George Macdonald & Greg Beer (VNA)
Based in London, Very Nearly Almost (VNA) is one of the world’s premier street art and graffiti magazines. Now in its fourth year, editor George and art director Greg continue to pack each issue with the best in coverage, interviews and features. Beautifully printed on paper that not only feels, but smells good, VNA lovingly documents the globe’s ever-changing street art scene. Brainer caught up with the two 31 year-olds to get some insight.
What are the day jobs?
George: 3D design
Why start the magazine? Where did the idea come from?
George: I got into graffiti at around 17 years old. I was in a small crew and used to write in the Kent area. A few years later I wasn’t painting anymore and I was just photographing graffiti everywhere I went. I soon got into shooting street art too. Mainly Banksy and D*Face and that soon turned into an obsession. In time I had thousands of photographs but they were sitting in piles in my bedroom doing nothing, so I stayed late at work a few nights and whacked out a zine on the work photocopier. I just needed a reason to keep shooting all this graffiti and street art I guess.
Greg: I came on board from issue 7 onwards and started pushing more interviews, features and some editorial style.
Why call the magazine Very Nearly Almost?
George: There is no real reason… But I think it was really a comment on my lack of direction. I was good at ideas and starting them up but I could never finish a project. I usually get bored too easily. I had tried to start a clothing label and tried to do some of my own art, but I kept losing concentration and starting something else so I was always very… nearly… almost there.
Was it hard to get the magazine up and running?
George: Well I gave away all of issue 1 and issue 2 and then decided to try selling a printed version… So it was pretty accidental and I still don’t know what I’m doing.
When did the first issue drop?
George: December 2006
Describe the typical process of getting a new issue of the magazine together.
Greg: We sit down towards the end of the current issue we are working on and start talking about who we want in the next issue. We have a core team of five who meet up regularly and we all diplomatically decide what is going to be in the next one. From there we work out who will do what features and interviews and start working. George and I do a lot of the back end work that no one sees (relationships with artists, organising interviews, advertisers, photoshoots, etc) while the rest of the team is working on following up stockists, doing interviews, chasing photos and photographers, working on the website and filming and editing bits and pieces.
Once we have most of the content I start working on the layouts for each interview. This takes me about a week or two because it’s all done after working hours… so a lot of late nights. George and the team flow in bits and pieces as they arrive and eventually we have a magazine almost done.
We all come together a few more times before going to print, organise the running order, read over it a million times, check and double check things, then check again before we print and we are done… well, kinda.
Once the mag has gone to print the fun stuff starts. We organise our limited edition release details and start working on that. All in all it’s pretty much a three month process… and I have just skimmed over what actually goes down. Let’s just say there are a lot of phone calls and we are always learning how to do things better and more efficiently.
George: What he said!
What do you love most about putting out a magazine?
Greg: For me its the satisfaction of putting something out there that I am proud of and something that is ours with all the things ‘we’ want in it! Plus I love working with different artists and people and being constantly busy and challenged by the changing face of VNA.
George: Yeah it feels good to be documenting a really exciting art movement and it’s very important that we do it. It’s great to get feedback from readers and also to meet all these amazing artists. I love seeing the magazine on the shelf of a bookshop or gallery, it makes it all worthwhile.
What do you hate most about putting out a magazine?
George: It’s a big hassle! Greg and I have full time jobs and girlfriends and social lives. So it’s tough to make it all happen in your spare time. Plus someone somewhere is always trying to take you for a ride! I’m no business man so it’s been an experience, but I’m still learning…
Greg: The time and effort involved in producing the end product (I love it, but also hate it!)
Have there ever been times where you’ve thought ‘screw it, let’s just pack it all in’?
Greg: Every issue! There is always a point where I think I am kinda over it. I think maybe I want to start something different… but then it comes good and we love it again. It’s normally when something massive gets out of hand and I start to wonder why I bother!
George: Yep… nearly every week.
Who’s been the craziest/most interesting artist to interview?
George: I enjoyed meeting and interviewing Mike Giant recently (hint) although he was really high every time I met him so it was tough at first. Jeff Soto was cool and really accommodating and Adam Neate was just the nicest guy I think I have ever met.
If you could give any budding editors and art directors any advice, what would it be?
Greg: Just get out there and do it. Start small. Put in content that you want. Do it for the love, because as soon as it’s for the money it changes.
George: Yeah start small and try not to make it too personal. If it sucks and you don’t feel its working out…. Try harder (or do what I did and get a decent art director in like Greg).
What does the future hold for the printed publication?
George: The closing of Borders confirmed the slow and painful death of print to me. It hit us hard too but we are moving on. I love printed media and collectable magazines and I know there are a lot of people out there who do too, so it will carry on I’m sure.
Greg: It’s all changing way to fast. Print is kinda going down which sucks, but the upside to this is that good quality publications are becoming more popular (in my mind anyways) and more collectable. There will always be a place for printed media… I mean people love books and magazines. Imagine having a hard drive with books on it. It’s just not the same.
Give us a preview on what’s to come in the new issue.
Greg: Ummmmm George was in San Francisco and L.A. in early February and managed to meet up with a few people out there. We have an amazing graffiti photographer lined up. The cover artist and what is planned for the limited edition release is sounding super amazing.That’s so vague. I gave away almost nothing. Bahahaha.
George: Yeah I kind of gave away a bit earlier… But we also have a really amazing cover artist for issue 11. He is a guy who covers all areas of what VNA is about, so we are really excited about what he can bring to the magazine. Plus lots of other good shit.
What can we expect from your new column on Brainer?
George: Lots of ranting about street art and graffiti.
Greg: Hopefully a little bit of an education in street art and graffiti. An insight into the lives of artists and what makes them tick. Maybe some studio visits? I am thinking we will just make it up as we go along…
Issue 11 of VNA hits shelves mid April.