Friday, June 29, 2012

Pop Twenty: A New Nostalgia Magazine

The premiere issue of Pop Twenty.
Could it be possible for too many magazines to be published about nostalgia pop culture? The answer is obvious: there can never be enough. At the recent Williamsburg Film Festival, I purchased a copy of Pop Twenty, a new magazine covering 20th Century Pop Culture including movies, TV, radio and music. The premiere issue is slick and glossy, and I for one am thankful that someone made it easy to decipher which issue it was with the number on the bottom right in simplistic fashion. (I hate squinting my eyes trying to see what issue number a comic book is -- those were always printed too small.)

As editor Robert S. Birchard explained in his introduction, "the lofty goal is to explore the edifying, enlightening and enriching aspects of trends, fashions and fads in these diverse media during what has been called 'the American century'...we wanted to create a place where we could write about stuff that fascinates us and share what we and other writers know about same. In other words, our aim is to have fun, and maybe offer some insights into how a favorite movie or show came to be and why it turned out the way it did."

After browsing the first issue, which creates the mold for which future issues will be shaped, I can certainly say this will become a guilty favorite. The first issues takes a look at the convoluted production history of Footlight Parade (Warner Bros, 1933), the Keystone Kosp origins of the CBS Radio Network (by Elizabeth McLeod), how James Dean came to be synonymous with Rock 'n' Roll even though he had no affinity for the music, an interview with Fred Waring known as "the man who taught America how to sing," a speculation that Howard Hughes might have lived many months beyond his reported demise, a profile of some of the better-known early memorabilia collectors, a behind-the-scenes glimpse at TV's I Married Joan, a reflection on why screen comic Charley Chase never lingered in the popular imagination the way Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields or Buster Keaton did, and to not divulge all the surprises, a few archival eye poppers.

Claudette Colbert and Warren William in Cleopatra.

I asked Mike Bifulco how the magazine came about. "It was while in SoCal last October for the Lone Pine Film Festival that I had initial conversations with Robert Birchard (an exceptional and widely published author) on his idea for a project that eventually became Pop Twenty," Mike explained. "Although it was my title idea (crazy as it is) and I provide the mechanical skills to put it together, Bob Birchard is really the driving force behind the concept and deserves credit for most of the writing as well as soliciting other fine writers to participate. We are presently wrapping up issue #2 that  will include articles on early television, an extensive interview with Steve Allen from the 1970s, a piece on Dorothy Lee, the silent version of The Ten Commandments, Tin Pan Alley's activities for the 1st World War effort, and a virtually unknown history of a lost silent film studio, all generously illustrated with rare and mostly unpublished photographs. Then, issue #3 will start coming together wrapped in a cover featuring Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra and promises to be even more exciting."

More than once I considered editing a magazine of my own but both time and money (mostly time) kept me from starting up such a project. And in a world where everything is going digital, I contemplated whether any success in the way of a large circulation could be accomplished. Personally, I prefer the hard copy edition of any magazine simply because I can store them in boxes or, in the case of this magazine which is in book form (112 pages thick), I can store it on my bookshelf. Besides, I wouldn't want to read the latest issues of Nostalgia Digest, America in WWII, Blood n' Thunder, Filmfax or Classic Images on a Kindle, iPad or laptop. It's just not the same... And since I spend over $400 in subscriptions for multiple magazines and fanzines every year, I prefer to have the hard copy format.

Over the years, many magazines revise the format, style, graphic layout and even the subject matter, deviating from what the initial intention was... always making me disappointed. Filmfax, for example, used to be a great magazine but is now considered a video catalog with a few magazine articles thrown in between. At one point in time, the editors of Filmfax began publishing mostly Bettie Page and Bela Lugosi articles and after a year's worth of Bettie and Bela, I decided not to renew my subscription. I eventually renewed when someone assured me that they stopped publishing mostly stage striptease and movie bloodsuckers, but it's still a video catalog in my opinion. (About a year ago the editors decided to cut a book review in half and even featured half of the book cover (not the entire front cover as scanned) solely to make more room for a half-page advertisement for a DVD they sell. Shame.) My only hope is that Michael BiFulco retains the already superb craftsmanship of his magazine throughout the next decade. I understand advertising is essential and I expect ads. Please don't make fifty percent of the magazine a video catalog! Seriously, this will be a superb magazine that you won't want to miss.

Small note: I would recommend you purchase your first issue today. Don't wait until "tomorrow." Reason being, the value and price of premiere issues often go up as the demand grows and the quantity of copies printed becomes scarce. I purchased a number of Monster Bash magazines (issue #1) at $3 a pop when they first became available. Last I saw it was going for $10 and it's only been three years. Ten years from now it will probably go for a lot more money. 

Pop Twenty is being offered for $12.99 retail (plus $3 shipping). You can buy your copy for less at www.coverout.com. Michael Bifulco, 1708 Simmons NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505. Send your check to Michael today or place your order online. Issue number two is now available as of the time this blog post goes virtual.

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