Now that Spy and even the New Republic have declared this time of ours the Age of Irony, you can be assured it's over. Best evidence: two new Chicago magazines, twentysomething owned, edited, written, and directed. One's flashy, heavily art-directed, and glossy, the other black and white, more serene, more serious. Both, however, carry the forgotten banner of sincerity. Hitsville thinks the common Generation X analysis--kids who don't give a fuck--is slightly off; the generation's defined more by the frustration of those who want to give a fuck but can't or don't find anything to give a fuck about. The result--what a surprise--is a new generation looking for something to believe in. In colorful Subnation (whose sixth issue just came out) and the more monochromatic Pure (which recently sent issue four to the printer), you'll find sarcasm, surely, and anger when warranted; but mostly there's a searching, questioning interest in the world around them. The result is a riot of interesting journalism--a happy meeting of good subjects, promising writers, and publishers with an idea.
"Without saying the word twentysomething," says Pure capo Amy Flammang, "we are writing about what we're interested in and what we're going through. We just hope that other people our ages are interested as well. We don't write up or down to people; we just write to them." Flammang studied broadcast journalism in Champaign, where she published a music zine called Sound Scene with friend Melanie Amin. The pair came back to Chicago and started the desktop job Pure, with the motto "Uncovering Chicago Culture." Their first issue disposed of the T-word problem with a lengthy Nexus sweep by Neal Pollack, which tracked down all the absurd analyses of the generation in mags and papers across the country. "Perhaps journalists ...can see us as part of a historical chain instead of as slugabeds, future industrial leaders, target markets or consumers of pop culture," Pollack concluded. By issue three, out this fall, Flammang was coming up with good stuff like a lucid, well-written guide to grisly Chicago murder sites by Dan Kelly, a frothing-at-the-mouth attack on crummy movie theaters by Jim Healy, and even a fairly amusing reader poll ("Top 3 albums to fuck to," "Which stamp would you vote for--the young Bonaduce or the old?"). The most disappointing thing about Pure is the layout: it's friendly but rather drab. Kids want action!
But Flammang has bigger problems: publishing a magazine on your own costs a lot of money, and Amin left after the second issue. Flammang supports herself temping, but recognizes that she needs a partner to handle the business side of things. "I haven't been able to put the effort into it," she sighs. "I need someone else, but so far I haven't been able to find the person to do it."
Subnation was started by medical supply salesman John Zehren (John Zee on the masthead). "People today like that MTV fast-quick-lots-of-color thing," Zehren says. "We thought we'd move on it." Indeed, Subnation is very arty, heavily dependent on computer art and typefaces with names like Extra Frisky, and indebted to national magazines like Wired and Raygun, which broke down art-direction barriers. The look is interesting, if somewhat erratic; in the sixth issue, for example, you can see the extremes. Near the middle there's a boring and clumsily laid-out spread on street musicians. But turn the page for daring and out-there visuals accompanying a pair of art articles: difficult but readable marriages of weird typefaces, colorful art, and strange text layouts. And sprinkled throughout the book are some of the coolest ads around, courtesy of design director Rich Klevgard.
Reader contributor, playwright, and theater director Adam Langer joined as managing editor three issues ago; he's credited with improving the editorial overall and lowering the typo count, but modestly notes that a computer spell-check and the newfangled concept of proofreading came in with him. Subnation isn't without its dopey writing, but it consistently impresses. In the new issue, there's a short but powerful profile of a young gang-banger by Michelle Reid; laid out on an awesomely designed page by Norman Rice, it's a model of cutting-edge publishing. There are also pretty good restaurant reviews by Amy LaBan, author of the Cheap Chow newsletter, as well as unblinking reports on everything from colonics to Dumpster diving by the sharp-tongued Cara Jepsen. At times, some Generation X angst comes through: issue four carried a hysterically vicious tale--hard not to read metaphorically--about a kid doing in his windbag of an uncle. The magazine also has a regular "Subdirt" column, by one Tina Trash, that can get quite nasty.
"We try to be as inclusive as possible," says Langer. He went to Evanston Township High School with associate publisher Chip Wadsworth, then to Vassar before returning to Chicago to write journalism and do theater work. Wadsworth pulled him into the fold earlier this year. "We're interested in including all aspects of the city--you know, the quote-unquote pulse of urban Chicago," he continues. "Some places say this doesn't fit, that doesn't fit. We try to put in as much different stuff as possible."
Zehren says he's "totally thrilled" by the magazine's reception thus far: Subnation's tripling its press run to 30,000 for its next issue, due in February. The plan is to boost the number of pages from 36 to 48 at some point, and to get up to ten issues a year. The operation's celebrating the release of its latest issue with a free party Thursday, December 9, at the Beat Kitchen, starting at 8.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.