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06.09.2012 | Blog , Culture | BY: Carla Seipp
Taking its title from the concept of traditional women’s magazines constantly degrading us due to lack of designer wardrobe/überly attractive partner/perfected physical appearance, KnockBack Magazine is an A5-sized package of feminist fun.
Having launched its debut issue with the tagline “The magazine for women who aren’t silly bitches on a diet”, the publication with tongue in cheek humour and razor sharp wit is currently on its sixth issue.
Twin caught up with contributions editor Hilary Hazard to talk about modern feminism, independent zine making and the joys of not taking life too seriously…
As a self-described “anti-Cosmopolitan”, how did KnockBack Magazine come about and what is the mantra behind it?
KnockBack (KB) was started because there weren’t any magazines talking to us. Sure we wear high heels and mascara, but we also have ideas and think being mean about someone because they look bad is worse than looking bad. We value good manners and good times and we were bored of being patronised by women’s media. We also wanted to show that ‘light hearted’ doesn’t have to mean ‘idiotic’ we can do low-brow and intelligent and good looking. We can, and we did.
What does feminism mean to you today?
I really don’t know anymore. I thought I had it down and it was just about respect but then a proper feminist kicked me in the shin and now they make me nervous.
KB aims to occupy the middle ground between political feminism – which is all female circumcision and rape statistics* – and women’s pop culture, which is all deodorant and celebrities. They are the two extremes of the female experience, KB is the happy medium.
*not a million miles from the comment I made just before getting kicked in the shin.
Issue themes have ranged from Hardcore to Smoke and Mirrors. How do you decide on the concept of each issue and what is the process of producing an independent zine like?
We use the themes as a guideline to be ignored in the face of something better. The process is a slow one, everything has to be perfect (it isn’t) and everyone has to work hard (we don’t). The problem with working independently, with no advertisers, deadlines or money, is that when we have meetings we also have bottles of wine and parties and lie-ins and days off and roast dinners.
Who are your feminist icons?
Jane Bussman (author of The Worst Date Ever), Tank Girl and my Nan, because they’re fearless and funny and they work hard. My Nan got alopecia when she was 27 so spent her whole life bald as a melon. When we were kids we’d wait until she was in the shower and then steal her wig so she had to chase us while we ran away screaming. She is a tough old broad, but she is also confident and content and that’s a massive challenge for modern women, even skinny ones with pretty hair. Most women spend their whole lives thinking they’re fat and ugly and comparing themselves to people who are thinner and prettier, my Nan just got on with it.
Jane Bussman is a comedy writer who went to Uganda because of a handsome US aid worker and subsequently wrote a book that somehow manages to bridge the gap between comedy and horrific war crimes, corruption and a child army (which is a f*cking big gap). And I like Tank Girl’s shoes.
We find feminist icons in women who are cool to each other and are proud to be women and are good at it. The KB hero is Tina Fey (Liz Lemon), because she’s funny and she loves sandwiches.
Who is the typical KB reader?
Students doing PhD’s in women’s studies, and the editor of The Spectator.
There is always a humorous tone to KB, is this an attempt to put a bit more fun back into the publishing industry?
It’s partly because funny women are something we set out to celebrate, and we really don’t take ourselves seriously at all. But also if we did straight down the line feminism stuff then only feminists would read KB, this isn’t for them, they’ve got forums all over the shop. Plus we’re funny women and it’s ours so it would be weird to make it serious.
What can we expect from the next upcoming issue?
A long wait, a snazzy cover and some jokes (but not as many as we’d like because half the team had babies or got married and everyone’s too exhausted to stay angry).
Last but not least, what are some KB words of wisdom to live by?
If it’s not funny, don’t do it, if it’s not free don’t eat it and f*ck cupcakes.
Of all the lovely magazines sent to the Stack offices, the one that had me literally snorting with laughter was KnockBack. Written as an alternative to the vast array of women’s magazines in the shops, it’s short and snappy and is happily devoid of the kind of features that make you want to throw up: ‘How to tell if your boyfriend really loves you…. From his shoes’, ‘What every man wants in bed’, etc.
I caught up with co-founder Marie Berry to find out how KnockBack got started, what it’s like publishing an independent magazine, and where the ideas for those eye-catching covers come from.
Why did you decide to start KnockBack?
In 2005 I had a cupboard full of Word documents that were the product of isolated ranting. I thought I would publish them and did a three-day Quark course, but when Sarah Semicolon saw me clutching a handful of purple text (my printer ran out of black ink) in purple boxes, she said she would try and help. The brief I wrote her is one of the most deranged pieces of writing I’ve ever created, but somehow she translated ‘stars and magazine stuff but cool’ into the KB you see today, which most people agree looks ‘bangin’.
KnockBack is often touted as an anti-Cosmo feminist magazine. Was that always your intention?
Anti-Cosmo is accurate as we wanted to produce something more interesting, relevant to us and not a pile of shit. We started KB as a reaction to the sudden influx of magazines like She, Red, Grazia etc. The feminist label was tacked on by the Guardian and we’ve been enjoying it ever since, although our motive was entertainment before politics. We just wanted to make the point that women are funny and interesting and not obsessed with shoes and sex. With that in mind we have recently expanded our content to cover things aside from shoes and sex.
Why is a print magazine still an effective tool for getting your message across?
People enjoy the tactility of magazines, they last longer than websites (it’s harder to click away). Magazines, or ‘zines more specifically, are diverse, they are still pushing boundaries (with thanks to people like Stack). For me having a printed product represents that idea of actually doing things instead of talking about doing things or criticising other people who have done things. It’s about making things and holding them and giving them to other people. Also I don’t know any web developers, but I know a ton of printers (all called Alan, bizarrely).
What difficulties have you faced publishing without advertising?
It’s hard to say having never published anything with advertising, but for what it’s worth it’s been smashing. I have no interest in running adverts, nobody seems particularly eager to have us promote their tat and every issue so far has just about sustained itself financially. A mysterious benefactor (MB) got the ball rolling with the first issue which had a print run of 1,000 and was black and white with a two-colour cover. Our MB was sick of me talking about how shit women’s magazines were and gave me a cheque to prove I could do better. Which was nice of him. That issue asked for donations from satisfied readers, and although we never paid him back, we paid for the next issue and so on. Having said that, maybe if I sold space to adverts and ran KB like a business, the magazine would still be free and I could give up my job in marketing (there, I said it).
How has KB changed/developed from the first issue and how would you like it to develop in the future?
We don’t swear as much now, we print two colours throughout, we use spell check, our contributors stick to word counts, we let the occasional exclamation mark slip in. We don’t talk about shagging (as) incessantly and we’re more mature. Actually I think that’s the most remarkable difference, because we release issues so sporadically you get a sense of how we’ve changed from issue to issue. It’s quite clear the first one is written by angry, single 24-year-olds and the most recent by women pushing 30. In future I would like to produce an issue that doesn’t have a single typo (there are two crackers in the latest issue, first to find a third gets a badge).
I really love the covers of KB because they’re so different from any other magazine, where do the ideas for the covers come from?
The mirrored issue came from Sarah Semicolon. She said ‘I want the next issue to have a mirror for a cover, and I want the cover line to be ‘you’re so vain I bet you think this ‘zine is about you’. Then she said she’d pay for the extra cost of it so that was me sold. The deal didn’t last, nor did the line, but the mirror stuck. You can do your make up in it. After that we felt obliged to up the stakes so the Hardcore issue’s cover was chosen ‘for her pleasure’. Next up is the Media issue, which I’d like to be knitted, edible or that wallpaper you get with felt shapes on (until we have a good idea that we can afford). I like to think having beautiful covers means people treat KB a little nicer than they do most ‘zines. Nobody puts KB in the corner (I hope).
The Observer teaching Marie Berry and other young feminist spokespeople about ‘interpretive journalism’
The article that started it all http://www.theguardian.com/media/2007/jul/13/pressandpublishing.genderissues
It’s a shame we don’t have any archived editions of the radio appearances by Marie Berry that we could post here, a particular loss is the show on BBC Oxford with Louise Someone grilling her about women making bad bosses. Her catastrophic attempt to pronounce the word ‘conspiratorially’ was, and will hopefully forever be the lowest point in her professional career, not only as a writer but as a speaker of English and person with a mouth.
Other lost highlights include an appearance on Richard Bacon where she said nothing, but still managed to swear on live radio, and an appearance on a Nicki Campbell breakfast show which resulted in a stalker and being blacklisted from all further productions.
These experiences proved two things
1. Marie Berry’s hair looks good short
2. She should not be invited to do anything that happens before 11am
All in a day’s ‘work’