Here's the fourth and final part of the reflection on our Fire Raisers magazine that Dan and I have been conducting of late. If you missed any of the other parts, you can read them here:
Part two: Fat-headed Fire Raisers
Part three: Boredom or Fire Raisers
Don't forget, you can download PDFs of each of the three printed issues of Fire Raisers here:
Please do comment on our self-indulgent reminiscences and/or the actual magazine contents…
Daniel: When measured against the terms we consciously or subconsciously set ourselves, was Fire Raisers a success?
Alistair: Tough one. Did we consciously set ourselves success criteria? I don’t remember that we did (see the next question). It’s not like we had a business plan or anything was it? However, that aside, for me the success was in Fire Raisers being a part of the ongoing journey of communication and writing. For me they are valuable artefacts that document a period in time both from a perspective of personal development and also of the historical context. As I think I’ve said, the fanzines do feel very much of their time, for better and for worse.
D: I suspect I felt frustrated that they didn’t make more of an impact, whatever that impact might have been. But in my heart of hearts the frustration mostly stemmed from my own struggle as a writer – I had a definite case of writer’s block midway through the Fire Raisers project, contributing nothing to the second issue, and emerging in the third with earnest and strained ‘faction’. Otherwise I agree with you – we made some lasting connections with readers and writers, and documented the times.
D: With hindsight, what would you do differently?
A: This is such a difficult question, because it is so hard to place oneself back in that context, and with the resources available to us then. If I had a choice though, I would have been much clearer about what objectives we wanted to achieve and would have laid out some clear plans about how to achieve those. I’d look carefully at the manifesto and consider what all those words of passion and energy actually meant in concrete terms. I would also sit down with you and thrash out a really focused editorial policy and then use that to commission people to write some ‘lead’ articles – even approaching established writers in the mainstream media to contribute (on the knowledge that we couldn’t pay! Hell, it worked with Careless Talk and Plan B many years later…). And opening up the content more? Stuff about art, architecture, design, politics… a proper ‘reviews’ section? I’d also have tried to get someone else on board whose sole role was to publicize and sell the bloody thing. But then again that would have gone against the grain of what we wanted to it to be at the time, so… meh, it’s another moot point probably!
D: Sounds great – when do we start?! Of course, we wouldn’t have known what an editorial policy looked like then, much less be able to construct one.
If I could change one thing, it would be to leaven (or replace) all that earnestness with considerably more humour. That would have been our best strategy for engaging with a wider readership. It worked for When Saturday Comes football-fanzine-wise. In this respect, Kevin and Christian Jones had the right idea with their pieces, much lighter in tone than the rest.
D: Did you see Tangents as Fire Raisers successfully realised?
A: I’ve not spent much time reflecting on Tangents, but yes, I suppose in many respects Tangents was like a logical successor to Fire Raisers. Certainly when I did the first paper edition of Tangents in ’96 (I think) I had Fire Raisers in the back of my mind. By then I think I had more of a structured idea in place – something which in hindsight was either a weakness or a strength of Fire Raisers. Certainly the idea of the ‘Modern Classics’ and ‘Popular Classics’ sections was one which might have sat well within Fire Raisers. The irony is of course that by the end of the Tangents website life, the structure had been pared back dramatically again and was once more pretty much an anarchic free for all. But I think that approach worked better on a website than in a paper magazine.
Using the Internet as a medium of delivery also helped immeasurably with reaching a potential audience of course (see my point earlier about potential market populace), and there is certainly no way I could see a paper edition of Tangents (or Fire Raisers) ever reaching the level of readership that Tangents had at its peak. As I recall we struggled to sell the 500 print run of each issue of Fire Raisers (same with the first issue of Tangents), whilst the electronic version of Tangents went on to get around 20,000 visitors a month at its peak… That’s not to say there was a potential market place of 20,000 paying consumers for a paper magazine of course!
D: I was dead impressed with the paper edition of Tangents. With its black and red cover, and desktopped insides, it looked fabulous, and the contents had the easy variety that we struggled so hard to pull together for Fire Raisers. That little bit more experience and age told, I guess. And Tangents the website, which followed relatively hot its heels (I’m sure you started it in 1996) was an absolute godsend, both from a reading point of view and as a writer. You certainly seized the moment in terms of a platform. Strange to say, but I’m not sure we will see its like again…
A: Without wanting to reflect too much on the Tangents site (maybe I’ll do that in five or ten years time!) I think that the nature of the platform very much informed the nature of the product, and that the rapid development of what came to be expected from web-based media meant that Tangents had already started to become something of an anachronism by the time of its demise. I think Tangents had much more in common with traditional, long-form static print media than the interactive short-form prevalent on the Internet now. I’ll let everyone decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
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