Life after ‘Vice’: Former editor Jesse Pearson talks about his new magazine with fellow alum McPheeters

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Pearson (top) and McPheeters (bottom). ()
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After eight years as editor of Vice, Jesse Pearson left the place in late 2010 just as its parent company, Vice Media, was really starting to soar.

What was once a scrappy but slick hipster magazine that you could find on the street for free had begun to resemble a kind of insurgent mainstream media conglomerate, with its own online video network, a partnership with CNN, a show on MTV, and various other full-fledged content arms.

But Pearson's departure received little attention, even as it was becoming less and less novel to read about Vice and its affiliated brands in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

"We had diverging interests," he said in an interview last week. He hasn't looked at the magazine since: "It's out of my life now. I was ready to move on."

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Pearson hasn't altogether disappeared from the media scene: he wrote a lengthy feature for Playboy last summer and has another in the pipeline. And, as he recently announced on Twitter, he's starting a new magazine.

Pearson, a 36-year-old Philly native and Hampshire College alum who cut his teeth as an editor at Index before landing the top masthead slot at Vice in 2002, and his co-founder in the venture, writer and novelist Sam McPheeters, are busy gearing up for the launch of Exploded View.

The new quarterly, named for the type of technical drawings that show how objects get assembled, will fall somewhere in the center of the lit-mag spectrum—neither a twee indie journal tailored to precious 20-somethings nor a highbrow M.F.A.-department circular. Roughly 7,000 copies of the roughly 200-page, seven-by-ten-inch magazine's first issue will hit stands in September, with a national distribution focused in the types of cities where you'd expect to be able to find a title like this without having to look too hard—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.

There will be fiction, humor, interviews, photo essays, critical essays, reported features and investigative journalism. Things you will not find in Exploded View with any degree of regularity: Fashion, music, or topics that tend to hinge on current events or the 24/7 news cycle. 

"It's a lit mag, but sort of an augmented lit-mag-plus; more general-interest in a way," said Pearson. "It will be smart and funny, but also accessible."

And, for the most part, it will not look or read like Vice.

"I think this will be quite different in tone, except where it overlaps with things I did there that were very much me as an editor," said Pearson. "If you were ever a reader of Vice during my time there, you will be able to spot some parallels."

There will also be parallels owing to the rolodex Pearson filled up with writers and photographers during his time at Vice, including some who really were part of the Vice signature, like photographers Richard Kern, Terry Richardson and Ryan McGinley, and writers like McPheeters, whom Pearson had brought on as a Vice contributor a few years back before they ended up becoming good pals. (Albeit bicoastal ones: McPheeters lives in L.A.; Pearson in the Financial District.)

They were on the phone one day about six months ago when McPheeters proposed they start a magazine together.

"I apparently have more bandwidth than I thought," said McPheeters, 42, who's become well-known in recent years for his writings in Vice and other publications, including The Village Voice, but who aficionados of the '90s punk scene would first and foremost recognize as the singer of seminal New York hardcore band Born Against.

In that same vein, Issue no.1 will include a big feature by Ian Svenonius, former front-man of the iconic D.C. post-punk acts Nation of Ulysses and the recently-reunited Make-Up. But Pearson said it was still too early to reveal any of the other contributors. He was, however, able to share the names of Exploded View's other two "staff" members: Stacy Wakefield, formerly of Artforum, as design director; and Laris Kreslins, founding publisher of the late Arthur Magazine, who will be handling the business side.

Speaking of: "I'm not interested in anything that apporoaches the branded content kind of world," said Pearson. (The only start-up capital for Exploded View, by the way, has come from his and McPheeters' bank accounts.) "We'll be selling ad pages and looking for more targetted, interesting ways to sponsor things."

Pearson said Exploded View "will have a website that will be 'robust,' which is a word I've heard web marketers use to signify a site with a lot of content," and that it will also be available on e-reader devices.

But for all the tablet newspapers and iPad magazines and idiosyncratic literary websites that are popping up these days, Pearson and McPheeters never thought about Exploded View as being anything other than print.

"We wanted Exploded View to be a print magazine for probably the same reasons that most people who still do independent print magazines would cite: The beauty of the object, the tactility, the sense of permanence," Pearson wrote in a follow-up email. "I like the way that a book—and Exploded View will be shaped like a book—gets carried from the subway to the couch to the bathroom to the bed. It doesn't feel the same to me on an iPad. It doesn't feel intimate. I never take my iPad into bed to read at night—I'm too afraid of somehow breaking the damn thing in my sleep. And I know people who read their iPads on the toilet, but that grosses me out so bad it makes me dizzy. Maybe all of this means that I'm a Luddite."

Or maybe it's proof that print magazines won't be dying out anytime soon.