Bigun’s Restaurant London, circa 1987 Four magicians sat around the restaurant table. Ian Keable took a look at the Bigun’s “Gotta Lotta Grill” which he had ordered by picture from the laminated menu and mused as to whether the dish was accurately depicted by that picture. Chris Power, David Britland and JJ were not really that bothered as they had ordered different dishes.
They had all gathered to finalise the plans for a new magic magazine.
These guys were not satisfied with the magic magazines of the day especially when it came to the reporting of the convention shows and the like. There was a general feeling that if you couldn’t say anything nice about a fellow magician you shouldn’t say anything at all. Often the reporting of a gala show bore no resemblance to the actual event. Every act was excellent and left the stage to sustained applause! This seemed silly. How could you praise a really good act if all the acts were excellent. No wonder there were so many bland magic acts going around thinking they were great. Their friends told them they were and they had it in writing from this or that magic magazine. Maybe there was room for a magic magazine that reported it as it saw it rather than as others would have it seen.
Opus was born.
It was decided that it should be a monthly magazine (in the first year under the strict regime of Ian Keable it was indeed published every month). Chris Power was to be the art editor and would illustrate the publication. JJ was to be the guy who sold it at the conventions and David Britland was to be the magic consultant who would advise on things such as origin of moves and effects and techniques and who would also write reviews and articles.
Each of the four had their own reasons for starting Opus and there was, behind those reasons, the hope that maybe they might make some money. Oh those foolish, heady, early days! Oh the innocence of ignorance!
Opus was launched at the British Ring Convention at Harrogate in September 1987. It was to be a magazine that the publishers themselves would like to read, look at, and maybe learn from. While it wasn’t going to be a tricks magazine as such, any tricks that did appear would be real effects that real people actually used in the real world. There were also to be interviews with interesting magicians, book reviews (some retrospective) and a fair share of gossip. The launch was successful in so much as to say enough subscriptions were taken at that convention to guarantee the production of the first volume. As the first year progressed the feed back from the readers was very encouraging. They found the blunt, honest approach like a breath of fresh air. People soon started ringing up and giving little snippets of gossip, most of which was unprintable. Chris’s illustrations were greatly enjoyed and things were looking good.
In the very early days Opus accepted adverts from selected magic businesses in the belief that the presence of these adverts would add respectability to the young creation. This soon led to problems. In one issue there was an advert (bought and paid for) for a book which was completely slagged off in an Opus book review. The dealer was understandably upset and pointed out that he was only likely to advertise the less popular books as the really good ones didn’t need so much promotion. Some sticky moments. Opus couldn’t run adverts for items they felt weren’t any good. In due course all advertising was dropped from the publication other than Opus produced items. Obviously all Opus produced items are brilliant!
HONEST REPORTING CAUSING UPSET
The honest reporting together with the inexperience of the team led to some pretty upset magicians. One British legend, Rovi, a highly popular card magician from Wales, was one of the first to find a review unfair and was quick to put his point of view. Towards the end of the first year the FISM congress was held in Den Haag, Holland and Opus took a stand. It fell upon JJ to hold the fort and there was the tense moment when an very irate, world famous, magician stormed towards the stand demanding to speak to the author of a piece which had been critical of his work. Spotting his approach the author of the offending article ducked out behind the stand and fled unseen leaving JJ to deal with the man in his best Dale Carnegie manner. In an another, highly embarrassing, incident a Scandinavian magician was flicking through an issue of Opus and reached for his wallet. He loved the look of the magazine and wanted to subscribe and to buy all the back issues. JJ knew that in one of the back issues there was a hugely critical review of this self same magician and felt it only fair to let him know this before accepting the money (Quaker upbringing!). The prospective subscriber asked to read the review and even after reading what Opus thought of his act that day, he subscribed and took the back issues as well!
(Some years later Chris and JJ, while visiting the Magic Castle, called upon one of Opus’s favourite magicians, Billy McComb. It was with great pleasure that they noticed on his coffee table a photo copy of an Opus article. Not knowing who Chris and JJ were, Billy made a comment about the article which had criticised Peter Pitt. Mr Pitt was furious and Billy had got hold of copy to see what all the fuss was about. The Opus team chose not to sue for breach of copyright! They also had some fun with Stan Allen too over the title “Independent Magic Magazine” which they had chosen as their byline, predating `MAGIC’ by some years.) The ferry incident
On the ferry back to England, Ian announced that he was quitting Opus and assumed that without him, Opus would stop publishing. Chris and JJ didn’t want to quit. Spurred on by Ian’s belief that they wouldn’t be able keep it going without him, the two of them (still supported in the background by David) ploughed on. By volume three Opus had sorted out most of the problems of production and started hitting the readership figures that made the cost of that production not too prohibitive. Opus did fall behind with it’s publishing schedule. Both Chris and JJ had other things on their plates and weren’t always able to give the publication the time it needed to keep it on time. Feed back from the readers demonstrated that they didn’t really mind how often it came out as long as it still did. The “Opus is late” jokes became famous. The gang couldn’t go anywhere without facing a barrage of them. Time thickened the skin and the originality of some of the gags just proved to the team that people cared. (After all, who complained when the Conjuror magazine fell behind schedule?) (meow, meow).
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE
The growing popularity of the World Wide Web beckoned. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to publish Opus on the internet eliminating the time comsuming, costly (and very boring) problems of printing, putting in envelopes, stamp licking, labelling and posting each issue all around the world. So www.opusmagazine.co.uk was born. To date there are still two more hardcopy issues to be produced in order to complete Volume 5 and the plan after that is to continue to produce a new direct sale version of Opus called `Opus Hardcopy’ which will compliment its web presence (and maybe “Best of Opus” collections as well). The gang are going to be busy (look out for the Opus diary). As well as keeping the website up to date and interesting there is a mass of archive material to publish. True to the tradition of the magazine we trust our readers to be patient as we find our feet in this new medium. It will take time to get up to speed but we will have fun as we accelerate. Just watch and see…
In true Opus style it has lain dormant for ages but the invitation to speak at the Essential Magic Conference 2011 has jolted it back to life. The digitisation of the back issues (more of this later) has opened doors to a whole new world for the magazine. Hence this new website…
As always… more later…