How BLAST magazine changed literature forever
Blast was the short-lived literary magazine of the Vorticist movement in Britain. Two editions were published: the first on 2 July 1914 (dated 20 June 1914, but publication was delayed) and featured a bright pink cover, referred to by Ezra Pound as the “great MAGENTA cover'd opusculus”; and the second a year later on 15 July 1915.
Blast was mainly consisted of a group of Vorticists under the central figure of Wyndham Lewis.
Even though the onset of WWI put an untimely end to its publication, its opinions managed to remain in history as a representative part of modern era. Vibrant and merciless, full of energy and patriotic spirit, the Vorticist Manifesto remains up until today eye catching, contemporary and quite punk. Maybe those are the elements that the majestic Mr. David Bowie also appreciated in Blast and included it in his “Top 100 Must Read Books.”
Deriving mainly from Cubism, Futurism and Expessionism, Vorticism was a bold blend with harsh lines and harsher colors. Instead of abstraction the Vorticists developed a vivid geometric style, which set apart their typography. Their typographic style had such a strong impact that is considered of equal importance as the famous Zang Tumb Tumb of the Futurist Fillipo Tommaso Marinetti.
One of the major revolutionists in graphic design at that time, mostly known for his typographical audacity, El Lissitzky became a source of inspiration for Blast. His influence was obvious on the magazine, which included among several of his works, two quite offensive manifestos, edited by Lewis and signed by the rest of the team, including their beliefs on British art and culture along with the vorticist aesthetics.
The manifestos resemble as much a poem as a statement that declare on the one hand the group's intention to establish themselves “beyond action and reaction” and on the other their desire to “stir up civil war among peaceful apes.”
Anyhow, when the first iconic issue “Blast No.1: Review of the Great English Vortex” was published its groundbreaking bright pink cover with the huge, striking, black lettering could not fit better this provocative bunch of artists. Bringing words into life with its unconventional visual elements, such as rhythm, Blast’s typographical layout is a dramatic piece of graphic design, that can be easily considered as a reference to concrete or visual poetry.
For example, for Vorticists’ “Love” and “Hate” lists, the editors decided to replace the words with “Blast” and “Bless” and to further visualize their content in a typographic way. So, while the difference in text size draws the reader's attention and emphasizes its importance in the “Blast Humor” pages, by reading only the YELLING bold caps one makes no sense, the meaning is lost. On the contrary, the “Bless English Humor” pages are less frantic with text that flows down in a more balanced way, lacking the aggressive metaphor in letters. There are bold caps here too, but there is a cohesive meaning through them, which gives the page a more unified quality.
The typeface that was used to bring their vision to life is Grotesque No. 9. Blake Stephenson's intention was to create a clean, straightforward, and non-decorative series of sans serif typeface. With these fonts Lewis expressed his violent ideas in the most intense typographic way possible.
Blast 1 was edited and largely written by Wyndham Lewis with contributions from Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, Epstein, Spencer Gore, Wadsworth, and Rebecca Westand included an extract from Ford Madox Hueffer's novel The Saddest Story, better known by its later title The Good Soldier (published under his subsequent pseudonym, Ford Madox Ford).
The first edition was printed in folio format, with the oblique title Blast splashed across its bright pink soft cover. Inside, Lewis used a range of bold typographic innovations to engage the reader, that are reminiscent of Marinetti's contemporary concrete poetry such as Zang Tumb Tumb. Rather than conventional serif fonts, some of the text is set in sans-serif grotesque fonts.
The opening twenty pages of Blast 1 contain the Vorticist manifesto, written by Lewis.
The manifesto is primarily a long list of things to be 'Blessed' or 'Blasted'. It starts:
- Beyond Action and Reaction we would establish ourselves.
- We start from opposite statements of a chosen world. Set up violent structure of adolescent clearness between two extremes.
- We discharge ourselves on both sides.
- We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours.
- Mercenaries were always the best troops.
- We are primitive Mercenaries in the Modern World.
- Our Cause is NO-MAN'S.
- We set Humour at Humour's throat. Stir up Civil War among peaceful apes.
- We only want Humour if it has fought like Tragedy.
- We only want Tragedy if it can clench its side-muscles like hands on its belly, and bring to the surface a laugh like a bomb.
The subjects either 'Blasted' or 'Blessed' depended on how they were seen by the fledgling Vorticists.
The second edition, published on 20 July 1915, contained a short play by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot's poems Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy Night. Another article by Gaudier-Brzeska entitled Vortex (written from the Trenches) further described the vorticist aesthetic.
Thirty-three days after Blast 1 was published, war was declared on Germany. The First World War would destroy vorticism; both Gaudier-Brzeska and T. E. Hulme were killed at the front, and Bomberg lost his faith in modernism.