“Upon first glance at ‘Kodon,’ one would be forgiven in mistaking the oversized journal for a high-end fashion catalog,” wrote graphic designer Anne C. Kerns a judge from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). Her high praise for Kodon’s design accompanied a $1,000 cash prize for design as part of the 2018 National Program Director’s Prizes for Undergraduate Literary Magazines.
The prestigious award, which Kodon received for graphic design and layout, is one of two given nationally by the organization. Kodon’s achievements will be acknowledging in a forthcoming issue of the prestigious literary publication “The Writer’s Chronicle” and at the 2019 AWP Annual Conference and Bookfair, which, according to Ciera Horton McElroy (‘18), is the largest literary conference in North America.
McElroy was the supervising Editor in Chief of Kodon for the issue that won the prize. She told the Record in an email that this award is “quite the honor, since we were competing with undergraduate programs (of all sizes!) and literary journals from around the country. This award really speaks volumes to the artistic vision and creativity of the Wheaton students who made this journal possible — and to the way Wheaton continues to support the arts.”
Kodon has a rich history of being particularly effective at spotlighting the creative ingenuity of Wheaton students. The journal is a biannual art-centric journal that features students’ fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. Kodon was first published in October of 1946 and was originally a monthly publication with short stories, cartoons, pictures and editorials.
After several formatting changes, it became a seasonal publication in 1960. Kodon has seen its fair share of controversy over the years; its artistic community sometimes had different opinions than the Board of Trustees on the appropriateness of its content. After several suspensions in the 1960s, student editor in 1962 Wes Craven (who went on to direct such famous horror movies such as “Scream” and “Nightmare on Elm Street”) wrote that “it is the conviction in this office, that, in the arts the Fundamentalist Christian world, and more specifically Wheaton, is sadly short of its potential and far behind its contemporaries.
Therefore the copy of this magazine will remain (as long as the present staff remains), free and limited only by the criteria and the boundaries of artistry.”
His statement, followed by a similarly controversial winter issue, caused the Board of Trustees to suspend the student publication. The next year, Kodon was allowed to resume activities and has remained a mainstay for the artistic expression of the
Wheaton student body. A diverse student staff led by Kodon Editor-in-Chief Amanda Laky oversee each division of the issue, Wheaton students are invited to send in their literary and artistic work to be reviewed by other students and potentially featured. The graphic designing of each biannual Kodon publication is often overlooked. Students’ original designs and layout adorn each issue, centered around a theme.
This year, Kodon’s Spring Semester 2017 design received favorable feedback from national designers as a result of winning the AWP award. Kerns, the judge for the competition, raved about the evocation of a “gravitas that often accompanies black and white photography … Such restraint and exuberance set the stage for the content that follows. Each piece of art and writing, although independent, is held together with the dynamic tension of a quiet palette paired with solid type.” This restraint and exuberance were also reflected in the unique color blocking and text distribution of the issue, according to Kerns. She noted that “this push-pull, like breathing, creates a rhythm that carries the reader through the pages and allows the content to be savored. The publication is lively and contemplative at the same time, bookended by grid-based typographic layouts for the table of contents pages in the front, to short reflections on the theme in the back. The design is strong and cohesive and really quite lovely.”
Kodon staff who talked to the Record continually brought up Kerns’ comment that the design was evocative of a “high-fashion magazine.” Arah Ko (‘18), the poetry editor at the printing of the issue and the editor in chief at the time of submission, explained that the original vision for the design did indeed come from a high-fashion publication: “It’s not necessarily something you’d expect from a literary journal, but we have the opportunity to be a bit experimental as a student publication … so that was a really fun opportunity.”
The high level of design skill is equally unexpected for an undergraduate publication. In fact, Ko remarked that one of the original reasons for entering the Spring 2017 issue of Kodon into the competition was hope of recognition for the amount of work and resources that are poured into the journal.
“The quality was unusually high, school invests a lot in it, we train a lot of students to work on the staff and it wasn’t really getting to a wider audience or getting recognized outside of the immediate Wheaton community…. [and so through the AWP competition,] it was really great to be recognized in our first go.”
The design process is made easier by Kodon’s friendly relationship with their printer. Hannah Lane (‘19), the publicity manager for Kodon, told the Record what a difference it made for Kodon to have a close tie with the printers. She said emphatically that “We have a fantastic relationship with our printer; they have been working with us for years … it’s great, because printing costs for magazines (especially of the quality of Kodon) are really going up nationwide right now because there’s so much [competition].”
However, for Kodon, the printing price is kept low because the printer sees printing Kodon as part of their ministry. This special connection speaks volumes about the community- bridging impact of Kodon’s work, as it attempts to display thought-provoking art and writing in a God-honoring and beautiful way.
The printer also helped Kodon’s staff who worked on the winning issue brainstorm their design. Ko told the Record about this process. “They said, ‘you know, if you just find a sample of something that you’d like us to do, you can just bring it in and we can see how close we can get to that.’ So she actually found a fashion magazine and she was like ‘I like the feeling of this’ and so she brought it in, and there was this big meeting with the printer and the editorial team and the designer and they all collaborated and decided on the issue that we got.”
Building on the success of last year’s issues, Kodon is attempting to emphasize the universality of their mission through their design in this year’s offerings. “This year we’re really starting to explore the vibes,” Lane said with a grin.
“The vibes that we want Kodon to have this fall [are going to be] a little more homegrown, something very, artistic and bright and interesting because we’re really trying to emphasize that Kodon is for Wheaton.” As opposed to previous years, which Lane characterized as seeming to be “the English department and the art department putting out a shared effort,” Kodon is aiming to reflect the wide array of talents and backgrounds of Wheaton as a whole. The next issue will be “something very much about campus,” Lane told the Record. “Anyone can make art and write and do beautiful things, so I think that’s something that we want to reflect in our aesthetic.”
As opposed to the dark, subtle and simple edition that won the National Program Director’s prize, Kodon’s future issue will be eye catching, according to Lane. When asked about how winning the prize has impacted the Kodon staff, Lane told the Record, “It definitely has put the heat on,” laughed and then quickly added “In a good way, a good way!” Kodon’s success last semester has motivated the current Kodon staff, who are mostly new to their positions, to distinguish this issue. Lane explained, “We have something big to live up to now, and we’re a lot more visible, so it’s exciting because it feels like we’re recognized and validated for the first time.” The new, national visibility is exciting but also comes with its own set of responsibilities. Kodon must show itself to be well-made, conventionally excellent and yet altogether unique in order to garner accolades on the level of last year. Lane summarized Kodon’s mission this year as “hoping not to necessarily outdo ourselves but at least create something equally as impressive … it’s going to be different for sure, but we have no doubt that it’s going to be of the same quality, because we want to represent the college well.” Kodon is currently accepting submissions for their fall issue.
Submissions can be sent to kodon.submittable. com by Saturday Oct. 13 at midnight.