Brave Blue world

Design guru David Carson leaps into the adventure-lifestyle arena with Blue, the magazine for hipsters with abs (and eyes) of steel.

By Michael Soller

Published July 9, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

get ready for the adventure typestyle! Blue, the new "adventure lifestyle" magazine that hit newsstands Tuesday, marks the return to publishing of iconoclastic designer David Carson. With its candy-colored layouts and jostling text blocks, Blue is reworking ground pioneered by surfer mags and ad men. The adventure lifestyle is hot, Blue looks cool and its young staffers are riding the curl.

Time may look like Newsweek and the Nation like the Economist, but Blue is pure David Carson, its design consultant and co-founder. He's the 41-year-old graphic artist and former pro surfer who, according to a 1996 Newsweek story, "raised illegibility to an art form." Readers of Ray Gun, the graphically stunning but editorially vexed Los Angeles alternative music magazine, know the Carson style: viciously cut-up photos, fractured fonts, odd words SCREAMING to be heard.

Carson's style is also famous for being famous. "David Carson is good for buzz," says Jeff Gremillion, who covers magazines for Mediaweek.

Subverting the modernist design grid may be trendy, but some readers may be daunted by Blue's jagged visual terrain. Blue art director Christa Skinner has heard it all before, having worked for Carson at Ray Gun and moved to New York three months ago after Carson closed his San Diego office and headed east. "So many travel and outdoor magazines don't focus on the design aspect," she says. "This was a good opportunity to do that without scaring off the masses."

Blue is modest compared to Ray Gun. (Call it Carson lite.) In fact, it looks more like a Web site than a magazine, and its designers hope the choose-your-own-adventure style will convey the excitement of the adrenal life.

But even if readers dig the look, are they ready to lead the adventure lifestyle? A blend of adventure travel, extreme sports and ecotourism, the adventure lifestyle phenomenon aims to tap into the cultural demand for experiences that go beyond what a recent U.S. News & World Report cover story on extreme sports called "the humdrum of American lives." Adventure lifestyle peddles job fantasies for the dissatisfied: In the first issue, Blue readers can choose among adventure-TV star, pioneering pro skater and fierce female snowboarder.

Advertisers are banking on the hope that young and restless readers will buy into the action travel ideal. Though Blue is the first magazine to explicitly embrace the adventure lifestyle, it is on already conquered ad-marketing ground. "Adventure lifestyle is a growing category," says Gremillion. "It's touching on a lot of clear trends." Open any magazine and you get a glimpse of what Blue -- and IBM, Tag Heuer and Quantus -- are selling. In fact, one of Blue editor and co-founder Amy Schrier's first acts after she drew up the magazine's hefty business plan was to compile a book of advertisements that employ the adventure lifestyle concept.

Schrier, 28, has a post-structuralist's eye and an ad rep's savvy. She mingles marketing idioms and genuine glee about the magazine -- not an unusual combination on this frontier of magazine journalism. "To be adventurous, even to be perceived as adventurous, is the most important cultural quantity today," Schrier says. Blue is banking on getting the attention of the generation that, as Schrier puts it, "grew up with less racism, Internet access and Chinese food for lunch."

Blue hopes to avoid the catch-phrase mentality of the advertising it so resembles, but it is also wary of the journalism mainstream. Though located across the street from the Condi Nast-owned Details and a few blocks up from Interview, Blue stands out of the flow of New York journalism. Few on the 25-member editorial staff have risumis that go beyond Spin, Wired and Skiing. (Your humble writer briefly worked as a Blue copy editor.) Tama Janowitz, the most recognizable author in the premiere issue, is not exactly a sizzling hot name. And though last month's release party was full of media-circuit regulars, not many seemed to have a handle on Blue.

The magazine's creative tensions were embodied at the launch party. A crush of investors, graphic artists, photographers and journalists stood for the argument between market, content and design. Publicist Susan Magrino, famous for her party lists, played the part of New York media hype, while the red-shirted Blue staffers were Mao's uncouth peasant warriors. And as a techno version of the Gypsy Kings thumped in the background, some Blue staffers confided that it felt like too much, too soon.

In a world of media conglomerates, going it alone can be chancy. Some Blue staff members have cited problems getting paid, and others say the operation, owned by Blue Media Ventures LLC, an investor group, is more shoestring than it appears. "I envision it being difficult for some time to come," says Schrier. But the magazine isn't looking for corporate help, and a second issue, due out in October, is already in the works.

Blue exalts globalism, but it hasn't escaped the Victorian tropes of travel writing: the gaping at non-Western cultures, the sense of bemused wonder. "There is a colonialism [in Blue]," admits Schrier. "You can say that you shouldn't go to Vietnam and pollute the culture. But go there and talk to these people."

More Don DeLillo than Joseph Conrad, Blue represents the New Victorians, whose hearts of darkness have been replaced with abs of steel. Instead of baseball (invented 1839), the 1990s offer rock climbing; in place of football (1869), BASE jumping. Schrier offers a nifty historical argument: "The invention of sports in the 1890s was a response to growing industrialization," she says. Today, the rush to recreate adventurously is a response to "that radioactive fluorescent light next to your head."

Not, Blue's founders are hoping, to that radioactive-colored magazine in your hands.

Michael Soller

Michael Soller is a writer who lives in New York.

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