It has been six months since John Macfarlane took charge at The Walrus, but the March/April issue of the magazine, set for release on Feb. 9, will be the first book that bears the full imprint of the veteran editor’s fingerprints. “We kind of sat down, took the magazine apart and put it back together,” says Macfarlane, who calls the changes a “re-engineering”—rather than a “redesign” or “relaunch”—of the five-year-old national general interest title. After all, he says, the magazine has not changed its mandate to publish stories about “Canada and its place in the world.”
Brian Morgan, who returned to The Walrus last year to become art director, played a major role in fine-tuning the magazine’s look and feel. Morgan, who, according to Macfarlane, collects “fonts the way some people collect books,” has introduced an array of new typefaces to the Walrus font family. Morgan tells us he searched long and hard for a main body text font that was “going to completely disappear”—in other words, not draw attention to itself—and eventually decided on King’s Caslon, which he describes as “nicely spaced with beautifully drawn forms.”
He was a “little less rigorous” when selecting display type, and for now will work with a combination Bodoni FB, Scotch Modern, Archer, National and Ambroise, “a beautiful, classic and funky Didone, carried over from the earlier incarnation,” which served as Morgan’s initial point of inspiration.
For the magazine’s logo, Morgan commissioned French typographer Jean François Porchez to redraw the letterforms. The logo’s look hasn’t changed dramatically from the previous incarnation (though keen eyes will notice the surplus of horizontal serifs and the “wonderfully eccentric” squiggle under the letter “A”), but the decision to push the word “The” down beside the word “Walrus” has created room for a skybar that allows the magazine to sell up to four stories.
Morgan says that while re-thinking the cover, he used much of what he learned under Ken Whyte during his time as deputy art director for Maclean’s. “The relentless attention to selling Ken Whyte has is sort of liberating, refreshing and focusing,” he says. Along with the skybar, Morgan plans to use cover images directly connected to a feature in the magazine, something Macfarlane was also keen on doing. Because of these changes, cover flaps—which, according to Morgan, are expensive and difficult to sell to advertisers—will no longer be used.
In terms of editorial architecture, the magazine now has three distinct parts, according to Macfarlane: “A front—short pieces about Canada and the world; a middle—essays profiles, traditional magazine journalism, memoirs, and short fiction; and a back—criticism, essays, and profiles on the arts.” A satirical comic strip collaboration between writer/playwright Jason Sherman and illustrator David Parkins will take over the back page.
Behind the scenes, there have been important changes to the way stories—and issues—are conceived. “I’m a great believer that magazines should be connected to the zeitgeist—there should be a connection between the magazine and the moment it’s read. To make that happen you have to be a lot more deliberate about the way you commission… The mixes I think will improve. The stories will have more moment. And I hope the consequence is that when you see a story, you’ll know why that story is there at this moment in time.”
When Macfarlane was appointed to the positions of editor and co-publisher of The Walrus, the press release noted he was taking the positions on an interim basis. Is that still the case? “I made no secret of the fact that when I came here, I didn’t know what to expect. I did it out of a sense of obligation to the idea of The Walrus… I felt that this was something I should do and to my great delight, quickly discovered that I enjoyed doing it. So if we are successful in what we are setting out to do here, I could see myself being here for a while. Three years? Five years? Who knows?”
So will we be treated to another 3 Chord Johnny performance at Macfarlane’s next retirement party? “I don’t think so.”