Reading Frenzy ~ An Independent Press Emporium

Interview with Forrest Martin of Death Magazine

February 04, 2010:

In anticipation for Death Magazine's Feb. 17th release party here in our shop, I chatted with the man propelling it all, Forrest Martin, about the origins of the magazine, steering clear of Edgar Allen Poe, and his own personal relationship with death.

You might have cornered the magazine market on death, what led you to this project?

5 years ago I was living in rural Tennessee and discovered that an old friend I'd lost touch with from Olympia was going to school in Nashville, getting his Masters in Education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt (Nathan Cearley; he wrote an awesome Holden Caulfield-esque essay about 9-11 for this issue). Soon after we realized we were both sort of randomly in TN, he contacted me and asked if I would contribute something to this magazine he was thinking of starting, called Death: a magazine for the enthusiast and non-enthusiast alike. I gave him an earlier version of the cover that the magazine has now and a really bad piece of writing, but nothing ever came of the project. Fast forward to Fall of 2009 when I asked him if I could revive the project and turn it into something. He hadn't planned to pick it up again and agreed.

I emailed him about what initially led HIM to the project, and he said this, "...the question of death was an educational question...what can we learn from it? I am inspired to write about death because I feel like the whole artifice of our delusional and superficial society is built around our rejection of deaths finality and our ultimate mortality. Being unable to grasp our end in death means being unable to really live. So, ultimately, a magazine on death was somehow going to be a magazine about life...about learning how to live."

Everyone has a personal relationship with death, can you describe yours?

I'm an agnostic worrier raised by a professional hypochondriac, so I never really felt protected from death as a kid. I was always convinced I had various terminal illnesses, including giving myself what I thought was breast cancer (yes, according to Joan Rivers, "men can get breast cancer, too!!") from checking myself too often/vigorously. It was a cyst from irritation, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Death has had a definite relationship with shame in my life.

But yes, without a doubt I think about death every day, and usually seriously. I'm actually terrified of that precise moment that all of us are contractually obligated to experience.

In what ways has your prior work informed this new project?

My own fear of death has made it especially useful to be collecting other perspectives on it, and the subject of mortality usually nests itself somewhere in the work I've been inclined to make. My background is in animation, illustration and print design. I've always had a fantasy of working on a magazine even though I don't have much exposure to that world, so this is a convenient fit.

I think you explain the spectrum of relationships we have with death fairly well in the tagline: "for the enthusiast and non-ethusiast a-like", how have you tackled this within the content of your magazine?

The practical success of that line will depend on the readership, but I believe in it as a principle. The line is sort of a bulldozer. It recognizes that you don't have to care about it (and maybe that's for the best?), but you're bound to it. I realize death isn't a topic a lot of people are clamoring to seminar on - so it's doubtful many people who are put off by the subject will pick it up - but it is important to me to steer it away from being a gothic, navel-gazing journal with Edgar Allan Poe features. I do want the content to reflect unusual - even wondrous - perspectives on it, and I'm happy with the collection in this issue and the variety of pieces that accomplish that.

What kind of contributions can we look forward to?

A whole range...the best thing about the project is that it gives me an excuse to contact some of my favorite writers and artists. Tom Spanbauer was a big one for me. The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon had a huge impact on me and I'm still digesting the fact that he has a piece in the magazine. A few contributors, like Scott Barry, Maya Hayuk and Erika Somogyi, are people I've never met but have admired via the internet for a while...sometimes a well timed email is all it takes.

You can expect anything from plays, time-lapse photography, treatises on the mortality of Polaroids, space explosions and beach-side conversation stations. Everyone in the magazine is insanely talented, and you can learn more about all of them at www.deathmag.com.

Interview by Anika Sabin