Recovery room

Every time I send another issue of the magazine to press, I kid myself into thinking that I’ve got a few days to relax. Utter rubbish, of course: the moment I’ve managed to catch up on a couple of hours’ sleep (I always seem to end up doing an all-nighter to get the magazine to the printers on time), I awake with a start, my mind racing. “Blast!” I think to myself, “I promised to email x and y and I’ve got to ring so-and-so to check how many copies they need and then there’s that new distributor who needs chasing and I need to announce the new issue on TMP and OSW and WD3 and now I need to chase everyone to re-subscribe and I’ve got the tax returns to do and the annual report to the shareholders…” You get the picture, I’m sure.

The truth is, would I recommend anyone to try running a magazine on their own? No, don’t be daft. But it is, certainly, exciting. You get to find out things going on inside the industry, what’s coming next, and a surprising number of things that people say, “That’s just between you and me, Henry, please don’t tell anyone just yet.” How frustrating is that!

But the best thing is the tremendous sense of satisfaction you get every time you produce a new issue. It’s always an enormous challenge, deciding what to include, what to leave out, how to edit someone’s copy without changing either the meaning or their style. A good editor should be, in effect, invisible. As the reader, you shouldn’t be thinking “ooh, that sounds odd!” You should cruise through the text completely naturally, enjoying and savouring every morsel. And I am, first and foremost, a writer, so I try to edit anyone’s article in the way that I would wish my own writing to be treated by someone else.

But I’m not just a writer. I’ve been a graphic designer since 1991. Someone on another website said a while ago something like, “as graphic artists, they make great writers.” (I get used to people talking about me in the plural: it’s not a reference to the fact that I’m overweight, I’m sure — no, it’s that they find it hard to believe that there really is actually only one guy, sitting alone in a garret in Hove, doing all the editing, photography, design, layout, advertising sales, administration, marketing and so on.)

Now, the reason I mention this is that I’ve been using software like Photoshop since it was first created, more or less. In the course of running a successful design agency, there were many times when I designed quite outlandish and extravagant pieces of work. But, and this is the important part, only if and when it was appropriate for the job in hand.

Now, we all know that there are other wargaming publications out there that focus on, shall we say, the ‘eye candy’ aspects of the hobby. And why not? Heck, it seems to sell magazines, and good luck to them. But the fact is that I approached this project from a quite different perspective. I’ve said this on open fora before, so forgive me for the repetition when I say that the magazines that I wanted to rekindle in wargamers’ minds were Practical Wargamer and, even earlier, Battle for Wargamers, part of the Military Modelling stable. Some of you may also be old enough to remember The Courier and Wargamers Newsletter. And, of course, that inspirational journal MWAN, edited by dear Hal Thinglum for so many years.

What was special about these journals? Well, I use that word advisedly: journals. These were publications in which writers were given the space to write, encouraged to express original thoughts and ideas, however eccentric they may at first have seemed. Their pages resounded with erudition, fine prose, a sense of fun on the one hand but also a genuine and serious interest in history, and its recreation on the tabletop on the other. But there was also much written about what we would now call ludology, the science of gaming itself, the effects of the imponderable, and the systems underlying our hobby.

Most of all, as a child of nine or ten, I read these articles with a true sense of wonder. There was something magical about the way Charles Grant, for example, expressed himself, or the brimming enthusiasm of Don Featherstone. Who, if you saw them, could ever forget Tony Bath’s series on the fictitious wars of Hyboria? I’m sure that each and every one of us old enough to remember them has a favourite article or series and, more than likely, will still have those frayed-edge copies on our shelves somewhere.

Now, I like a good photo as well as the next man. My father, in fact, was a professional, and I do my best to provide inspiring photos whenever I can. But the focus — pardon the pun — of Battlegames is on the writing.

So, let’s swing back to the question of design again. Under these circumstances, given the ‘brief’ that I, as client, give myself, as designer, then the outcome must surely be what it is: a clean, uncluttered layout, with classic, elegant typography, designed to enhance the process of reading, not detract from it.

So, whilst I know that you can buy other magazines with all kinds of fancy stuff going on in the background of the pages — and I know, because I buy them too — the fact is that the legibility of the text is severely compromised in the process. And whilst I know that there are magazines out there that use sans-serif fonts for their body text, the fact is that works just fine on the Web, but in print, a classic serif font dramatically enhances legibility.

I’m not just making this up. I have taught graphic design for many years, and have run more independent tests than you can shake a stick at.

There’s something else, too. I always ask my contributors if they can supply their own photography. Now, whilst I know that most writers aren’t exactly David Bailey, I much prefer to include images that relate directly to the text they accompany. I have grown tired of seeing swathes of photography in magazines that bear no relation to what I am reading about in the article, or have evidently simply been posed in a studio in such an odd fashion that makes it clear that this isn’t a real game that we’re looking at. The time for ‘eye candy’ is when we have a piece about painting or modelling — Dave Robotham’s superb contributions come to mind — or about a specific collection, or a report from a show where there are spectacular demo games. Yes, it would be nice if I had the money and resources to invite everyone to Battlegames HQ, and lay on a game of anything you care to mention, which I could photograph ‘in action’, but that’s simply not practical. And, if the copious correspondence I receive is anything to go by, that’s not what my readers want, because it’s not ‘real’.

And there’s the rub. The people who buy and enjoy Battlegames are the gamers who like to see wargaming as it really is, for the most part. I won’t say warts and all, because I feel that there is a role for a magazine to inspire and encourage hobbyists to do their best, but I’m certain that can be done without making the average gamer feel inadequate or unimportant. We can all admire the enormous talent of a Robotham, a Dallimore or a Weiss, but the fact is that all of us, if we’re honest, tend to be satisfied with something less, if only to get our troops on the table more quickly!

But ultimately, the bottom line is this: there are now so many high-quality wargaming publications on the market (off the top of my head, I can name Wargames Journal, Wargames Illustrated, Miniature Wargames, Dadi e Piombo, Wargames Soldiers and Strategy, Vae Victis, HMG Magazine and White Dwarf), not to mention the plethora of websites and blogs that have sprung up in recent years, that there’s really nothing to get worked up about. If you’re primarily and eye-candy man, then Battlegames may not be for you. But if you’re not scared of getting a bit of a cerebral work-out, and you like to be able to read what you’ve paid for, and you want to feel like you’ve bought something that has had a great deal of care and attention lavished on it, right down to the last comma: well, come and join the Battlegames family.

And as a postscript, I want to say a huge “thank you” to those of you who have already come aboard, and have taken the trouble to email me, add a comment to this blog or even, in this predominantly electronic age, write me a letter. Some of the comments have been utterly amazing, and all I can say is that I’m delighted that so many people have been touched by my efforts in the way you have.

Let me just leave you with a small extract from a wonderful letter I received just yesterday, from a very nice chap I met during my recent visit to Rheindahlen in Germany.

“…After quickly completing the days chores before 09.00 am I did something I haven’t done in years… I crawled back into bed with a cup of tea and three issues of Battlegames, feeling as happy as a young boy who has just been told the good news that he has a cold and cannot attend school today.

After only reading a few pages I realized that this magazine was keeping all the promises it had made on Saturday in Rheindahlen. Years ago in Battle for Wargamers there were always one or two articles per issue which were very inspiring indeed. This trend has been diminishing in the mainstream wargames magazines in the last ten years. The last wargames article which led to a new period being started and still played by me today was in dear old Stuart Asquith’s sadly missed Practical Wargamer in Spring 1998. However, the golden days seem to be back again, a modern magazine has captured the flavour and feeling of the days which first hooked me on wargaming.” A.L.P, Münster

4 comments for “Recovery room

  1. marchf
    June 8, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Dear Henry

    A noble ambition, and why I will resubscribe. But please also remember that Battle used to have eye candy as well (Peter Gilder on the Front cover etc), so please don’t be afraid to have some nice photos. My favourite so far are from issue 1 (or 2 maybe) of the plastic Napoleonic cavalry clash – because I’m a plastics fan!

  2. April 27, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I’ve said it before to you and many other Henry. Battlegames is the only magazine I read from cover to cover. Even if I have no interest in the period I will still happily read it. Excellent stuff!

  3. stevethewargamer
    April 19, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Spot on Henry… absolutely spot on. Everything is geared these days towards it being “easy”, and increasingly this has also been the case in the wargaming magazines… big picture spreads take up page space that you then don’t have to fill up with words (which you know your readers don’t really want as it’s harder for them to read than look)… what’s increasingly irritating is that the pictures often aren’t even captioned – I’ll admit i’m as much a sucker for a nice piece of wargame eye candy as the next gamer, but I do like a bit of detail on what I’m looking at!

    Well done, and keep it up – the magazine is a source (at long last) for brain food – it feeds the imagination, and gets you thinking…

  4. grimmariner
    April 18, 2007 at 7:58 am

    Henry you’ve got it absolutely right.

    Battle for Wargamers and Practical Wargamer were terrific magazines that left a void in the market when they stopped. A void now filled with Battlegames and brought back some of the enthusiasm into the hobby.

    Just remember to read this post back to yourself in five years before you start to decline in the way so many before have done (and I mean decline in the way that WI went – all pictures and no content).

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