Toys ’R’ Us

Kind of an appropriate posting for the last Friday before Christmas – the latest issues of Germanwings and N by Norwegian have just arrived in the office and both feature action toys.

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N by Norwegian has form when it comes to toys on covers…

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…except unlike the covers above, which fronted stories that were actually about Moomins and Lego, the man who beat the cold is a real, live action man. He’s the scary-looking Wim Hof of the Netherlands, a self-proclaimed Iceman who experienced his first hypothermia at the age of seven, and who now likes to practice yoga and meditation in sub-zero temperatures, relax in vats of ice and climb mountains in nothing but his shorts and sandals.

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The Germanwings cover ties to a story about Hollywood’s current reliance on recycling, remaking and rebooting, rather than investing in new ideas. 2014 brings more Hobbits, more Hunger Games, Transformers, Godzilla, Spiderman, X-Men, Avengers, as well as the unnecessary returns of Robocop, Jurassic Park and The Terminator. It’s a well written piece: “Like most of nature’s predators, Hollywood is a lazy creature that would rather feed on stationary carcasses than hunt for fast-moving fresh meat”.

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Art director Steve Ranson’s original – and clever – idea for the cover was a recycling box full of movie tie-in toys, all of which represent franchises being given a re-airing next year; Robocop, who features heavily in the story, is climbing out of the box to get back to work, and by the time we get to the opener to the feature itself he’s halfway across the spread. Unfortunately the client didn’t think the cover worked, so what you see is Plan B, which is good, just not as smart. The original cover now runs on the contents page. (Posted by AndrewH)

Animal magic

These spectacular images of Siamese fighting fish and Ayam Serama cocks were originally sourced as two separate photo essays for Fah Thai. Editor Jake and art director Terence loved them so much, they paired them together for the Jan-Feb issue.

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The essay is inspired by the 18th century quote ‘neither fish nor fowl’ meaning ‘neither this nor that but something other’. Photographers Virasute Angkatavancih (fish) and Ernest Goh (cocks) both wanted to change their animals into objects of art, and they have done just that. Not merely fish nor fowl, these are stunning works of portraiture.

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Posted by Liz Weselby, Singapore

Hello from UO

We’re thrilled with our new addition. A bi-monthly magazine created for Hong Kong Express – Hong Kong’s first low-cost carrier – it’s bright, bold and interactive, just like something you’d find on the city’s newstands.

HK Express had two mandatory requirements for its inflight read. First, we were to incorporate the airline’s flight code, UO, into the name. Secondly, the magazine was to have a distinct Hong Kong look, feel and voice. As the airline had yet to finalise its branding, the rest was up to us. The result is UO.

Why UO? Well, initials are often used as magazine titles in Asia, and it’s catchier than forging something from the tricky letter combination.

Our inaugural cover star was a coup. After several rounds of cover no-nos, picture editor Jenny Peñas found this atmospheric shot of Gothic-cute personality La Carmina, taken on a Tokyo side street. La Carmina travels around Asia exploring the streets and subcultures of cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong and Seoul for her blog, books and TV shows. She was a treat to interview, was delighted to appear on our first cover and is now in talks with the airline on a number of collaboration ideas.

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UO is sectioned by topic – shopping, food, travel, people, style, adventure – and the content is short, snappy and easy to digest. It’s deliberately tailored to emulate the eyeball-darting experience of browsing online: we’re catering for the airline’s savvy, Gen Y demographic.

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The pages shown here include a series of British photographer Alfie Goodrich’s stunning portraits of Tokyo taxi drivers (Travel); profiles of Hong Kong’s most stylish, quirky and best-connected bar hosts (Style); and gorgeous art and collectibles in the Thai city of Chiang Mai (Shopping). Tips from HK locals appear throughout – Hong Kongers are known to trust their peers more than they trust random destination experts – and we invite reader feedback and content.

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The lack of grid and intentional messiness of UO, all primary colours, bold text blocks and scattered symbols, are typical of style mags in the region. We blended Chinese and Western approaches to create something original for the client – and the reader. Hong Kong Express is as delighted as we are with its new baby. (Posted by Liz Weselby & Pete Stephens, Ink Singapore)

Dispatches from the Hemispheres

We’ve got a guy here on the editorial floor of Ink’s London office who’s a source of great amusement for his colleagues, as well as some confusion. Anyone who sits within hearing distance – and that’s plenty of us – gets to overhear a life played out in one-sided phonecalls that are by turns comical (the conversations with his four-year-old daughter when he speaks in the voice of Mr Dinosaur), achingly funny (like when he’s explaining to a writer why the story they’ve just filed is unpublishable) and outright hilarious (his retelling of how he locked himself out on a balcony in his underwear with his daughter who quickly became desperate to go to the toilet). The confusion is because lots of people don’t know what Chris Wright does.

That comes about as a result of him not working on a London-based magazine. His magazine is Hemispheres, a class publication that Ink actually puts together in its New York office. As executive editor, it’s Chris’s job to remind the rest of the editorial team on the other side of the Atlantic that there is a whole world out there beyond the shores of America.

He is also specifically responsible for putting together the magazine’s Dispatches section; this takes the form of a bunch of short stories filed from around the globe that suggest that wherever it is you’re heading, it’s all a lot quirkier than you think. Some of these are no more than groan-worthy shaggy-dog stories or extended jokes, but others are almost profound. They are all reliably finely honed pieces of writing and all represent a very Chris Wright outlook on life. If you’re not lucky enough to be listening in on his phonecalls, then reading Hemisphere‘s archived Dispatches online is the next best thing.

Try this one:

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Author Cain Nunns Illustration Peter Oumanski

SHANGHAI – Barely five feet tall, hobbled by an old industrial accident and decked out in an ill-fitting navy blue Mao jacket, 74-year-old Zhang Ying doesn’t look like a trainer of prizefighters. But appearances can be deceiving. The Shanghai native has produced hundreds of champions over a career that has spanned six decades.

When Zhang ducks into a doorway on a side street at the edge of Shanghai’s commercial district, his presence hushes the crowd inside, which has gathered to witness a favorite bloodsport in this region of China. At the periphery, stewards collect fistfuls of yuan. Bets at underground matches like these routinely run into the thousands of dollars.

The smart money is on Zhang’s fighter, Yellow Dragon, who has won 15 bouts in a row.

It could be the result of the fish diet Zhang’s been feeding him, or the brutal workout regimen, but the champion is much broader than his opponent. There are whispers that Zhang’s also got him hopped up on some kind of herbal tea concoction.

Yellow Dragon, who stands about an inch high, is one of the stars (known as qu qu) of cricket fighting, a tradition that was once the domain of the gilded set but which is now played out in insect markets, like this one, across Shanghai. Each fight lasts no longer than 10 seconds or so, but in that time the crowd can be whipped into a fury of screeching and finger-pointing as combatants execute supposed kung fu maneuvers.

Zhang’s cricket is released from his bamboo cage, and the two foes eye each other warily across the Formica-topped table. The Dragon, however, hasn’t built his reputation by playing coy. Within seconds he is a blur of hurricane aggression and snapping limbs. Outmatched and outgunned, his opponent scurries back to the far side of the ring. He’s had enough.

“Pathetic,” spits one onlooker in disgust.

Zhang barely responds to the victory. He has seen it all, from the banning of the bourgeois sport during the Cultural Revolution, to intermittent police crackdowns on gambling, to its recent resurgence and the establishment of pro leagues across the Middle Kingdom. Few crickets would be a match for the Dragon, who, having dispatched another victim, continues his march to immortality.

“Don’t count on it,” Zhang sniffs. “Crickets don’t live very long. He’ll be dead within a month.”

Here’s a couple more recent good ones:

War Games
Once a training tool for budding Cold Warriors, Soviet video games are attracting a new breed of player. By Robin Cherry, from June 2013

Altitude adjustment
The comic potential of topographical confusion. By James Dorsey, from Nov 2013

(Posted by AndrewH)

Fact of the month

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Since Lego Minifigures were introduced in 1978, over 4 billion of them have been manufactured; by 2019 they will outnumber the world’s human population. For more on the story of Lego’s takeover of Planet Earth, see the fact-tastic cover story in this month’s N by Norwegian, written by Mandi Keighran with photography by Alex Howe. (Posted by AndrewH)

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Quote of the month…

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Without a doubt, this comes from an interview with Britain’s greatest living explorer™ Ranulph Fiennes, conducted by Sarah Warwick for the current issue of easyJet Traveller:

When I sawed the end of my fingers off it was in a garden shed on Exmoor and my wife was bringing me cups of tea. I had to go down to the village and got a micro saw because the one I had kept getting stuck.”

In the same interview we also learn that back in 1970 Fiennes got into the last six auditioning for the role of James Bond, but one of the others was a bloke called Roger Moore.

By the way, sorry for the paucity of posts recently but I’ve been away a bit. Normal service should now resume. (Posted by AndrewH)