You could call The Manipulator a "coffeetable magazine."
Just add legs and it's a coffee table.
Amaze your friends! At 20 inches by 30 inches folded -- that's 40 inches by 60 inches fully opened -- owning a copy of the international quarterly ("Film, Fashion, Music and Design with a strong interest in Art!") is like having a personal billboard.
"Rolled up, it's like walking around with a bazooka under your arm," admits U.S. Editor Johno du Plessis.
With its maximal style and minimal content, The Manipulator may be the ideal magazine for the late '80s. In a publication this big, the image is everything -- mere words can't hope to compete. The current issue (No. 10) features aerial views of sacred landscapes by photographer Marilyn Bridges, Andy Warhol's "Last Supper" project, and photos of Berlin and young Berliners, in between the colossal ads for Emporio Armani and Hugo Boss.
Printed in Germany, with offices in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United States, The Manipulator seems one of a kind. "We're told there was an attempt to make a magazine twice the size of Manipulator, but in our opinion there's only just room for one that size," du Plessis says. "I mean, it borders on the absurd."
The Manipulator is the offspring of a slick advertising showcase called Select, in which photographers exhibit their work in hopes of attracting the attention of advertisers and art directors. "We were interested in making an editorial magazine, but we knew we needed to come in somehow with -- I suppose you must say a 'gimmick' -- something to set it apart."
Advertisers loved it, of course. "We continue to hear 'Big big big! Make it bigger! We love big!' and so on," du Plessis says.
Since "newsstands are out of the question," du Plessis places Manipulator in museums, art bookstores and trendoid boutiques like Fiorucci and Parachute. The magazine's circulation is respectable for something so unwieldy and expensive ($10 an issue); du Plessis estimates worldwide sales at 24,000 copies. "So if Calvin Klein doesn't advertise in Manipulator, I doubt very much that their empire will collapse or anything," he notes realistically.
But since the magazine must be limited to about 60 pages because of weight, Manipulator ends up with more advertising offers than it can print, perhaps because of its inherent appeal to king-size egos: "Those art directors and advertisers can't wait to see their work that size."
Oh, and about that "coffeetable magazine" crack: du Plessis says a London furniture designer has in fact made a table called the Manipulator, in iron, in the size and shape of the unfurled magazine, with legs.
On the smaller end of the magazine food chain is London's itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny The Fred, which at 4 by 6 inches seems a contender for the title of world's tiniest magazine.
The Fred certainly does more with much less: Each issue is a perfect-bound crazy quilt of art from graffiti scrawls to paintings to photos to cut-up comic strips, plus new poems, short stories, songs and ephemera from writers known (Kathy Acker's "Don Quixote") and unknown (Mike Bell's "Avant Gardening" column).
And Madison Avenue take note: Advertisements have never looked so cute and unthreatening -- an ad in The Fred makes you want to buy something just for the underdog quality.
"We thought that magazines were getting too huge and too cumbersome -- you can only read them at home," says Bryan Maloney, assistant editor and designer of the international quarterly, who says he's an admirer of The Manipulator's style, if not its practicality. "But you can read The Fred anywhere. It's pocket-sized, so you can whip it out on holiday, on the bus, in an airplane."
And presumably you won't injure anyone while flipping through it on the subway.
The Fred began publishing in late 1983, but ceased publication for a while after its fifth issue in 1985. It was recently restarted by original editor Ken McDonald, and the 256-page sixth issue is on sale in London now.
"Anybody can write for The Fred, and anybody does," says Maloney. "We'll publish anything ... Most of our writers and artists are unknown, people who don't appeal to other publishers because of the nature of their work.
"A lot of 'style' magazines think they have their finger on the pulse -- we are the pulse," Maloney says, modestly. "We're not giving a critique of what's happening, we are what's happening."
The Fred is occasionally available at local magazine stores, or you can write to 153 Poynter House, Queensdale Crescent, London W11 4TD, England. The Manipulator is available at the Newsroom, Chronicles 2000 and Bookworks at Washington Project for the Arts.