If you're much surprised by how the new issue of Deek looks, you probably haven't been paying attention. The creators of the locally based indie magazine have endowed each issue with a different visual style, from Unabomber typescript to trash-chic fan mag.
Still, Deek's April return from a five-month hiatus marks the first time in a while that it'll be in full color. The format will be a little bigger, too. So if you sense that the torn photos, gnawed flags and crumpled-paper backgrounds that dominate "The Brutality Incident" constitute an approach more coherently stylish than usual, you're on to something after all. Editor Matt Stroud and art director Nate Boguszewski want to keep making their publication more professional ... while still preserving the avocational passion that's made it a forum for fresh, challenging writing and art.
Deek first went to paper as a monthly in October 2003, when the online magazine Stroud founded as an undergrad got some University of Pittsburgh funding. When Stroud graduated, Deek began soliciting paid ads, and added glossy covers and full-color printing to its newsprint format. But the range of approaches in the fiction, essays and photo features has remained wide: from curious inquiry to caustic satire, plus the occasional fake record review.
Previous Deek "incidents" have included "war," "race" and "fraud." But the collaborators didn't know how to do brutality "without completely depressing everyone," says Stroud (who's also an occasional CP contributor). "We needed a break anyway," adds Boguszewski. The hiatus let them marshal resources for the return to color and for the slightly larger format. It also gave more time to designer Houston McIntire.
The magazine, now planned as a bi-monthly, remains free of charge and available at distribution boxes in Oakland, Squirrel Hill and South Side. The new issue includes "What Charlie Saw," longtime contributor Jesse Hicks' thoughtful essay on Charles Whitman's deadly 1966 University of Texas bell-tower shooting spree. Other worthy pieces available for preview included an interview with British author Chris Cleave about his controversial post-9/11 novel Incendiary.
Stroud himself contributes a long essay (unavailable for preview) on the culture of "death films": real footage of people dying, the stock in trade of an unsettlingly vast entertainment underground. Stroud says that while no one's ever authenticated a literal "snuff film" ... footage of a killing arranged purely for entertainment ... researching the piece "brought me down quite a bit."
Indeed, the personal stake Deek's staff and other contributors have in the unpaid work they produce is one thing that distinguishes it. Or so Stroud has learned from both unsolicited reader feedback and informal marketing surveys (no, really, they used forms and everything). Deek readers, he discovered, want more interaction with the text. Some of them, in other words, wanted to write Deek themselves.
That approach harkens to Deek's roots as a submission-based (rather than staff-driven) endeavor. "Brutality Incident" includes CD reviews by K. Ashton Reed, a local musician from whom, Stroud says, "I got four or five e-mails saying, 'I need to be your music editor.'"
Interviewed nine days before the planned April 15 street date, Stroud and Boguszewski had yet to determine the size of their press run, which has varied from 1,000 copies to 10,000.
Dual "Brutality Incident" release parties, on April 14 and 15, will both feature local bands, though the first includes a "Body Shot Olympics" and "Ramen Noodle Wrestle-off," while the second is "The Artsy One."
No matter how slick it looks, or how close it gets to paying for itself, Deek seems likely to remain a labor of love. Of course, more structure wouldn't hurt.
"We'd like to make it a little more professional," says Stroud. "Paying writers is something that we definitely aspire to do."