The Drawbridge | Art director 2006-11

The Drawbridge was initially a full-colour broadsheet newspaper. Published quarterly, it provided a vehicle for both new and established writers - fiction and non-fiction - as well as illustrators, photographers and artists to address a different theme topic each issue. The format changed to tabloid for issues 14-18 and shrunk again for the last print edition. The final issue (no.20) was published as an iPad edition only.

Text for an article about scale for an upcoming book on art direction edited by Steve Heller.

The initial idea for The Drawbridge's format grew out of discussions with its publisher, Giuseppe Mascoli, and its editor, Bigna Pfenninger. Choosing a large broadsheet was an antidote to the conventions of the contemporary literary magazine. But we didn't only want to be bigger than our peer magazines; we also wanted to be broader in scope. So we carry writing from philosophers (Slavoj Zizek, Noam Chomsky), politicians (Gerry Adams, Hugo Chavez), historians (Eric Hobsbawm) as well contemporary fiction by authors ranging from Isabel Allende to Irvine Welsh. On the front page of our current issue we have a specially commissioned music score composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

We wanted to engage the intelligent reader in the text but also make the paper a visual treat. From the outset we intended to give equal space and billing to image-makers and writers. Contributors are simply given the theme of the issue and asked to respond - the brief is no tighter than that. For illustrators especially, this is a great chance to express themselves on a bigger canvas than commercial commissions normally allow. Paul Davis and Millie Simpson, who work as Drawings Editor and Photography Editor respectively, should take the credit for getting in some brilliant images.

We were very conscious that most contemporary newspapers were heading in the opposite direction, leaving the broadsheet format behind, which made it more attractive to us. Though it was in no way a reactionary move on our part. I had worked on a few newspaper redesigns where publishers were downsizing their papers, which drew my attention to their former larger scale. They had hardly ever used their size advantage unless there was a really big news story, so the opportuntity had usually been wasted. Only the advertisers used the format to their advantage and benefited from the impact of full-page imagery.

In terms of layout The Drawbridge is quite a puzzle to put together and the constraints are different to standard newspaper layouts. Many of our texts, for instance, are short stories and cannot be cut in length. We try never to crop imagery and there are only two headline sizes to play with. So even though the pages are big, they are rather inflexible.

Obviously in proportional terms the display typography will occupy less area on the page than with a smaller format, for example a 36pt headline on a broadsheet page as opposed to a 36pt headline on a A4 page. When you are designing on a screen at a reduced scale, you are tempted to enlarge the article headlines for greater impact. Yet, in fact, more restrained typography makes the scale of the illustrative material stand out more distinctly due to the contrast. The very meaning of the word 'graphic' is an effect resulting from contrasts: light and dark, thick and thin, big and small. Contrast is a fundamental visual tool.

Illustration is a lot less flexible and more difficult to use at a bigger scale than photography is, because you have to allow for the size of the original. Illustrations have to be specifically commissioned for our double page spread slot (e.g. Paul Davis in issue 4). In photography the only original is reality. The majority of photographic imagery we use - no matter how big we reproduce it - is a reduction in scale of what it depicts. Take a look through any newspaper, and the same will be true. So you have a lot more scope in using contrasting scales with photography and I'd like to explore this further in future issues.

The impact of our large format amongst both readers and contributors has been very positive. Of course it creates problems for distribution, some bookshops find it awkward, shelves don’t cater for oversize publications, but I think this is far outweighed by its distinctiveness and the loyalty of its increasing number of fans.

SC, June 2008

Nominated in Design Week's 'Hot Fifty Hot Fifty People/Things Making a Difference in Design'. 29.02.08
"In this age of on-line blogs, it is refreshing to see an independent magazine that gives good copy on a mix of cultural and social issues and blends it with great art direction."

MagCulture comment

Issue 4 reviewed in The Guardian 10.03.07:
"While most newspapers have become more compact in recent years, The Drawbridge bucks the trend. A quarterly printed on a parchment whose girth commuters haven't encountered since Pooter was sauntering down the Holloway Road."

Paul Davis's brilliant centre spread drawing from issue 4 'The planets of un-failure' is now available as a limited-edition print.
Click here to order