The Confessional

07.30.07 | Comment?

True Confessions, 1989 True Romance, 2007

A few weeks ago I was stacking up my collection of old magazines, and I came across a copy of True Confessions from the late ’80s. I bought it for one of what I now realize was a long series of exercises in the individualized course of study that trained me to become a magazine art director while all the time believing I was studying other topics.

Back then, I was in an MFA painting program. My scheme was to purchase a couple of those tawdry confession magazines, and use the text as a jumping-off point for the creation of an Medieval-style illuminated manuscript. It would have been a juxtaposition of the holy and the profane, the use of a quick-and-dirty text with a long arduous hand-made process. I never finished—making a book required several skills I didn’t turn out to have—calligraphy, and book binding to name two—but I got about a dozen pages into it—writing and laying out and illustrating (and creating my own substrate, because lord knows paper wasn’t good enough—not for me)—all of these (except for that last part) are the core skills I use as an art director with every issue.

But I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I found that old TC, I was just wondering “whatever happened to those?” They’ve certainly disappeared from grocery stores—at least in my neighborhood. You won’t find them at Borders or BN, but god bless my NY-style news shop, there they all were, just as they had always been.

Before finding the “Trues,” I was beginning to think they no longer existed. It would make sense—the Web, (not to mention Jerry Springer et al) offers all the torrid peeks into other’s dirty laundry one could possibly want. And the sort of, uhm, “journalism” those magazines practice (most rarely or never accepted non-fiction writing) borders on novel-length. Pages were typically column upon column of gray text for page after page—just the sort of thing conventional wisdom says nobody wants any more.

The shop was out of TC—but had several others. True Romance, like TC (and most other “True” magazines) is published by Dorchester Media. It was eye-opening to look at how the True format has changed in the last 15 years—which is to say not much. The text type is no longer an eye-straining eight-point, it’s now 10 (and at least TR has switched to a sans text-type)–but the gray pages with nary a point of entry to be found remain, punctuated as before with only an occasional stock shot of a steamy-looking couple. True Romance did have a long story in comic book form (courtesy of My Romance Story), but that seemed to be the only concession to visual culture—and comics are not a consistent feature in any of the True magazines.

A true insider perspective on confession magazines can be found here.

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