Here is a transcript (if that is the right word) of the talk we gave at the EMC2011 on July 7th 2011.
In 1938 Frank Chapman said the following:
‘It takes a great deal of boldness.. mixed with a vast deal of caution.. to launch a new monthly magic publication.. and it takes ten times as much wit to keep it going..’
He produced Chaps Scrapbook.
In 1986 we’re sitting around at a convention, we looked around said:
‘This is boring, let’s start a magic magazine’
We produced Opus.
It was to be an antidote to the bland reporting of the magic press.
There was a view at the time that if you couldn’t report positive things, it was best to say nothing at all. Opus did not agree.
Opus was Ian Keable, me, David Britland and JJ.
Ian wanted to write about magic, I liked drawing, David knew lots of stuff and JJ was good at putting things in envelopes.
Each magazine was to contain a major feature, an interview, an in depth report of a convention or major event, reviews of books both present and past and a gossip column called Click Click
While not being a tricks magazine the tricks it did have were all actually performed by the contributors.
Our aim was summed up on the first page.
‘I would like to say that we have
designed Opus to be a magazine that we
ourselves would like to read, look at
and maybe learn from. We hope you share
the same view’.
Our first issue came off the press in September 1987 and the launch was at the IBM Convention, Harrogate.
The launch was successful and we took enough subscriptions to cover the production costs for our first year. We had an amazing list of contributors for both interviews and tricks in volume one:
Nothing from Nick Nicholas yet?
We had enough to take a stand at FISM in Den Haag in 1988, where we took subscriptions, sold back issues and gathered material for volume two. I had just bought a video camera so that I could gather any trick material. It was very easy to go around and film the contributor doing the trick, I would then do drawings form watching the recording.
It’s all very well doing honest reporting about how bad you think someone was but eventually you come face to face with the people you write about…
An up and coming magician approaches the Opus stand… I had recently written…
“…as to whether I ever see the next act again is a matter of supreme indifference to me… never have I seen an act so in love with himself as this man… I left but was told later that he used a line “Your name is what we call our dog.”
Here he is was… face to face…
“What is this?”
“ A new magic magazine”
“It looks interesting… can I subscribe?”
“Do you have back issues?”
“Ok I will subscribe and buy all the back issues…”
Before I could take his money I had to tell him…
“We have written a negative review of your work…”
“May I see it?”
He reads it… reaches into his pocket for his cheque book… subscribes and buys all the back issues…
Fair play to Joe Labero…
I saw Eugene Burger heading towards the stand muttering darkly.
“Soooo, this is Opus, where’s your editor Ian Keable?”
I turned to look at Ian, he’d gone!
Whenever there was trouble of this sort my tactic was simple but effective, I’d say… “I’m sorry, I just draw the pictures.”
Standard art department operating procedure.
After the convention Ian decided to step down as editor to pursue his professional magic career, however he continued to contribute over the life of the magazine.
We were confident Opus had a future so we soldiered on. JJ became editor and continued to put things in envelopes. I still did the drawings and David Britland continued to write because he knew lots of ‘stuff’.
For the second volume I played around with the look of the magazine some more. I say magazine but for me Opus was more informed by the world of the fanzine which I’d define as something that is self published and driven by an enthusiasm with a subject.
At the start a big influence and inspiration for the look of Opus was the work of Eric Mason on Pabular
SLIDE 2 PABULAR AND ERIC
He was an artist and a fabulous magician and his work in both areas left an impression on me. People have told me they are reminded of Pabular when they see Opus, although they are quiet different, but he was an artist who loved magic and that came through. I’d like to think my approach was the same as Eric’s, although he’s a much better artist.
As you know by now I liked doing drawings and had a good time coming up with spot illustrations, different styles of layout and coming up with cover ideas.
SLIDES 3/4/5 ILLUSTRATIONS/LAYOUTS/COVERS
As Opus became more established amongst a small but impressive section of the magic world the contributors to the magazine grew. The second volume ha kind offerings from people such as David Williamson Lennert Green, Roberto Giobbi Albert Goishman and so on (Nick Nickolas hadn’t sent anything yet…)
In those days if you wanted your views out there you sent a magazine to be published. Now a days you would just post then on your blog or favourite forum… an example…
(Show the letter typed by Max Maven) A real letter from an envelope from Max …who by the way was one of our greatest supporters all through the life of Opus with his letters, articles and eventually help with the conventions.
An indication of our growing readership came when Richard Kaufman published Williamson’s Wonders. On the back of the book was a magazine article, in its entirety, called ‘Who is David Williamson’. Can you imagine a time when magicians would ask that question? ‘Who is David Williamson’ was one of JJ’s ‘Tales from the Wagon’ columns from Opus.
Tales from the Wagon?
My series of articles “Tales from the Wagon” was so called because I had a motor home, a “live in” vehicle (an RV for the Americans). This vehicle and a close working relationship with the Ron McMillan family of Internation Magic, London was why we were able to tour the magic conventions of Europe… we transported all the company stock to the conventions and it paid our costs.
It wasn’t just Europe.
One day we found ourselves in Hollywood.
The first time we lectured and performed at the Magic Castle we met Billy McComb who warned us of some possible trouble because of an Opus report. It was a revelation to us how many people were reading what Opus was saying. This was before the internet had flourished and there seemed to be a fine market in bootleg copies But Billy was a lovely man and was looking after us he’d even given his issues to Dai Vernon to read. One the treasured items from the Opus archive is a quote hand written by Vernon. At the time the Professor tore it up because he was embarresed by his hand writing, he said it had become too shaky. Billy rescued it from an ashtray and taped it together. He gave it to us before we left.
SLIDES 6/7 VERNON”S QUOTE
This why was why we worked so much and kept the magazine going… support and encouragement from a world wide range of magicians…
“It is writing like this that makes Opus my magazine of choice…” Mike Caveney
“Opus makes me think about magic and that has great value…” Max Maven
“I have always liked Opus because it dared to be different…” Roy Walton..
Frankly I loved the fact that people came up and told us stuff…
I was surprised at how much people cared about what we thought of their work…
I really enjoyed sitting and interviewing huge stars… how generous they were with their time… Me JJ hanging out with..Mike Caveny and Tina Lennert, Larry Parker, Lennert Green, Franz Harary and for goodness sake Channing Pollock!
SLIDE 8 CHANNING POLLOCK AND JJ
The advantages of giving what might called negative reviews we believed gave weight to the positive reviews we were for the good acts.
I loved being lifted by a magic performance and through Opus was able to honestly praise great performances . Lennert Green was unknown when Opus spotted him performing in London what a joy it was to tell the readers of this amazing, original act.
After an impromptu performance at the fabulous St Vincent Convention in Northern Italy by David Williamson, we were unable to sleep as Chris and I discussed the miracles we had just witnessed. And hence the article that Richard Kaufman used on the book cover…
Vito Lupo lifted our hearts… Alexander Cova, Rudy Coby, Vanni Bossi, Davide Costi, Tina Lennert all became great favourites of Opus …
Publishing Opus also led to many things, new friends, worldwide travel and the opportunity to produce our own, International Magic Conventions.
Martin Breese, an Opus subscriber, book publisher and friend had been a huge help by allowing us to use his laser printer in place of the rather poor standard dot matrix printer we had been using. Like the video camera… in those days laser printers were quite rare. Every issue of Opus was now taken to Martin’s office on a disc and printed out there before being given to Chris to paste up.
Monthly(!!!!) chats took place while this happened and Martin put us in touch with a man called Phillip Phillips from the Isle of Man (an offshore tax haven island between England and Ireland.)
We reluctantly flew over for a weekend… we anticipated being asked to put on a magic event in some village hall. This negative perception slowly changed as we landed at the airport. A chauffeur driven Mercedes Limo was there to whisk us off to the Palace Hotel and Casino. There we were greeted by the manager himself who had been waiting to take us personally to our rooms. Phillip arrived and took us by car to a lovely restaurant. There at our table was a collection of people… we were introduced… so and so from the tourist board, so and so owner of the island’s television company, so and so from the IOM Bank and so on… As we dined the prospect of staging a convention on the island was discussed… what would it involve? What shape would it take, how could they persuade magicians to come over. We told them one idea would be to run a competiton with a really big cash prize… how much.. the largest one so far was a thousand pounds… how about one with a prize of five thousand pounds… yep, that could be help… they were told that it would take at least five years for the event to mature and become a part of the magic calender. Everyone was very enthusiastic… all diner said they were willing to help either with money or stuff like free printing etc.
Well dined and watered Philip took us back to the Casino of which he was the managing director. We sat in the VIP area and the casino manager was called over and told
“Anything these want over the weekend is be on the house…”
We finished up our champagne and headed to our rooms… half way along the corridor Chris turned to me and said…
“ JJ, It looks as though, by the merest quirk of fate… we have landed in a big bucket of cash…”
All this happened because we were Opus Magazine.
OH…I must tell this story before we end this talk. We were sitting behind the stand at an UK IBM convention passing the time of day when very young looking guy approaches the stand and started browsing the magazines on display… not being pushy, we left him to it…
“What is this” he asked…
“An independent magazine we publish… it doesn’t have much children’s magic though”
“That’s ok, I don’t do children’s magic…”
“What sort of magic do you do?”
“Yeah right,” we thought and left him to it…
He did subscribe and from then on I always noticed the distinctive name on the envelope posted to
“Luis de Matos, Portugal”
I think if we had started now it is we would have used all that the internet can offer… but of course we would have been up against more competition but I believe if you have a voice people will listen.
It would be interesting…
The key thing for us is whether it is real or virtual.
I think there is a place for both.
It is wonderful that with EMC, Ask Alexander and the Conjuring Arts Research Centre, Opus is finally out there in the digital world.
But if we were doing it all again today (and who knows, maybe we will…) we would still want this old style paper thingy somewhere in the mix…
It exists as an object, it has weight and texture and it doesn’t get a virus or vanish…
It is Opus
MAGAZINES GO ON TABLE
Thanks for your attention.