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i n  p r i n t

with Scott Ruddick

New Launchings: Icon

(also In Review: January's Offerings)

Launched a few months ago - five issues have been published to date - Icon is the latest offering from the print media houses eager to cash in on the growing popularity of serious men's magazines.

And one of the best. Icon is a provocative, thoughtful, beautifully put together and exquisitely written bi-monthly. A self-described `thoughtstyle magazine', Icon provides an eclectic mix of well-written articles covering a broad range of topics.

The word icon was originally used to refer to a religious symbol of worship. In our society, the term has come to denote a celebrity, someone who has gained recognition - or notoriety - for their actions, deeds, thoughts or work. In a sense, this transference of meaning makes sense: celebrities are today revered with the same fervour that religious symbols of past were.

Icon is an array of profiles of such modern-day icons. In recent editions they have tackled a diverse number of projects, including:

A `week in the life' of Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. Undertaken as he toured the Irish countryside campaigning for an upcoming election, it offered a distinct view of the political figure and his role in `The Troubles'.
A profile of William Vollman, a young writer who has specialized in immersing himself in, and writing about, the lives of the marginalized and disenfranchised. Voltman has shot heroin and smoked crack, befriended torturers and dictators, survived a sniping attack in Bosnia that killed his photographer and his translator, slept with prostitutes and lived among transients - and has emerged as one of America's best new fiction writers.
An entire section devoted to the subject of risk. Icon assembled a gallery of, well, icons who have, for better or worse, embraced risk with all it's attendant rewards and perils. They included Tom Ford, creative director for Gucci, whose design innovations are credited with pushing the label to the top of the fashion industry; Harry Wu, Chinese dissident, who has been repeatedly imprisoned and deported from China for exposing human rights abuses in their judicial system; Jocelyn Elders, former surgeon general who was fired by none other then President Clinton for promoting a sex ed curriculum that included reference to masturbation, a position she advocates to this day; and Brian Eno, avant-garde musician whose exploration of electronic rock on the early eighties revolutionised the music industry.

Icon's editorial approach avoids glamourizing or demonizing those they profile. Instead, they undertake critical, probing examinations of their subjects in an attempt to understand why and how certain people emerge as symbols of accomplishment. This approach is a refreshing change from the embrace of sensationalism that appears to have gripped so much of our mainstream media.

From a sensory perspective, Icon is a breath of fresh air in a market inundated with glossy, flashy fluff. No shiny paper, no overpowering photos or blocky sidebars - Icon's open, bright format is published on heavy bond paper in keeping with the serious, introspective writing that appears on it.

One grievance: Icon can come across as a bit impersonal and sterile, heavy with style and statistics, yet glancing across the emotional issues. A bit more emphasis on delving into the emotional and personal side of the personalities they are profiling would round out what is already an almost perfect package. Hopefully, this is just a growing pain as a new magazine shakes out it's editorial approach and writers learn what the publication is looking for.

But it's a minor grievance. In all, Icon is magazine journalism at it's best: serious, insightful writing covering a broad range of topics and representing an array of opinions. No heavy rhetoric, no rush to judgements, no editorializing. Just intelligent, insightful writing.

Nothing more. And nothing less.

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