Howler Magazine is a magazine about soccer, made in the USA, 4 times a year, for a global audience. They just teamed up with Gatorade, helping them telling the stories of the four clubs – Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus and Liverpool – which feature in the new Gatorade advertising campaign. One Saturday Afternoon talked to George Quraishi, one of the founders of Howler Magazine. “We love illustration.”
Hi George, tell us something about yourself and the first steps of Howler Magazine.
“I was a non-fiction editor at HarperCollins. My partner Mark Kirby had been an editor at GQ. We were both a little weary of the publishing industry, which was (and is) going through a difficult period, but starting the magazine seemed like a way to continue doing what we love — working with great writers. The subject, for us, was easy. We’re both very passionate about soccer, but we came at it from the two ends of a spectrum you often see in America: I had played since I could walk (my father grew up in England and played professionally here in the U.S., in the 1970s) and Mark played it as a kid like lots of Americans but sort of lost touch with the game as he grew up, though he continued watching as a casual fan. As soccer fans, we knew that the mainstream sports press didn’t really do a very good job of covering the game in the rich, narrative forms that Howler employs.”
How did the magazine evolve, after it’s first issue in 2012?
“We do new things in every issue. And we’re still figuring out which stories resonate with our audience. Luckily, American soccer fans have extremely diverse interests, so we’re able to experiment quite a lot.”
It’s very graphics-orientated… why?
“We love illustration. And the mag’s trim size is 10×12 inches, so it gives us a very large page to work with. We find that illustration gives us a way to express our sense of humor and make editorial statements in a way we wouldn’t be able to if we relied solely on photography.”
From our perspective, animation and graphics is being more and more used in sports journalism/story telling.
“It’s a really exciting way to tell stories. I think sports marketing and editorial has relied on photography and real video for a long time, because it’s easily available and comparatively much less expensive, and it often does a very good job of conveying the drama and excitement of sports. I don’t think it will become very widespread because the cost of doing it well is quite high. However, for some stories, animation is absolutely the best medium.”
Then, the collaboration with Gatorade! Something completely different than print! Isn’t it?
“Very different from print. Then again, it was an opportunity to tell stories, and to use illustration just like in the magazine. Also, we have a narrative-driven podcast called Howler Radio, so we have some experience using audio journalism to tell stories. But yes, the project for Gatorade was an exciting opportunity to flex some muscles we haven’t used before.”
How does a print magazine about soccer end up working with a giant like Gatorade?
“Gatorade (and its advertising agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day) asked us to help create something that would accompany their new advertising campaign and help tell the stories of the four clubs they partner with. They wanted something creative that would get at the unique identity of each of those four clubs—Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus, and Liverpool. We’re always surprised and pleased when people like our work enough to want to collaborate. But we have done some projects with big brands in the past; Nike, Major League Soccer, the LA Galaxy and now the Portland Timbers.”
From there… how did you guys go about?
“It was a sprint! We had to identify the people who would be telling the stories, then record the voiceover. We had to get the illustrators started on the artwork so they could deliver it to the animation/after-effects specialists. In the meantime, we were working with a music house and a sound designer to get those aspects right. For Barcelona we chose Golden Cosmos, who have a very bright, energetic, and some what geometric style. We thought that would really express the tight, intricate movement described in the voice over.”
What does this collaboration with Gatorade – and sidestep to animated video – mean for the future of Howler Magazine?
“This is now something in our repertoire, and we’re eager to do more with it. There are so many stories from the magazine that I think would be well-served through animation. For example, this story about a fan who was pulled out of the fans and sent onto the field to play a game for West Ham United is one of our most popular stories ever, in both print and audio formats. I’d love to see what a great illustrator and animator could do with it…”
The testimonials from different media are very positive; the New York Magazine defines Howler Magazine as ‘brilliant and high brow’; how do you avoid it being ‘to high brow’? How do you avoid being to ’niche’?
“We are niche, and that’s okay. The bulk of our revenue comes directly from readers, not advertisers. This means that if we were to compromise on the quality, or dilute our point of view, our readers would probably respond by giving up on us. So you could say that an effort to try to be distinctly Howler, and not try to be all things to all potential readers, is what has helped us to grow.”
Founders Mark Kirby (left) and George Quraishi. They have been working full-time on Howler since July 2012. Quraishi studied African history at Yale and then worked for a couple of magazines in New York. Quraishi met Kirby when Quraishi, still in college, was interviewed by Kirby for an internship at National Geographic Adventure.