“WE WANT IT NOW!”: How I ended up producing a magazine from scratch, almost all by myself, in 15 days

I have a strong customer satisfaction culture. Always had. I rarely say no to a project. Even on a shoe-string budget, I try to create the best possible product. And when you’ve been working in the publishing business for 25+ years, you think you’ve seen it all. Wrong! Very recently, my motivation, skills and professionalism have been put to the test. Check this out…

Clients. We need them. This is how business works. Supply and Demand. As sub-contractors, we love regular gigs. It means stable business and guarantees that you won’t have to hard sell yourself actively everyday only to be exhausted by the production cycle, only to go back to prospecting and so on. My stable business has a name: Panini.
For those unfamiliar with that company, Panini is a big company, present in 70 countries and which built its fame on collectible stickers.

The company is 50+ years and was created in Modena (Italy), where its HQ are still proudly standing. It was briefly part of the Marvel Entertainment Group in the 90s at the time they were expanding. And if this didn’t last, Panini ventured into publishing thanks to the Marvel deal and has been the House of Ideas’ master licensee for non-english territories ever since. Panini and I go way back. We’re like the odd couple.
We love each other. We sometimes hate each other. But we never break up.
I made many friends there. Mostly at the Italian offices.

In 2004, they were looking to reinvent their kids magazine line. We started talking. I created a horse magazine for them, Cheval Girl. Then helped with a Batman Magazine. Then 2,3,5,10 more. I can’t even remember how many magazines my team and I created or adapted for Panini. And it’s not even important. Right now, with my two intrepid editors (Adeline and Aurore), a couple of graphic designers (Pierre and Diane) and my old friend Xavier (19 years working together), we produce monthly or bi-monthly magazines for the French market with licenses like Star Wars, Pokémon, Yo-Kai Watch, Transformers or Spider-Man.

Now is the new schedule
Over the years, they developed this bad habit of calling me up when they have a very complex or nearly impossible thing to do. I can’t complain. I love challenges. Even though sacrifices come with the territory.
On May 19th, Panini’s Editor in Chief, Walter De Marchi, shoots me an email: “We have this stock of Fidget Handspinners, we want to create a magazine around that for early July. Can Grand Design do it?” (Grand Design Communications is the company I work for, my “day job”).
I scratched my head and my beard. Early july in stores with 3-4 days distribution and two and a half weeks for printing and packaging: that leaves about no time for production!
Summer is the busiest time for publishing in France. Kids are on vacation for nearly two months and they need to be kept busy. For magazine sales, it’s the best time period of the year. So all the clients want more magazines in the summer. May and June are the busiest times of the year for magazine packagers like us.
Among the magazines we produce for Panini, there’s this one: KomboMag! It’s the only non-licensed magazine we do for them. It’s a multi-license magazine with contents on TCG, video games and comics. The regular version is bimonthly and selling well. Our team writes and designs all the content. Last year, we started a line of themed specials with Pokémon Go. At that time, the time frame was even tighter: 10 days. But we could use some material already created by the German branch of Panini to speed up production. We did a second one in January 2017, with only 15 days, and with all original material, but all the team worked on this one. It was difficult but not hard.
Flash-forward to May 19th.
At the time, I was wrapping up a major relaunch of the Star Wars Magazine. But I knew I couldn’t say no. I called up my editors, Adeline and Aurore. None of them could handle it. My favorite graphic designer couldn’t also add it to his schedule. Too busy. It left me with no choice: do it all by myself.
Adeline agreed to deal with the copyediting. A huge relief. And I brought Xavier in for a couple of articles. But all the rest. All  of the 32 pages magazine content and design had to be done by a single person: me.

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On the right, the original cover for German Star Wars Magazine. On the left, my version. Adapting magazine can be sometimes an “extreme makeover” process.

Proving my theory still works
I wrote back to Walter that I’d do it if the deadline could be pushed from June 10 to June 13. Deal! Okay… So now, what do I do?
Strangely, I’m not in panic mode. I have confidence. My theory should work once again.
That theory got me tons of gigs in the early days of my previous company, Full FX. The secret is simple: when you write and design at the same time, you save time, money and you’re more flexible. As I had both skills, it was natural for me to do it. But I recruited and trained many collaborators to follow that same path. Worked every time. It’s just that, recently, I have been doing way more than just write and design. And going back to it full time, on a title, Kombomag! that I haven’t done in a while could’ve proved difficult.
But it was like riding a bike! Creating the flatplan, commonly called “railroad” (the table of contents), fetching information and graphics on the web, writing the articles, designing the whole thing. I wouldn’t say it was a piece of cake but it was okay. I still have it. I can still be an OMAC (One Man Army Corps for the comic book heads out there). Production started on May 29th, after I was done with Star Wars and Kombomag Special #3 was sent to the printer late on June 13th, EST. (that was already the 14th for Europe). Mission accomplished.

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The “railroad/flat plan” of Kombomag Special #3

Sure, even in a limited capacity, Aurore, Adeline and Xavier were precious in helping me achieving my mission. I won’t do it again every month, because I had to work overtime, 15 hours a day, including weekends, to pull it off, but once in a while, it reminds me why I like publishing that much: new challenges all the time.

So, who’s next in line?


To be continued.


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