design people would put on their coffee tables, we’d sell more copies – but this wouldn’t reflect the contrasts of content, tone and genre each issue actually contains! 

Other than that, some dope has to sit there and piece together all seven items that make up each copy of this issue, so that’s been my evenings for a few weeks this month. Hunched on the floor putting postcards and patches in bags.

🏭 Issue F production line 🏭 Reorder the pages to pick your own cover! Funny Games or Fantasia? First Blood or Fast and Furious? – Get yours for £10 from the store (link in bio 💻)

A post shared by Shelf Heroes (@shelfheroes) on

Lastly, what advice can you give magazine makers, six issues into Shelf Heroes?
I can’t believe it’s been six issues already! Seems like five minutes ago I was trying to convince anyone and everyone to submit something for the first one! I think the best advice is to ‘keep going’. If you believe in the thing you’re making, that’s good enough. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t catch on straight away, or if you begin to doubt what you’ve done – just keep putting stuff out there. Mags are ephemeral by their nature, you can make mistakes and move on. 

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