This post is brought to you by the letter J

To those of you who don’t know me, I am the editor of J Magazine – at least for another few hours. Ink has been publishing this magazine for Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways for around seven years and I have been editing it for around the last five of those years. Today is my last day on the title and with Ink – on Monday I start a new job (and life) working for Al-Jazeera news network out in Qatar. Before I go I want to present a little parting gift, which is my pick of the magazine’s ten best covers.

If you don;t regularly fly Jazeera Airways you are unlikely to have seen most of them as even the London office of Ink where the magazine is produced receives very few physical copies of the magazine – and these I jealously guard and keep locked in desk drawer. Which is a shame, because Jazeera Airways is a fantastic client, who has always allowed us (almost) total editorial freedom. To date we’ve produced 45 issues of outstanding photography, strong narratives and covers commissioned from some of fantastically talented illustrators.

For me, the cover that symbolises everything we do is this one by design outfit I Love Dust. Art director Rob Timm and I had to fight to get them on board: they’re busy people, always in demand, and they don’t come cheap. But we came to an arrangement and for the April/May 2012 issue they produced this beauty for us:

2012AprMay

It links to a story inside on cyclists taking over the streets of car-ridden Beirut. I travelled to Lebanon to meet the intrepid bike pioneers. I met one activist at a cafe and as he sat down to join me I noted that he hadn’t locked his bike. He laughed and said he hoped someone would steal it because it would increase the number of cyclists on the streets.

J launched with a brief to be different and it certainly was for the Middle East. Early covers (art directed by the talented Stuart Tolley) didn’t even have a masthead, just a giant and not always immediately obvious J. The client loved them and had all the covers made up as posters to hang around the office.

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The magazine came of age with this piece of art, below, by the very brilliant Olivier Kugler, a regular contributor to The Guardian. His ‘Istanbul to Tehran’ – which was accompanied inside by an eight-page comic-strip narrative of a rail journey – cover won J magazine its first award, the Magnum Opus Gold prize.

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My greatest joy in editing this magazine was to confound preconceptions of this very much misunderstood region and to tell some of the Middle East’s untold stories. I particular enjoyed uncovering the revival of the English butler school, only instead of sending graduates to British stately homes they all now end up in the palaces of the Gulf States.

2013AprMay

Other favourite covers of mine include one that illustrated a piece on Kuwaiti racers who revel in spinning their cars and sliding sideaways …

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… our round-up of the top Arab films of all time with an appropriately, wonkily styled B-movie poster cover …

2013OctNov

… the Airfix kit cover we commissioned to go with a story about the delivery of new Airbuses for the Jazeera Airways’ fleet …

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… an interview with Iron Sheik, an Iranian wrestler who found fame in the US circuit playing the cartoon bad guy …

2014JunJul

… and a profile of the Arab world’s answer to Pharrell Williams, the super-producer Khyam Allami:

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And I’ll end with a sneak preview. J Magazine has a new talented art director in Yessica Diez-Davies, who, with only her second issue in charge is starting to push the magazine in an exciting new direction. This week we go to press with our first ever typographical cover:

2015AprMay

It accompanies an interview with Pascal Zogbhi, the Jameel Prize-nominated font designer who’s changing the way the world sees the Arabic language. But you’ll have to wait until April to read that. Meanwhile, more covers can be seen here and here.

And that’s it from me. Thank you. (Posted by Sakhr Al-Makhadhi)

J is for (good) journalism

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What I admire about J Magazine, which Ink produces for Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways, is editor Sakhr Al-Makhadhi’s ability to consistently uncover untold stories. Take the current issue: behind that slightly scary cover of the tattooed man from another dimension is the fascinating tale of a martial-arts trainer from the UK who wound up in Marrakech where he turned his hand to making fabulous lanterns and doors sculpted from brass and silver that now sell for tens of thousands of dollars to the house-proud of the Arabian Gulf.

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But there’s more: one of his most recent commissions was to create a silver-and-nickel box intended to hold the sole and only copy of the newest album by legendary hip-hop outfit Wu-Tang Clan. So secret was the project that for a time the silver box was hidden in a cave in the Atlas Mountains. Next, it’s set to be taken off on a world tour of museums and galleries where fans will be charged to see the box and don headphones to listen to the two hours of new music it holds. After which it will be auctioned for what could be millions of dollars. Martial arts. Morocco. Golden doors. Wu-Tang-Clan. Secret recordings. Mountain caves. Million dollar auctions. Huh? To find out how it all fits together you’ll have to read J. (Posted by AndrewH)

Interesting new book/blog

Back in 2008, Brighton-based freelance art director Stuart Tolley worked with Ink on the launch of J Magazine, for Jazeera Airways. He designed, I think, the first half dozen issues and had great fun with the covers in particular, which always featured a giant J. I loved that the monkeys on the front of the launch issue escaped the cover and scampered throughout the pages of the magazine.

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Stuart also worked with Esquire, The Independent‘s Saturday magazine and Sleazenation, and had the unfortunate job of trying to make visual sense of the car crash that was Disappear Here, the short-lived magazine from Peaches Geldof and Loaded-founder James Brown.

His latest project is Collector’s Edition, which showcases beautifully produced, innovative, limited edition packaging for the music, book and magazine industries. The book, with contributions from Radiohead, Haruki Murukami, Mario Testino, Dinos Chapman and heaps more, comes out later this year, but meanwhile you can check out his blog, here. (Posted by AndrewH)

A warbling American cultural cluster bomb

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J Magazine has a bit of a scoop coming up in its April/May issue. Editor Sakhr Al-Makhadhi managed to catch up with Jennifer Grout. If you don’t know who she is, you need to read the story. But just to give you the bare bones, she’s a 23-year-old, all-American, girl-from-next-door Bostonian who fell in love with Arabic music and became pretty good at singing along to CDs. So good, in fact, she entered the Middle East’s version of X Factor, Arabs Got Talent, filmed in Beirut. Bizarrely, she was invited to take part only to be almost laughed off stage when the judges and audience realised she didn’t speak Arabic. Then she sang and delivered such a flawless rendition of an Arabic classic that she immediately became the sensation of the series and darling of the Arabic-speaking world (well, apart from the faction that reckoned she must be some sort of warbling American cultural cluster bomb). She didn’t win but… well, read J Mag when it appears in a couple of week’s time.

Jennifer now lives in Marrakech, and art director Rob Timm commissioned locally based photographer Alan Keohane to do the shoot. (Posted by AndrewH)

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Ink London Creative Awards: Best Cover

Here at Ink London we’re hosting our inaugural annual Creative Awards. One of the two categories is “best cover”. We have 15 magazines up for consideration and each team has been asked to select its favourite cover produced for that title over the last 12 months (July 2012 to June 2013). The nominations are below and the results of our internal voting will be posted first week of July.

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APEX, February 2013

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bSpirit, Jan-Feb 2013, relaunch issue

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bthere, August 2012

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easyJet Traveller, December 2012, the knitted cover

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Germanwings, 2013, April-May-June 2013

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Gulf Life, December 2012, the Paris paper-cut hat

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J Magazine, April-May 2013, the ‘you rang m’lord’ issue

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JetAway, July-August 2012, the big lemon issue

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Let’s Go with Ryanair, June 2013, the hot 25 issue

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Metropolitan, April 2013, the sexy lips issue

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N by Norwegian, April 2013, the Scream in a bed issue

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Privatair, Winter 2012, the Six Feet Under issue

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Thomas Cook Travel, summer 2013, the ice lolly issue

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Voyager, August 2012, the Paul Merton issue

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Wizz, April-May 2013, the Warsaw burger issue

Posted by AndrewH

Will that be all?

Although we make it here in the London Ink office, we rarely get to see a copy of J Magazine. It’s printed in Kuwait – home of the client, Jazeera Airways – and they only send us a couple of copies of each issue, which, as soon as they arrive, editor Sakhr Al Makhadhi locks away in his desk. A shame because it’s a great little magazine, with some really interesting and offbeat stories, and fine design by art director Rob Timm. The main feature in the current issue, for example, is on the resurgence in demand for traditional butlers. Inspired, apparently, by recent hit TV show Downton Abbey, butler schools in London have seen a huge spike in intake and still can’t train them up fast enough. The twist is, all these newly graduated flunkies aren’t heading off for England’s stately homes, they’re buffing up the silverware in the palaces of Saudia Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The clever cover is below and if you offer Sakhr a sticky pastry he might let you take a look at the rest of the magazine. (Posted by AndrewH)

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