Huck Magazine’s editor Andy Kurland talks homophobia in skateboarding, her desire to cover China, and the problem with newsstand categories
Huck Magazine, a London-based bi-monthly publication, covers people and lifestyles that “paddle against the flow.” Named after the rebellious moxie of Huckleberry Finn, Huck has covered stories from Australian surfers to William S. Burroughs. Andrea “Andy” Kurland started at Huck after she received her journalism diploma, when the future of print publishing looked dire. “One day, they (Kurland’s professors) made us stand up and say what our dream magazine job would be – then told us to get ‘realistic’ and focus on ‘stable’ titles like Dentists Today or Farmers Weekly or whatever,” said Kurland. She refused to accept this narrow prognosis. Kurland and her Huck colleagues embodied their own maverick mantra and carved out a readership. Eight years later, Huck still feeds a hungry niche of DIY-people. Zinio connected with Kurland over e-mail. This interview has been condensed and edited.
Recently, the magazine devoted an entire issue to documentary photography. What triggered that decision?
The Documentary Photography Issue was our way of reminding readers that behind every story ever commissioned for Huck lies a photographer who’s not just a lensman but a storyteller with a unique perspective. They each bring a canvas of influences to their work – whether they’re passionate about global development, social change or niche subculture scenes – and every story is so much richer for it. We wanted to share their personal work, because those stories are a little insight into who they are as people, too. I could fill every issue with their personal projects – and given free reign I probably would! Their curiosity for the world is endlessly inspiring.
Your tagline is “Radical Culture.” What are the criteria for being radical?
Radical, for us, is anything or anyone that challenges the dominant discourse – even if it’s in a small way like starting a record label or skate company in your bedroom because no one else would give you a shot. It’s that DIY attitude that gave birth to everything we admire and love: punk, skateboarding, surfing, activism, hip-hop, outsider art, indie publishing – people who make something happen because they have an urge to make something happen. Whether they’re consciously railing against the system is irrelevant; the fact that they’re challenging the perceived way of things just by acting on their ambitions is enough for us.
Radical culture is mercurial by nature. Do you see any trends developing that are surprising?
One ‘trend’ that a lot of people find surprising that we’re surrounded by every day is the continued relevance of print. But for us, it’s not surprising at all. To think that everyone was proclaiming the “Death of Print” five or so years ago feels laughable. The indie publishing scene isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving. Look around at independent titles like Boat Magazine, Apartamento, Apology, The Smith Journal, and you’ll find passionate, intrepid people who won’t stop what they’re doing – even if their accountant thinks they’re nuts. And that’s because there’s a strong community that supports what we do. So long as people stay curious and continue to live in the real world, there will be demand for good content in a tangible form.
Do you compare yourself to any other magazine or dislike any comparisons people make?
Sometimes people draw comparisons with Desillusion, Monster Children, and Vice because we exist in the same commercial sphere in terms of ad sales. But I think, in general, people have a hard time “categorizing” Huck – which is both a blessing and a curse. It throws up some really interesting placements on the newsstand for starters (my favorite was when we were placed under Boating because we had a surfer on the cover but there was no surf section in the store). Finding a way to communicate what we stand for is a never-ending task, but I don’t believe it’s best achieved within the narrow parameters currently on offer. Our readers are intelligent enough to appreciate that we can talk about art in one breath and activism in the next.
Does the magazine send writers all over the world or rely on a network of stringers to cover stories?
Huck is a fundamentally global endeavour. Every issue is the collective effort of a network of dozens and dozens of people spread across the world, working in different time zones and from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. The core editorial team is three people who work day in and day out in Shoreditch, East London; we aren’t just interested in Shoreditch, East London. So Huck is entirely reliant on the lattice of people we’ve come to know and admire over the years. Local stories are best told through a local lens, so we go directly to the source.
What’s your advice for pitching Huck?
Read it first. It’s amazing how many people fall at the first hurdle. Engage with the mag, get a sense for what makes us tick, and then hit us with a killer pitch. Do your research. You may be super passionate about surfing in Palestine, but, if we’ve just written about surfing in Palestine we may steer clear of that story for a while. Persistence and patience really pays off. I may rue the day I say this – but please do chase up your pitches. We are inundated with ideas, so you need to make yourself heard.
Is there a part of the world or a story you are dying to cover?
Yes. China. What are young people excited about in Tianjin or Chongquin? What are they doing to piss their elders off? I would love to get some of our best reportage photographers and journalists to chip away at the barricades that Chinese authorities seem intent on keeping up. I am always drawn to any story coming out of the African continent or the Middle East – both regions just seem to breed a sense of urgency in youth – so I find I have to reign myself in to give other regions a chance.
What are the definitive Huck features people should read to get acquainted with the publication?
Every issue, we aim to unearth new sources of inspiration by exploring the moments and movements that shape the people we admire. So, if you want to get a feel for Huck, I would recommend our guest-edited issues – like when Mark Gonzales curated an entire mag and shone a light on people as diverse as Ray Pettibon and Cara Delevigne, or the time Dave Eggers handpicked his favorite emerging writers. I would recommend our ongoing series The Working Artisan’s Club, which highlights indie designer-makers who are railing against economies of scale by making everything by hand, Bryan Derballa’s Last Days of Youth, a photo essay from The Documentary Photography Issue that feels like an allegory for anyone who’s ever come of age, and our report on homophobia in skateboarding which uncovered a few uncomfortable home truths.
Huck has embraced digital in a big way, from the website to exclusive original content on Huck.TV. What makes the print magazine stand out other than it doesn’t have batteries?
Consuming the print magazine is a fundamentally different experience to reading it or watching it online – that’s why we spend hours and hours tweaking picture edits or thinking about the careful placement of a caption. At every stage of the commissioning and editing process we’ve got that double-page spread in mind; where will the headline go, how will the pullquote speak to the picture edit, how will the images marry with the words, what story should come after this one for balance and flow. If you’re passionate about print, you get incredibly pedantic about that stuff.
Click here to get Huck Magazine on Zinio.