When she graduated, alumna Cat van Maanen put her Media and English Literature course learning to immediate practice setting up Conker Magazine.
“I graduated in 2017 from the University of Brighton with a BA (Hons) in Media and English Literature. Throughout my academic life I had been keen to explore the prospects of a career in journalism – I spent my pocket money on magazines as a child and as I grew older this habit didn’t change (if anything it seemed to spiral out of control!)
I held the position of News Editor at the university’s The Verse student run paper during my second year. Through this I learnt a great deal on how to hone my journalistic skill and often took on the extra jobs across other areas of the paper. Whilst I have not taken the conventional route into magazine publishing, I found that my degree gave me a unique perspective on writing and creating that I still reflect upon.
During my second year, alongside the Verse, I also took internships at publications such as, AnOther magazine, as well as start-ups such as, Fizzy and WILDABOUT magazine. One piece of advice I would always give is that mixers are always worth attending. You never know who you might meet. My choice to pursue this career has taken me to styling jobs in Germany, creating shoots featured on Vogue Italia and Vogue España. I changed my mind so much during this period – and was torn between pursuing styling and journalism … Go with the flow, you don’t need to know precisely what you want right now, don’t put so much pressure on yourself! Any step forward towards your goals is still a step forward. Even if it is ensuring you are caring for your physical and mental health.
In winter 2017, I took the plunge to launch my own publication, CONKER, into print. I felt that I knew enough of the basics; I had a few contacts and a mindset of ‘what I need to know I’ll work out along the way’. I predicted that CONKER would have a modicum of success but I never anticipated quite the effect it would have. CONKER is an art magazine which is created by survivors and for survivors of marginalising experiences. Our themes are extensive, covering areas such as gender, sexuality, mental health, race, ethnicity and self love.
By the second issue, RISE, we were being invited to zine fairs, and to events such as the Rebecca Violette fashion show which was centred around marginalised bodies. People were reaching out to me telling me how the magazine and its powerful contributors have brought them back from giving up on life entirely; it has inspired people to pursue art as an escape. It has empowered people to leave toxic situations and environments.
As of today, I can say that the CONKER platform has created its own community and family; linking people from all over the world. CONKER has appeared at numerous zine fairs, including the Southend, Village Green Festivalwhich draws tens of thousands of visitors per year. I was invited to speak on a panel at the Self Love Jam in Dalston and have been interviewed and involved in a chapter in someone’s dissertation. CONKER has also been circulated within drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres and used in group therapy as a talking piece. CONKER has also been distributed on newsstands across the UK, the US, Canada and parts of Europe. We also collaborate with up-and-coming authors and artists, ensuring that our platform promotes their work. We strictly believe in community over competition. CONKER has been displayed as part of the GRRRLZINE library in Victoria House in London for an exhibition in collaboration with Saatchi Art and The Other Art Fair. We’ve been invited to many incredible shows; we have been displayed at LUSH, Cheapside during Mental Health Awareness Week. We were invited to speak at a Purple Roan event (which was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19), and I attended the TED gala on behalf of CONKER in order to discuss future activism for thyroid eye disease. Most recently, we were featured on the Urban Outfitters EU blog as one of the top ten zines of all time by Lu Williams. There are currently so many exciting projects and collaborations in the works!
My experiences as a survivor should, by society’s standards, make me feel alone and isolated. Through CONKER‘s growing team and family, we are sharing the fact that marginalised voices WILL be heard, that there is community to be found in loneliness, and love and compassion to be found in pain. CONKER certainly saved my own life. I intend to give back by continuing to work hard to lift up other marginalised voices through the platform and to keep giving back to the forgotten and ignored communities.
Authenticity is everything – regardless of what you want to go into. You are unique, and what you bring to the table is something that one sector desperately needs. You might even carve out your own area! Always remember this.
The University of Brighton most certainly encouraged this individuality within me. I don’t know who I would be or where I would be without my time there and without my fantastic and inspiring lecturers.
I created CONKER on the back of a very dark time. If you are reading this and feeling without hope, remember this ever-so-slightly cringey line “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.”
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