We’ve been hearing that print is dead for years now. It obviously isn’t true: look at the beautiful food magazine Lucky Peach, or any issue of McSweeney’s, or the excitement around reissues of old classics with fresh cover designs (Peter Mendelsund’s Kafka editions, anyone?), or any other print book with striking presentation (the paperbacks of Bolaño’s 2666 or Murakami’s 1Q84, to name just a couple). Yet the Web has grown into an equally great place for lovely presentation of lovely writing. Long-established journalism outlets have moved their book coverage online, or revamped it— check out the Slate Book Review, or the New Yorker’s renamed Page-Turner blog — but scores of literary magazines have been killing it online for years.
We’d like to present just a few that have particularly nice design online. Some of these are print magazines that also publish on the Web, while some are online-only. Alert: this is by no means a ranking of the best literary magazines! Nor are we evaluating the literary style of these publications. We just want to share a sampling of those with great-looking web sites. Still, sound off in the comments, litnerds, and let us know which is your favorite, and which ones we forgot.
There have been three print issues of Minneapolis-born Paper Darts, which also publishes fiction, nonfiction, and original art online. The design is full of drawings and illustrated text, but it is not messy or cluttered. We love the hip, strange, female Frankenstein/octopus thing that shows up on the left side of every page (the litmag says it has “a beer in one tentacle and a book in another”) and we love the colors—charcoal, teal, mustard—that bring the site to life.
The mimimal, bare-bones design (but what pretty bones they are) of this litmag is pretty far from the busy look of Paper Darts, but it aligns sensibly with what Birkensnake does: handmade print editions, bound with thread, and all of the work posted online in a no-bullshit, clean format optimal for reading and enjoying—no share buttons, no social media stats. The snake photo at right is a simple navigation hub: hover your mouse over “Index of Work” and all of the stories show up, alphabetical by title or author. And the entire thing utilizes only two shades of a pleasing purple and pink.
“Little boxes, on the hillside…” You know the rest. The homepage of Metazen, which is an entirely online gig and publishes poems, stories, interviews, cartoons and novel excerpts, is arranged in little boxes. And they look very nice, each one with a tiny circular thumbnail of the artwork that shows up in larger form once you click. We like the cheekiness of the litmag’s “How Metazen Works” page, which divulges the schedule: on Monday, “a story is published.” On Tuesday, “a story is published.” You get the idea. On the right of the homepage, one story gets the vertical treatment, encouraging a bit of thoughtful scrolling.
Now, The Paris Review is obviously a heavy-hitter, and a bit of a bigger deal, perhaps, than some of the smaller upstarts included here. But the Internet is the great equalizer, and looks matter. Even as the 50+ year old publication continues to do nice things in print, its website impresses too. We appreciate the simple top toolbar with the hand-drawn, black-and-white city sketch. At the right, sensibly, is an unimposing thumbnail of the new print issue, and scroll all the way to the bottom for a full-on, expansive art attack.
Here’s another well-established publication whose website mirrors its print product well. Online, The Believer matches the recognizable artwork and colors of its big, sexy magazine, and with the same shade of Birkensnake pink as its background, it is clean and soft. The Believer doesn’t publish fiction, but it does present its essays, reviews and interviews with a wink in the intro text, listing any and every clever point broached as a topic tag, like “Dylanishness” or “Bourdieu as Applied to Hipsterism.” Hard not to love.
Fwriction: review (probably pronounced just like “friction,” but who can be sure?) publishes work that “melts faces and rocks waffles.” It is online-only, and in fact the web site is just a Tumblr page. But that simple option to click the heart at top right ends up giving a lot of nice love to the very good stories and poems that the mag posts once a week. The look is sensible and simple — click a genre and see all posts as a list (though, if we could make one suggestion, the lists should be arranged with most recent work at the top). Text is clear and large and unfettered by ads or artwork. Like Birkensnake, it’s a format that truly showcases the writing.
The black, white and red look of Guernica, as well as its fonts, is reminiscent of the website of Boston Review, another nice outlet. Guernica, an arty litmag that does print and web publishing, much of its content political, has a lot going on, but all of it is clear and cleanly presented. Once you click to an article, you’ll find a beautiful photo or artwork at top, with share buttons appropriately restrained, housed in one unobtrusive button at top left. Yes, there is a large ad at right, but it’s for something that, if you’re at Guernica, probably interests you, like Lapham’s Quarterly, for example. Pull-quotes from each piece are in bold italics, and an author bio at bottom comes with a nice thumbnail photo and the opportunity to comment. Guernica is a far cry from the stark minimalism of a Birkensnake or Fwriction: review, but it is lovely in its grandiosity.
Easily one of the biggest, best-known litmags on the planet, Granta’s web site has many treasures to offer. The homepage is perhaps busier than we’d like, but click through to a piece of writing and the noise fades away as you scroll. Big, clean text that begins with a different-colored drop-cap first letter, and features nice-looking pull-quotes much like Guernica. We also like how each issue has an informative landing page that tells you which stories are fiction and which are non-fiction, as well as offering you online-only stories that match the theme of a certain issue but did not appear in print.
The folks at under-the-radar Fiddleblack, run out of Peninsula, OH, focus on “antipastoralism” and “concept horror.” Their gorgeous web site — one of the very prettiest of all these very pretty sites — reflects that well. In striking shades of gray (no, not fifty of them), tabs lead to high-intellect explanations of the magazine’s mission, and a large horizontal panel on the homepage dissolves into different photographs of deer and other dark nature scenes. The covers of its web issue — Fiddleblack will also put its out its first print issue this year — are compelling and ominous. Full disclosure: the author of this post has written for Fiddleblack.
The annalemma is a scientific curve-figure representing the angles of the Sun (or something). But Annalemma the magazine is printed twice a year and updated regularly online with fiction, nonfiction and, on its blog, bits of commentary. The website is closer in spirit to the Grantas and Guernicas of this list; we really like the different-colored tabs, but most surprising and splashy are the big, expansive explosions of colorful art on the top of some stories (for a real mind-blower check out the art that comes with recent story “The Devil’s Face”). This also happens to be another one of the litmag sites unfettered by any ads, a rare and beautiful thing.
The prolific Pank Magazine, which publishes a great-looking print product, a number of “little books,” and frequent fiction, nonfiction, poetry and reviews (sometimes of other litmags, which is wonderful) online, has a playful look. The category tabs are all in brackets, and the rolling photograph header features old-time shots, we’re not sure from where, of everything from soldiers to farmers to parachuters to telephone wires. The [Litmag] page delivers everything from all its formats in an easy-to-digest menu, and the stories are in black-on-white text with author bios in a pleasingly inverted box of white-on-black text.
A zyzzyva is a tropical weevil, but it’s also the last word in the dictionary. Zyzzyva calls itself the “last word” on West Coast writers and artists. A print magazine with a rich heritage (it has published Murakami! Aimee Bender! Adrienne Rich!), its website is the bee’s knees, with Z-branded weevil at top and an abstract collage of beautiful pastels (tropical indeed). Ads for t-shirts or bundles of the very handsome print product line up on the side, but the writing itself gets a Birkensnake-like treatment: text only, no art, no photos, no big author bios — though it does allow commenting, thus establishing just a bit of bloggy flavor.