Jesse Pearson is super pretentious. Pearson, the founder and editor of Apology Magazine, a 256-page quarterly that will be sold at bookstores, museum shops, and online starting February 13, wouldn’t mind being described that way at all. “I think pretension has been maligned,” Pearson told Co.Create one recent morning at a café near his apartment in Manhattan’s Financial District. “I think pretension often signals an ambition.”
How pretentious is Pearson? In 2010, when he left Vice, the magazine he’d edited for 8 years, he enrolled in a course of study of Ancient Greek because, as he said, “It seemed like a good thing to do.” He’s also the kind of person who can rhapsodize about semicolons (there’s a 28-page feature about the “endangered” punctuation mark in his magazine), and note in an editor’s letter that “Apology‘s house style is a mishmash of my favorite sources.” He’s also the sort of guy who’s happy to dig through the university papers of Frederick Exley, the late author of A Fan’s Notes, to find and publish a lost work. At Vice, Pearson published interviews with, and pieces by, dozens of authors, academics, and poets (poets!), and yet, when he finds himself at literary events, he says he feels like “a total hillbilly.”
Of course, when he said that, he was still a little pretentious: “I get in those rooms with those lit mag types and I feel like Huck Finn’s dad.”
Editing Vice, Pearson toggled back and forth from his pretentious side to its opposite, what he describes as “sophomoric and idiotic.” He assigned dispatches from war zones and America’s forgotten corners and created issues full of fabrications and tributes to drugs. However, there was one big fish Pearson never managed to hook. “I asked Bill Clinton for an interview pretty much every month when I was at Vice,” he says. For whatever reason (maybe it was The Kill Your Parents Issue?), the former President of the United States never accepted the offer.
Pearson has been working on Apology for about a year in his home office. He funded the magazine himself for around $20,000, and its mix features similar stories to what might’ve run in Vice under his editorship, but with a more grown-up sensibility: “I always said I didn’t want to be the guy approaching 40 editing a magazine for 25-year-olds.”
While he prefers not to talk about his time at Vice, there’s a telling aside in Hunter Stephenson’s lengthy history of O.C. and Stiggs, Robert Altman’s “lost” National Lampoon teen flick: “In the wake of [co-founder Doug Kenney’s] death, the Lampoon was feeling corporate pressure to sex up and dumb down editorial. The pressure had always been there–it’s eventually felt at all youth-driven media companies–but now the balance was tilting.”
Pearson said he chose the name Apology because he wanted to, well, apologize. “I feel like I may have been part of a culture that was too dedicated to ironic distance, a little too afraid to be earnest,” he says. “The whole Williamsburg, you’d call it ‘hipster,’ scene and everything.” He sees the magazine as “me apologizing for some of the culture I was responsible for in the ’00s, and this being sort of restitution.”
That “restitution” includes a profile of poet John Ashbery, a “brutal, vicious attack on Wikipedia,” and that aforementioned paean to the semicolon. There’s also art from many of Vice‘s signature photographers, like Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley, and Roe Ethridge.
Anchoring the issue is Pearson’s own interview with [Adult Swim] super freaks Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim that runs an attention span-flouting 60 pages. “It may be longer than it needs to be,” Pearson admits. “But it’s kind of like my 37-year-old statement. If I were a 15-year-old punk, it would be throwing a brick through a bank window. Instead, I’m doing a 20,000-word Tim and Eric interview.”
“It’s a very in-depth interview,” he noted, teeing up what is probably the world’s first Tim, Eric, and Proust reference: “This is my In Search of Lost Time.” (Pretentious!)
Apology has a print run of 2,500 copies and Pearson is envisioning a slow web and tablet rollout with new monthly content and columns on the site and an app launching sometime around issue 4. “I’m not in a rush,” he says. “I still think print can be done. You need to find an audience and talk to them in a natural way and you print according to interest.”
Pearson won’t say what he’s planning for the next issue, but he’s confident about the tone he’s trying to strike. “I’ve always said to anyone who’s listened that a magazine needs to reflect its editor-in-chief’s reality… I like the idea of being a little more openhearted now,” he said without the slightest note of pretense.