The year of magazine foldings that 1990 has been is also a year of start-ups, some of them bold and imaginative and even idiosyncratic, others sheer redundant madness, all in a time when the smart money wouldn't go near these notorious sinkholes of capital.
E, Eating Well, Egg, Entertainment Weekly and Elle Decor are among the new launches (E seems a popular letter); all but the first of them are the offspring of wealthy and established publishing parents. This fall a new class of magazines for men is forming -- the Seven (or However Many) Brothers, if you will. Taking its place among them is M inc., the merger of Manhattan, inc., which aspired to journalism, and M, which aspired to mental snack food.
The united publication gets its preoccupations -- clothes, cars, crime, clout -- wholly from M. The cover feature on power brokers in America's most self-important cities is the kind of thing you'd skim in an airport newsstand and put back, having learned not a single new thing, before heading off to the gate.
But the September issue has not put its best foot forward. Inside you'll find excerpts from new books on John Gotti and J. Walter Thompson, still more if more you want on the divorce of John and Patricia Kluge, a profile of publishing savant Jonathan Galassi, a Q&A with Hugh Hefner, sketches of cool French guys, features on skeet shooting, bullfights, sportswear... . All things, evidently, to all men.
The magazine fairly droops with clothing advertising, which happily has enabled M inc. to buy professional writers -- among them the overextended Michael Lewis, the facile Paul Erdman and the lucid Louis Menand. The new magazine, when it wants to, also gives some of its stories the space they need to say something, a trademark of Manhattan, inc.
Students of overwrought editors' notes should read editor Jane F. Lane's R-rated introductory description of the two magazines' editorial coupling -- "... communicating however we could, sometimes in sheer body language, as strangers who were hurled into an enterprise of huge intimacy... ."
One year, $18. Write M inc., Box 57099, Boulder, Colo. 80322-7099.
Capitalist Cool Forbes FYI, a men's magazine in all but name, might be called a protected launch. It's a recreational venture by the fortnightly business magazine, edited with a distinctive hand by Christopher Buckley, the Washington writer. As in M inc., the reader can see in this magazine the marriage of its elements: the Forbes obsession with brevity and upbeatness, and Buckley's charmingly off-the-wall ideas.
In a noir sendup of the typical rag mag, the first cover features a black-and-white Marlene Dietrich posing in GOLF SHOES. Shilling for an auto maker you'd expect in lots of magazines, but in this one P.J. O'Rourke claims that if Sherman McCoy had been driving a Range Rover instead of a Mercedes-Benz in "The Bonfire of the Vanities," he'd never have gotten in so much trouble -- and acts out the alternative scenario in a Bronx photo spread. The theme for one of the fashion features is "Slammer Glamour" -- good-looking young white-collar felons, essentially -- with such captions as "Lauren Order" and "Hostile Makeover." And the wine critic? Richard Nixon.
Along with plenty of camp, this magazine is full of unusual little storylets -- the postmaster general's mistaken-map fetish; how to deal with tiresome anglers, or "trout bores"; a "Mr. Manners" column about cussing in front of your secretary and such (doesn't someone else sort of own that name?); Geoffrey Norman's reconciliation with his father on the ocean floor; a favorite sexy passage from Walker Percy. Many of the articles end with italic instructions about how to make the author or subject richer by ordering something or other.
The commercial motive may be transparent, but the editorial effect is striking, in a mannered, larky way. A quarterly supplement to Forbes, FYI is available only to Forbes subscribers. (The latest offer is $26.50 for 15 issues of Forbes, 60 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10114-0388.) If FYI survives the recession, it may strike out on its own.
Red-Eye Reading Buzz wants to be the buzz of Los Angeles, a city it feels finally deserves a magazine just like itself -- something with the currency and insiderdom of New York magazine and the gloss and glitter of Vanity Fair. The design is clean and wide open, and the topics in issue one are Southern California-friendly: Carrie Fisher (cover photo by dog-obsessed William Wegman); California's water problems (still serious); the new Richard Nixon Museum and Library ("Parthenon of the Putrescent"); a Porsche with a mind of its own (fiction by Laura Cunningham); Preston Sturges (inevitably); plus lots of chitchat about, of and for Hollywood (whose business, it is true, seems to eclipse the rest of life in Los Angeles just as government does in Washington). Eight issues per year, for now. Send $12 to Buzz, P.O. Box 56796, Boulder, Colo. 80323-6796.
The business of New York, to follow the analogy, is survival, and there's a new New York magazine to chronicle it. NY: The City Journal is a collection of critically constructive writing about the problems facing New York -- Gotham's answer to the Washington Monthly, and one that polishes its shoes. The premier issue, dated autumn and designed with appealing reserve, tackles housing, homelessness, schools, tax cuts and alternate-side-of-the-street-parking. Rupert Murdoch is allowed to have his say here (on the technology of the future), and Peter Salins, editorial board co-chairman (with Nathan Glazer) answers in the rose-colored negative the question: "Is New York Going Down the Tubes?" NY, published quarterly by the Manhattan Institute, is available for $25 a year by writing 42 E. 71st St., New York, N.Y. 10021.
Meanwhile ... Back in the world of pre-existing magazines, check out an excellent package of analysis on the nearly forgotten savings-and-loan crisis in National Journal (Sept. 22) ... a hilarious appreciation of Melanie Griffith's contributions to defining the Bimbo in American Film, by Joe Queenan in the October Movieline ... Arthur Boehm's appealing exploration of why gay men and straight women are so sympatico, in the October New York Woman ... and Mid-Atlantic Country's October roundup of writerly musings on what, if anything, it means to be a Mid-Atlanticker.