Yet Risen, described to me as "mostly Q&A-style interviews with stars of screen, music, fashion, and board sports... with a focus on the 'big,' even spiritual questions," has survived for a few years. Board sports, fashion, spirituality... what's this about who's the how what? In theory, this magazine makes as much sense as Cargo.
In practice, I like it -- kind of. I have no clue why any editor in his or her right mind would group interviews with Paul McCartney, actress Kerry Washington, skateboarder Chad Knight and gospel rockers Skillet in one place. I don't understand how it makes any sense to bunch by-the-numbers reviews of "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Swashbuckler Soiree!" within six pages of a deep essay exploring Einstein and religion. But I find everything here diverting in a things-I'd-read-while-waiting-on-line way.
I just don't know who else will. There's minimal affinity between the individuals interviewed in each issue of Risen, meaning that most readers will only find one or two pieces of interest. Its tag line, "the spiritual edge of pop culture," will probably scare off or confuse a few more. That leaves John From Cincinnati - not the show's viewership, but John himself -- as the mag's target audience. This is a problem.
That'd be okay if Risen delivered on its promise to "talk about life, death, truth, deception, fear, courage, God and the afterlife," but it doesn't. Sure, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness opens up a bit about such issues, but the interviews mostly come across as the usual celebrity pap. Washington, for example, is asked "When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?" and "What draws you to certain roles?" Her answers are not, respectively, "In synagogue" and "A warm celestial glow."
Then there's the forced inclusion of the board-sports material, which might have something to do with the preponderance of ads for skate-rat clothing. I can only speculate that this mag was sold to advertisers as something drastically different than what it is. Really, how many California board monkeys can possibly be clamoring for in-depth chats with Peter Max?
I sure appreciate Risen's attention to detail, though. From a design perspective, the mag serves up one creative flurry after the next, whether a chalkboard-ish illustration of Einstein or a juxtaposition of images of the members of Skillet with old televisions. Even the pull-quotes get doted on: a blurry smudge for Chad Knight, a comic blast for Stan Lee.
In the July/August/September issue's letter from the editor, Risen's Steve Beard writes, "We rely upon an intelligent readership to sift through our interviews in search for truth and light." That's a noble and ambitious goal, especially since most magazines ask their oafish readership to sift through their pictures of shoes in search for laces and cuteness. Ultimately, though, good intentions only get you so far. Until Risen narrows its topical palette and better defines its mission -- go full-force on the spiritual stuff, or don't -- its appeal will remain scattershot at best.