With less than a week left until the President-Elect is inaugurated, it’s safe to say—no matter what side of the fence you sit on in relation to The Donald—that these are uncertain times. So how do you find relief and distraction? The secret lies in getting up off your butt and doing something about it. Clay Hickson of Tan & Loose Press has turned to the activism of the 1960’s and ’70s for answers, drawing inspiration from Chicago’s underground publishing scene for his new project, The Smudge, a monthly newspaper with a radical bent.
“The whole thing happened very quickly,” says Hickson. “We were talking with our friend (and now Smudge contributor) Pete Gamlen about a monthly newsletter he had recently stopped producing. It lived completely offline and was always so exciting to receive in the mail with no warning. While we were lamenting the end of his project we started discussing one of our own, but didn’t quite know what its focus would be. Two weeks later the election happened, and all of a sudden it became very clear what we needed to do.
“Since then there has been a real sense of urgency in the air. Everybody we’ve talked to is struggling to figure out how to proceed and what actions we can take to make our opinions heard. We don’t know how much impact The Smudge will have, but we wanted to provide a platform for people to vent these emotions, and provide some concrete advice on how to get a little more involved in their communities.”
With The Smudge, Hickson has rallied together his own community of friends and contributors from across the North American design scene: the aforementioned illustrator Pete Gamlem, Liana Jegers, Adi Goodrich and Sean Pecknold of Sing Sing, Tim Lahan, Rachel Howe, Courtney Tate, and Nathaniel Russel. He plans to grow this network with each issue, perhaps to one day include an experienced print designer.
Through his personal venture, Tan & Loose Press, Hickson has major know-how when it comes to print publishing, but the skills required for editorial design and layout are entirely new to the illustrator. Having only used InDesign a handful of times, Hickson is certain The Smudge breaks every typographic rule under the sun. “I don’t mean that to sound cool and rebellious,” he says, but he has very little training, and has been forced to go with his gut to create a magazine that’s as editorially exciting as it is easy on the eyes.
Also new to Hickson is his engagement with politics, which means he can’t say for sure what direction future issues of The Smudge will take. “It’s definitely more political than any other projects we’ve been involved with. Ultimately we just want to talk about the issues that we’re anticipating will come up under this new administration. While everything isn’t distinctly about politics, so many decisions we make day-to-day are starting to feel more politically charged.
“Whether it’s recycling, eating local, or driving a car, these choices all represent a political stance on an issue. Every choice you make contributes to a stronger sense of your being, so we also want to offer advice or thoughts on how to be moving forward from here.”
A project like The Smudge only works if it reaches the widest possible audience. It makes little sense to make a magazine about societal change and political reform if only a few people will ever read it. So I wonder why Hickson has chosen to publish The Smudge in print instead of online, where he could feasibly have an audience of many thousands in a matter of weeks? He’s quick with his answer.
“Another goal for this project is help people slow down. It’s so easy to pull out your phone and get a quick information fix wherever you are. We want our readers to read with more focus and intention—be more deliberate and less habitual with their consumption of information. Making it print only dictates your experience with it and forces you to absorb it more mindfully.”
With that in mind we’re only showing you the cover image above, so to experience The Smudge in its full glory you’ll have to subscribe like everyone else.