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Tod Lippy, a New Yorker, is the creator of ESOPUS (pronounced “ee-SOAP-us”), an interdisciplinary arts publication that is published semi-annually by the Esopus Foundation. Combining brilliant, dramatic design with often esoteric texts, Esopus was conceived by Lippy to provide a forum for the open exchange of artistic ideas and theories, unhampered by the constraints of commercial publishing: i.e., budget restrictions, advertising (Esopus has none), and editorial trends. Issue four, out now, contains work by Ed Ruscha and stills from Claire Denis’s film Vendredi Soir, among other features, plus a CD of songs about imaginary friends. Also in the works are an events series, chapbooks, and other artist’s books under the Esopus umbrella. Lippy, who is also a filmmaker and an educator, edits and designs the publication.
1 What does “esopus” mean? Its name comes from that of a creek that runs through the Catskills, which is very unspoiled and quite beautiful.
2 How did you get started with this gorgeous project? I’ve always been struck by the uncomfortable relationship between advertising and editorial, and I was dying to try to create a completely “commercial-free” magazine. And it seems to me that there weren’t enough generalist (i.e., multidisciplinary) publications in the arts anymore, and I wanted to create something that could be accessible to a wider audience. . . . I was keen to create a forum in which contemporary art could be delivered to the public in the most neutral way possible (i.e., with little or no editorial interference) but in a format that was appealing enough visually to attract a more diverse audience. I knew the only way to do all of this was to operate as a nonprofit—we could charge less for the magazine than it costs to produce and not have to worry about answering to all kinds of commercial pressures. This led to the creation of the Esopus Foundation, which publishes Esopus and which will hopefully do a whole bunch more stuff in the future.
3 How is Esopus funded? The magazine is funded by revenues from sales and subscriptions, donations from individuals, and grants from organizations. Since we don’t accept any advertising, we count on grants and donations to take up the slack.
4 What magazines do you like? These days, I read The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Discover, Topic, Cabinet, Bomb, etc. For pure “look at” value, anything designed by Alexi Brodovitch. I was given a copy of the first issue of Portfolio 10 or so years ago, and it’s still my most prized possession—he, as far as I’m concerned, is the true master of publication design.
5 David Carson, a graphic designer of the early ’90s known for his often illegible style and terribly grandiose pronouncements, declared print dead some years ago. Was he right? No way! There is something undeniably visceral in the experience of handling a book or magazine—the smell of the inks, the weight and texture of papers, simply flipping through pages—that no other medium can match.