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  • "Fantastic Man" Editor Jop Van Bennekomen talks to Jeremy Leslie at the U Symposium in Singapore. Above them: the first issue of Fantastic Man c. 2005.
  • Lucky Peach's Chris Ying gets the laughs going during his talk.
  • Justin Long, editor of Underscore Magazine, the organizer of this year's U Symposium.
  • The Gourmand's editor-in-chief, David Lane

03/19/15 Fantastic Man’s Jop Van Bennekom at the U Symposium

Photos by Ina Jacobe

Four corners and all, the newsstand was once so limiting. Brimming from its racks were mass media companies’ glossy products, drawing passersby to read, buy, and wear the same thing. After a post-war golden age that included George Lois-era Esquire and ‘80s-born design mavericks like i-D ushering in a second golden age, magazines became formulaic and overwhelmed by ads.

At the U Symposium held in Singapore last weekend, however, moderator and publishing pundit Jeremy Leslie declared our recent entry into magazines’ third golden age. Featuring editors from increasingly influential independent magazines such as Kinfolk and The Gentlewoman, the event itself is proof of this new day in print. For such titles, the only thing left to do in the magazine world was their own thing: offering thoughtful content through a distinctive voice and design. That business model seemed to work. These book-papered indies are now stocked alongside big-name glossies, and have gone even further by taking up boutique space around the world.

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“We’re already part of it,” says publisher Jop Van Bennekom of how his niche men’s magazine Fantastic Man is now a member of the mainstream media. Infinitely imitated today are his magazines’ spare, almost zine-like aesthetic, as well as the uncommon subjects featured. And all because Van Bennekomen and co-founder Gert Jonkers wanted to create something they hadn’t seen on newsstands before. This year, Fantastic Man rings in a decade of never losing its editorial integrity, no matter the influx of advertising and even a cover request from Kanye.

NOUS sat in at Van Bennekom’s conversation with Leslie and soaked up more than 10 years’ worth of insight on creating magazines worthy of one’s coffee table.

On BUTT, a “reality” gay porn magazine he put together before Fantastic Man:

“We started with the idea that there wasn’t a gay magazine out there for us—for Gert [Jonkers] and me—that was interesting. We thought a lot about our own sexual identity. We looked back into the ‘70s gay magazines, things like Andy Warhol’s Interview. A cross between a magazine and a zine. BUTT had a lot of fans and was picked up by a lot of people in the fashion world. It was something.” 

On the concept behind Fantastic Man:

“I thought there was a misunderstanding in how men’s magazines were made at the time. It was either a men’s fashion magazine like Arena Homme Plus, or a men’s consumer magazine like Esquire or GQ. I thought neither were speaking to me. I saw magazines having the same template, almost. They were featuring the same clothes, the same advertisers—I thought it was boring. Also, the models and the fictional concept around menswear wasn’t working. We tried to make a new connection between men and the clothes they were wearing. It was more about real real men and their clothes. We showed a lot of men, either unclothed or with their own wardrobe. In a way, I wouldn’t say intellectualizing clothes, but giving a story, giving a life.”

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On the name:

“We wanted to do something with ‘man.’ We knew we wanted to have a title that’s completely out of your head, obviously because BUTT was such a good title (laughs). So with the title Fantastic Man, it had to be fantastic in a slightly absurd way. When we first started telling people that the title was Fantastic Man, they just laughed.”

From real people to models—or on who gets to wear the pants:  

“One of the first rules was ‘Let’s not use models.’ But it is quite difficult to show clothes with normal people. Plus when we started Fantastic Man in 2005, The Sartorialist wasn’t around at the time and the idea of personal style wasn’t really evolved in media. So when he came around, there were so many people shooting people on the street, then there was a saturation of personal style. We wanted to be the first people to do something different. So we moved away from that.”

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Celebrating their 10th anniversary:

“We started looking forward instead of looking back. The theme of the issue is 2025. That’s also something we would not have done before—a project that’s fiction, since we were always presenting reality. We also changed the design, not drastically. We played with it, had more fun with it. We are also blurring gender lines a little bit more. We wanted to see the 360 degrees of masculinity. I think in this issue, we’ve done that.”