Zoetrope Guest Designers

Zoetrope: All-Story is a fiction magazine founded in 1997 by film director Francis Ford Coppola. According to its website, the magazine is “devoted to the best new short fiction and one-act plays” as well as exploring “the intersection of story and art, fiction and film.”

Zoetrope has featured fiction from writers like Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Robert Olen Butler, Ethan Coen, Dave Eggers, Mary Gaitskill, Gabriel García Márquez, Steven Millhauser, Rick Moody, Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Powers, Gus Van Sant, and Kurt Vonnegut among others. That’s certainly a contributor list that many editors would kill for.

The fiction is consistently good, although not necessarily amazing. But, in my opinion, to find that I’m enjoying more than half of each issue’s content means that I’m enjoying the magazine overall. There’s a classic reprint in each issue, and even though some of the ‘classics’ are less than a decade old, some of them, like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” last issue, are truly classic. The reprints tend to have a movie connection.

Coppola’s name certainly heightens the cache of the magazine. Of course, with Coppola’s name attached to it, you also expect a film connection, and from the condensed contributor list I present above, you can see some of the directors who have been in the magazine.

One of the cool things about the magazine is that it uses guest designers. Starting in 1998, when Helmut Newton was asked to design an issue, each issue has featured a guest designer. These include people like Dennis Hopper, David Bowie, Chip Kidd, David Byrne, and Mike Figgis. On the right you can see a recent issue had the guest designer of Lou Reed.

Now, I will admit that I not much of a Lou Reed fan, but “Guest Designer Lou Reed”? That’s pretty damn cool. The current issue (as of May 2009) is designed by Guillermo del Toro, and features emerging Latin American writers (the second half has the issue’s stories in their original Spanish).

You can debate whether or not people are picking the magazine due to the guest designer; I think they are. I like the idea of bringing in someone that people know and have them do something they aren’t known for. The Marilyn Minter issue from a few years back is one that I liked quite a bit (it even won an award for its design).

Beside being a clever way to delegate all the work of an issue’s design to someone else, this adds a little something extra (almost a lagniappe for the Zoetrope reader) that a lot of fiction magazines don’t provide.

This is actually something I’ve thought about now and again. I do all the editorial and design work for Electric Velocipede, and there are limits as to my skill. People tell me they like the layout, but is the layout actually good or are they just being kind? I wouldn’t object to a guest designer if someone came forward with a good proposal. It wouldn’t have to be some who does design work, but in my opinion, designers are often overlooked in the work that they do, and being able to feature someone and prominently display who they are would be very cool. I even like the idea of a guest editor.

Obviously comparing my magazine to Zoetrope is akin to comparing my home movies to Coppola’s films. I don’t expect anyone to be beating down my door, but I can dream about Lou Reed or Chip Kidd wanting to guest design my magazine, can’t I?


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