Gigantic Ha-Ha: Talking with James Yeh and Lincoln Michel about Gigantic Issue Number 6

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Gigantic is a literary magazine of “short prose and art” that specializes in “life: continuous, contiguous, and traceable” and the “unlovely: we will work hard to ensure you do not see the following words or phrases, or words or phrases like them: glimmer, shimmer, swaths, bleating, said flatly, beads of sweat, strange, tussle, clouded, glares, beamed, throbbed, grasped, lapis lazuli, gem, flew out of her hand.”  More than that, it is one of the best—if not the best—places to find the kind of fiction that has had difficulty finding a home elsewhere, which maybe makes it sound a bit like its a place for the rejected, but that’s far from the case. Rather, Gigantic excels at finding the previously unknown works by legends (the latest issue features  work by Franz Kafka), as well as work by newer, not as well known authors. Plus, it just so happens to be one of the most smartly designed, beautiful lit mags out there. All of which made us want to speak with editors James Yeh and Lincoln Michel about the release of the latest issue—Gigantic Ha-Ha—and what it is that makes their magazine so lovely, or, rather, unlovely.

This is Gigantic’s 6th Issue, and—as ever—it’s a specific and special mix of work from some of the most interesting new literary voices, as well as some of the most established lit names of all time. What goes into creating the perfect balance for each issue?

Lincoln Michel: We definitely aim for a balance of those elements (and others). Part of what is great about lit mags is hearing how different voices play off each other. There’s no reason that—to use examples from the new issue—Franz Kafka shouldn’t be read right alongside Amelia Gray, Osama Alomar, and some writers you may not have heard of.

James Yeh: “A specific and special mix”—I like that. As with our previous issues, we are publishing roughly half unsolicited material. With the unsolicited works, we tried to choose works that we felt offered unexpected or sidelong takes on the “ha-ha” theme—for instance, one piece we are publishing is a conceptually driven language piece substituting the word dead for dad and vice-versa; another, a surreal narrative about a whale taxidermist bathed by tiny villagers. With the solicited works, we reached out to writers whose work strikes us as funny, but idiosyncratically, even singularly so.

What is it that made you want to tackle the world of lit magazines? What role do you think Gigantic plays in the lit mag world? What hole does it fill?

Lincoln Michel: When we started, one of our goals was to provide a venue for the kind of elliptical, tightly written, and innovatively odd flash fiction that we loved. Back in 2009, there weren’t many venues for flash fiction of any kind. There was Quick Fiction (now defunct) and a few other magazines, but most of the bigger journals seemed to shy away from short prose. Today, I think short prose is increasingly common from Tin House Flash Fridays to the New Yorker raving about Lydia Davis. That was a hole we were conscious of filling, but now has been filled. Perhaps we helped toss a few shovel loads in? Hopefully our kind of dirt is still distinct though.

We have also always been conscious of trying to create beautiful and unique objects at an affordable price. A kind of artsy punk aesthetic.

James Yeh: We’ve always been interested in being something of an alternative venue, too, somewhere that would be open to publishing things that would be deemed completely inappropriate or even laughable to someone else. “One man’s trash,” as the saying goes.
What are some of the more challenging and more rewarding aspects of putting together each issue?

James Yeh: One of the biggest challenges we face each issue is how to produce what we hope will be an engaging, artfully designed publication in a new format that is also within a certain, comparatively low cost. Sometimes this involves hand-gluing and hand-folding (as in issue 4, a newsprint accordion-fold); always this involves an amount of unsightly backdoor haggling. The reward is to share the work of the writers and artists you admire with those who would appreciate it, and to contribute in some small way to the literary community at large.

Lincoln Michel: Figuring out the theme, and how that theme will be represented and blown apart by both the content and the form/design always involves a lot of work, argument, and time. But it is rewarding when it all comes together!

Gigantic is also one of the most well-designed lit mags out there; how important was the design of it for you?

Lincoln Michel: Thanks! Our designer, Erin West, will certainly love to hear that! We’ve always aimed to create unique and well-designed issues. It is a major part of what Gigantic is about. There are a million lit mags out there and we have always aimed to have Gigantic be one of the ones that you want to keep on your bookshelf.

James Yeh: Yes, design is absolutely vital to us. There are so many fascinating and astonishing possibilities to print—why not try some of them? It’s important to us to have each issue contain elements of the unexpected. We feel it disarms the reader, clears them of preconceptions as to what the issue, and the pieces within it, will do.

You can purchase Issue 6 of Gigantic here.


Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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