I received the March 2008 issue of the Walrus in the mail the other day. The cover is not very pleasing to the eye. The main image (cork into a bottle) is fine, but they decided to run a narrow strip along the right-hand side listing the main articles in the magazine. This, along with two large cutlines on the top and bottom of the image make for a incredibly busy and rather ugly cover. The Walrus usually features very good covers, or at least covers that are light on text and give the image prominence. I notice, for example, that the Walrus is now offering to sell reproductions of their cover art, which makes me wonder why the current cover looks so awful. As a subscriber, don’t punish me with cutlines – the magazine is already in my house, which means I’m going to read it.
Inside, however, is where the real typographical crimes are committed. Their Field Notes section, which used to be a two column affair, is now three columns (this change may have occurred a few issues back, I don’t pay that close attention). This means, unfortunately, that one of the best things about field notes (the little tidbits and illustrations that occupied the left edge of each page) have no room to breathe. The tidbits column is now so narrow that it can barely fit three words across. Incapacitated, for example, gets hyphenated to
There tended to be a smart, light tone to those tidbits, which I fear will be impossible to maintain now that they’re crammed into the column equivalent of a 150-square foot apartment. The magazine seems to have an unerring ability to remove anything remotely good and replace it with something much worse.
My other comment about the current issue is a more of an overall observation. The Walrus is turning into Geist magazine. This is not an insult (I just started subscribing to Geist again, as part of the buy two, get one subscription free through Magazines Canada) as much as a comment about their target demographic. If I were, for example, to point out that Teen Vogue doesn’t much appeal to me, that would elicit a “duh.” And in the same way, The Walrus is designed, edited and written for a 40 or 50-something CBC listener who owns, or has owned, a Volvo. This may one day describe me perfectly, so if the Walrus survives for another 10 years, I’ll be happy to resubscribe at that time. But for now, I’m none of those things. Consequently, I find it difficult to get much out of the magazine. The New York Times Magazine, as I’ve probably said before, manages to invite a wider range of readers, as does the New Yorker.
My main proof for the Geist-Walrus morph (hence the Weist headline) are the series of illustrations and captions by Charles Checketts in the March 2008 issue. Spread across the magazine, Checketts has drawn a variety of Canadian Celebrities (Eugene Levy, Strombo, Sandra Oh) with captions that 50-year old people will find hilarious. (Sample: “Alex Trebek collects his tears in a Tabasco bottle. He then sells said tears as a magical elixir, which, for all intents and purposes, it is.”) This is not so much unfunny (OK, it’s unfunny as hell, but I’m trying to be nice) as only-funny-for-people-of-a-certain-age. I’m not asking for Wonder Showzen here. But Geist already does this sort of thing – why duplicate it? Checketts’s drawerings don’t irritate me, so much as let me know, in huge, flashing, blinking lights that I should put the Walrus in the recycling bin, because its overall sensibility is not remotely close to my own.
P.S. The full page ad for Sunday Night at the Opera, from 96.3 FM, featuring Alexa Petrenko with a horrible Viking hat and a strained smile that will give children nightmares for weeks, only serves to confirm my suspicions that the Walrus, like the CBC, is built for people much older than myself.