Yet our naiveté gave our magazine a certain boldness and freshness that I still appreciate. The quality was often uneven (not every risk we took was effective, and our literary and artistic tastes were still developing), yet the quality was also sometimes surprisingly high.
We had the good fortune in commissioning striking covers by well-known (or soon to be well-known) artists. Paul drew the cover to issue #2 himself. Who could have guessed then that he would go on to become a world-famous comic book writer and artist, that in 2002 GEAR Magazine would include him 11th in their annual Top 100 list of “the most exciting people, places, and things on the planet,” calling him “one of the most consistently inventive comics artists of his generation”?
Adrian Tio—then an art professor at Bowling Green State University, now dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth—drew the cover to issue #3. The cover to issue #5, centered around an illustration by Lawrence Oberc, caught the attention of the editors at the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. A photo of our magazine was included alongside our listing in the 1990 edition of that indispensable writers’ guide.
Other highlights included artwork by Tim Johnson, fiction by Ricardo Armijo and Gerard Smith, and poetry by Eric Lyden (one of the editors of the hip West Coast ’zine The Moment) and Mark Andrew Nowak.
Still, after nearly three years of struggle—of paying for everything ourselves, of driving around Northwest Ohio and Southern Michigan with stacks of magazines in the trunk of my little ’81 Ford Escort, dropping off copies on commission in paltry twos and threes—we found ourselves tired, broke, and ready to move on to other projects. Ironically, this is when Gestalt took off—or attempted to.
Our listing and photo in the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market, one of only eight so highlighted in the 204-page “Literary and Small Circulation Magazines” chapter, sparked a flood of mail from every U.S. state and around the world. My job at that point was patiently to return every submission with an explanation of our small-circulation magazine’s demise. I have no regrets. Yet I can see that we left Gestalt right when it had broken free of the inertia inherent in the beginning of any project.
Twenty years later, Gestalt remains a lesson to me about energy: how it’s created, how it grows, and its relation to the importance of sticking to a project.
Gestalt was my very first large literary endeavor. Founded by Jay Smith and myself, and with considerable input from artist and writer Paul Pope, we produced six issues from 1988-1989 (right, in order of release), with material from an unrealized issue forming the content of the first and final issue of This! Magazine in 1992.
Gestalt took its name from gestalt theory in psychology, which states that the whole is not derivable from the sum of its parts. It was truly a grassroots project, primarily funded by ourselves, with help from some advertising and a handful of subscriptions. In hindsight, it’s clear that we had no idea what a large and complicated undertaking we had gotten ourselves into.