Friday, December 19, 2014

interview with Agnese Kleina and Madara Krievina from BENJI KNEWMAN

Last week the new title BENJI KNEWMAN came in, a magazine made in Riga, Latvia. The editor-at-large is Benji Knewman, an imaginary editor that leads you through the many stories of this first issue. There is guerilla gardening in L.A. and a cartoon about a Breaking Bad addiction. The magazine received some nice reviews on It's Nice That and Magculture.
We had a few questions for editor-in-chief Agnese Kleina and art director Madara Krievina.
What inspired you to start Benji Knewman? And how did you come up with the concept?

Agnese: We wanted to create this space where everyone would be free to simply be. Everyone – that includes us the makers, the heroes of the articles and features and, most importantly, our readers. There will never be advices on how to be a perfect man/woman, nobody will tell you what’s trendy or not. Come as you are and enjoy the freedom. Everyone is invited, no matter the age, profession or country of residency.

Now, about the concept. Madara and I, we are two girls but we didn’t want people to think that this is a girly bookazine (and we’re not that girly either). Also, we believe in imaginary friends. When Edijs, our real life friend, came up with five versions of potential names for the upcoming bookazine, this idea of a guy was among them. Then we spent six weeks elaborating the concept and thinking of the right name and surname. And so Benji Knewman came along.

What is the magazine scene like in Latvia? Are there more independent magazines?

Madara: There are a lot of mediocre mainstream magazines, but only few independent ones. Benji Knewman is the first and only bookazine (or mook) at the moment.

Agnese: Also, it’s the first bilingual – English-Latvian – bookazine in history. 

What are your favourite magazines at the moment and what is your favourite cover?

Madara: Content and design wise: Riposte, Apartamento, Printed Pages, Cat People. Wrap: Because of those cute wrapping papers/posters.

Agnese: In October I was in New York where I finally checked all those titles I had been mostly seeing on (as they’re not sold in Riga – yet). The one I actually purchased is Hello Mr., which, as we know, is about men who date men. One thing is that I’m an absolute book-size mag lover (my favourite is Apartamento and I like Kindling for that same matter), but another is that I look for life happening between the pages. Hello Mr. gave that to me big time (my favourite was the column on how a gay guy asks (or actually can’t ask) someone to take a picture of him and his BF when on holiday). As for covers, I can’t name one, as I believe that each title has its own path and style and you can’t really compare them.

Is Benji Knewman a literary magazine?

Agnese: It’s life that you can read. There are essays and interviews and poetic musings. And photo stories in between. Yes, I’d say it’s more on the literary side. It’s not a lifestyle mag that falls in love with a certain trend. It’s a reading matter that could be published today or maybe 20 years ago. Also, it’s interlocal (a name we came up with) – while it touches Riga, London, L.A and Alsace in France in the first volume, the people in those places could easily be from Melbourne or Amsterdam because the truth they express, the life experience they tell stories of, it’s something very universal and in the same time – very individual.

What will happen in the next issue?

Madara: We will start to plan Benji Knewman Vol. 2 next week somewhere between Christmas and New Year. Great things ahead. 
For Benji Knewman we do content driven design, so it’s pretty exciting to see what will come out of it for the second issue.

What’s the best thing about editing a magazine?

Agnese: Creating that space where we can simply be. Going places for the matter of meeting people I’d most probably not meet if not for Benji Knewman. Comparing my life experiences with those I hear from people featured in our bookazine. Agreeing that all is fine and there’s nothing you can miss.

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