There’s no shortage of new print magazines being launched these days, a fact we’re only too glad is true. And when there’s a new title being pioneered by venerable publishing house Penguin and style bible Fantastic Man, you know it’s worth the trip to your local newsstand.
As Jop van Bennekom, one of the original creators of Fantastic Man, explains, The Happy Reader was launched at the end of 2014 after an informal conversation over dinner. Upon discovering a lack of magazines dedicated to the act of reading, he says the idea was to “reanimate classic literature,” turning it into something that would be contemporary, compelling, and, of course, beautiful to hold in your hands. “Penguin knows how to put a book out on the market that engages an audience through design,” van Bennekom says. “I think a lot of people buy Penguin books because of their design—it’s about the invitation to read.”
It’s this invitation that’s offered up now by The Happy Reader, which also owes its small size and familiar feeling to DIY magazines. “We liked the idea of doing a zine, so it would be a similar format—something intimate, and something that you feel people are a fan of,” van Bennekom explains. Despite presenting intelligent material, the magazine is both appealing and accessible, some of which comes from the design team’s zine references, and some of which is doubtless to do with the print decisions.
“It’s 64 pages with a soft cover, and I think that’s a very open and democratic way of sharing information,” van Bennekom says. “It doesn’t overwhelm or overbear.” Production was a key consideration. The magazine had to be cheap enough to produce in large amounts so Penguin could make it available free of charge. Eager readers need only cough up the money for postage and packaging to get their own copy.
Van Bennekom also explains that the team avoided being too literal with the Penguin design references, and the publishing house themselves were keen to create something that would take a visual sidestep away from the much-loved Penguin history. “It still refers to Penguin and its design heritage, but it’s more of a wink,” he says.
“I knew from the beginning it wouldn’t use Gill Sans.”
Now on its second issue, which was published in March and features Kim Gordon on the cover, the magazine can be seen as an intriguing union of Penguin’s recognizable identity and van Bennekom’s other magazines, Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman. Think of it as your chic, bookish companion. “Penguin has always had a very clear take on design,” van Bennekom agrees. “I don’t think it ever went into gold-embossing and the marketing-heavy stuff that gets books into supermarkets.” It’s also what many would consider a dream project, and van Bennekom laughingly agrees. “Of course it’s a wet dream for a graphic designer to work with Penguin.”