After our Making Magazines event earlier this month, we sent Commissioning Editor for Lifestyle Emma Oliver to chat to one of our speakers, Josef Shaw. As Creative Director, he’s one half of the duo behind Bumble Magazine, along with Editor-in-Chief Rachael Nellist.
Bumble is an independent nature magazine run by volunteers. It’s been just eight months since its first issue was published, yet its popularity has soared. Next week, we’ll be treated to the much-anticipated second issue.
Although its powerful imagery and clean design may be striking, this certainly doesn’t distract from Bumble’s written content. Clear, accessible language breaks down complex topics into bite-sized pieces which are suitable for readers of all ages and abilities. No matter how much expertise you already have, you will be introduced you to some of planet’s struggling species and some of the ways in which you can help to protect them.
E: Where did it all begin? Tell us about those first stages.
J: Myself and Rachael met at university. After graduation, there was a year where she was working in a cafe and I was working in a magazine shop. Towards the end of the second year after graduation, Rachael had started a project for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and she came up with the idea for Bumble. Further down the line, she mentioned her idea again and said she was still thinking about it. So I said ‘yeah, so am I… so when are we doing this?’.
So it was summer last year when we just kept going with stories, illustrators and ideas, basically. When we started writing the articles and sourcing the images and things like that it started to become something… The more you do, the more you have to lose. If you’ve done all this work, you just keep going. We were doing stuff we loved: various articles about species that we both have an interest in.
What inspired you to create Bumble?
The main reason we did this is that Rachael has dyslexia and she finds magazines like National Geographic hard to read. I love National Geographic, so when I found out she didn’t like it because it was just too much to take in, I thought it was a shame. So this is what I wanted to do this magazine for – people who don’t have expertise but are still really interested. Rachael wanted a really clear, simple magazine so I jumped on that. That was the catalyst for everything, really.
Did you find it difficult to simplify topics that are so complex?
So I would write something and Rach would go along and say ‘I don’t know what that word means… I’m not sure about that’ and it really simplified things. There’s a lot of big, technical words that we both understood but the idea is that it was for a younger teens to thirties audience.
We wanted it to be really simple, really clear. It was a challenge, taking a block of text about a certain species and simplifying it. You can go into so much detail and it’s just knowing how much detail you want to go into and how much the reader needs to know.
What other challenges have you faced?
The cover has been a nightmare! Issue One has such a striking cover and it makes people pick it up. In Magalleria people walk out and then they’re like ‘oh, what’s that?’ and then always just pick it up. It really works so well in that respect, but fast-forward to now when we have to replicate that – or do a better cover – and it’s a nightmare. I was losing sleep over this as we’d mocked up some covers but there was nothing as striking as the first one. We were a bit worried that it was just going to get lost.
We’ve got a feature on the tawny owl, so I went along to the West Of England Falconry centre in Newton Saint Loe and asked if I could take a picture of theirs – it’s called Bowie. It was a bit nerve-wracking as I went along thinking ‘this needs to be the cover image… it needs to be pretty good’.
Did you have any editorial experience prior to starting this project?
No, I mean I like reading and I quite liked writing but it always takes me a long time. Essays would take me weeks and weeks – and I’d have to shut myself in my room like some creature. Of course, Rach has got her dyslexia.
I write in a really formal, boring way and she writes in a really informal way, so there’s a nice middle ground. I’ll tell her that we don’t need three exclamation marks, and she tells me where I can simplify things. It’s a happy medium really.
Were you surprised by the reaction to Issue One?
I think we were really pleased with it and we knew we had something really nice. The things that really helped us were comments from my old boss in Manchester and Daniel from Magalleria. They said it was really good, especially the cover. I think the important thing is that we really liked it and all our mates liked it.
I think everyone has a little interest in nature and looking at cool things.
We were slightly surprised – I knew it would sell, but I didn’t know it would sell quite as well as it did. It was a bit of a surprise when it sold out in places, you know. The Tate wanted it as well, which is mad. It’s just surreal. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind really – though everyone says that, don’t they?
You’ve received approval from Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham. How did this come about?
We sent them a copy and a letter to both of them. David Attenborough wrote back and I think we would’ve framed it – but he wrote something like ‘thank you so much for sending me this magazine’ and we were left wondering if he liked it! But the fact is David Attenborough signed his name on a piece of a paper – and we’re happy with that really!
Chris Packham tweeted about us but we didn’t have a Twitter account at the time. We got loads of people asking where to buy the magazine, and we’d sold out most at this point. So we asked ‘just out of interest why have there been so many people asking about it?’, and they told us Chris Packham had tweeted about it. It’s so cool, so we got a Twitter account for that reason. He wrote a postcard too. We were just so pleased because he’s such a great guy and we really respect him – so that was mad.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to launch their own independent magazine?
Just do it. Get a bit of money together and just do it. If it doesn’t work then that’s cool because you can say that you’ve done something physical. I think it’s important to know that it’s not a money-maker. We knew that from the start we’d have no adverts in and we’re not being paid for anything – which is fine, because it’s a passion project. Just do what you’re passionate about because you need the momentum.
Until we started doing this, I didn’t know I had a passion and quite a lot of knowledge about it as well. I was always out in the garden as a kid, just picking up slugs and that. Rach didn’t have a garden when she was growing up, so she had this fascination but when she became a trainee for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust she began to get the information. So she came into it quite late and I was into it quite early, but I lost it. Then I realised that actually I’m really, really into this and I do have good knowledge as well.
Finally, what can we expect from Issue Two?
Same format: we’ve got some photographers and illustrators, and we’re doing some interviews to get to know them. We’ve got some running features on new species, plus a feature on a wildlife festival and an article about Buglife.
We’ve got another article about bugs in the media. A few months ago there were a whole load of schools closed down because there were these spiders and people were freaking out. We wanted to do something about that because it’s absolutely mad – you don’t go shutting down a school when you could just take one of them and show the kids what it is, how it works and what it eats. It’s not a black widow spider, it’s completely harmless.
Actually there’s loads of sensationalist headlines in the news and it’s just making the public distance themselves from nature. It’s the opposite of what we wanted to do with this – we wanted to bring nature to people, especially in places like cities. We did our first issue when I was living up in Manchester, which is quite a nature-depleted city centre. This is really corny, but you can kind of escape into it, you know?
Bumble’s second issue will be available to purchase on the 30th of April. If you’d like to be one of the first to receive a copy, make sure to follow @bumble_mag on Instagram to keep up-to-date.