We’ve always had a soft spot for weird, short-lived magazines. RAW, by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, has always been a favorite, but WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing might just take the cake. The magazine hasn’t been around since 1981, but Leonard Koren’s book Making WET provides both a behind-the-scenes look at an influential, experimental magazine and selections of its best work.
Looking back, RAW and WET have a lot in common, aside from all-caps three-letter-adjective names. Both had famous underground artist (and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse designer!) Gary Panter as a frequent contributor, sure, but they also shared an aesthetic, one RAW applied to comics and design that WET applied to photography and prose.
In particular, the piece in Making WET reprinted from the November/December ‘79 issue “Concerning the Metaphysical Nature of Cigarettes” is similar to some of the text pieces run in RAW (but without Francoise Mouly’s collage design) — it’s a very high-brow satirical piece about the then-new trend of naming cigarette brands after obscure concepts like “Merit”, “Fact” or “True”, rather than the “iconographic” names like Winston or Salem which “depended on [television advertising] to give full definition to their images”.
Sharon Hennessey, the author, then riffs on smoking as a philosophical exercise with personal philosophies like deconstructionism or realism determining which brand was smoked, and rather the idea that holding a certain philosophy compelled one to smoke.
If there’s a flaw in Making WET, it’s that there are few of these articles reprinted — only a small handful made it – a piece defining “Gourmet Bathing”, an interview with a WET cover model (a dog), and a long Matt Groening strip reviewing soaps.
What does make up for this though is the gorgeous reproductions of covers and interior photographs and art, alongside Koren’s essay about the rise and fall of the magazine, from everything including raising financing, to getting ads and promoting WET. I’m not sure if the techniques still would hold 30 years later — but reading Making WET will make you want to try.
Making WET is a reminder of what we lose from the transition from paper to online; in a magazine, design is more locked in — and, well, there’s just something about having a PHYSICAL magazine to look at. Online magazines are more about pure content — which has its merits too, as it requires the articles to stand on their own.
And, of course, there’s something to beside for outstanding digital design, but it’s much more rare to find a site that drastically changes the design from article to article the way a physical magazine can. Good design in the digital realm is important — nay, essential — but web design is very different from print design, and a bit more rigid.
But, sadly, print media becomes a dodgier proposition by the minute. What is the RAW or WET of today? Does one even exist? Could one exist? Or has that ship sailed?
Regardless, Making WET will make you long for what was… and hopefully think about what will be.