SFX has been published since 1995, and in all that time there’s one question we get asked more than anything else: “Why do you deliberately cover up the letter ‘F’ to make it look like the magazine is called ‘SEX’?” Sometimes with mild amusement, and sometimes with outright disgust.
The short answer is: we don’t.
Here’s the long version:
The person responsible for the name of the magazine was our first editor, Matt Bielby. Speaking on the podcast Robby The Robot’s Waiting in 2020 (opens in new tab), Matt recalled how he came up with it.
“The obvious things to call it were very boring things like Science Fiction And Fantasy Monthly, and we weren’t going to do that. I wanted a very short name, and I wanted the letters S and F in it. So then I was trying to think of something very short that would have the letters S and F, and SFX was the best one I came up with. It means special effects… so I thought that was cool. And it looked amazing when we put it on the cover.
“My justification for the name was that it stood for Science Fiction Xplosion. My idea was that science fiction’s exploding: that this is the year, 1995, that science fiction is really gonna bust through and become mega-mainstream.
“At some juncture I’m sure we all became very aware that it looked like SEX if you covered up the bottom of it… For about five issues we didn’t cover up the logo at all, and then towards the end of my run we started covering up the logo quite a bit. But I think I’m right in saying I was aware not to cover up the bottom of the F if we could help it. But sooner or later I knew that inevitably we would cover it up.”
So that covers our first editor. But what about the others? Asked on the same podcast whether they ever intentionally covered up the “F” to make it look like SEX, our second, third and fourth editors, Dave Golder, Dave Bradley and Richard Edwards, all chorused, “No”. As Dave Golder put it: “It was always just that the art editor would go, ‘It looks better this way.'”
And this is the nub of the issue: “crashing the logo” by having a figure overlapping it is common practice in magazine cover design. Look at other publications – such as our sister title Total Film – and you’ll see that they also routinely do so. It makes for a more dramatic composition. It also relates to how magazines are stacked on the racks in shops: design-wise, it’s a good thing if you can get the face of a recognisable character peeping over the top of any magazine that’s filed in front of your own. If you rigorously avoid obscuring the logo it cuts down your options; it would effectively mean that any figures or faces have to be shrunken down, or partially covered up. Try looking at the cover of issue 14 above and imagining what it would look like if we hadn’t crashed the logo, and we reckon you’ll see what we mean. (It’s also worth remembering that generally we don’t shoot the cover photos ourselves: we have to work with what is supplied to us by TV or film companies).
It just so happens that we have a logo which, once crashed, can look a bit like SEX. Which means our options are renaming the magazine, shrinking down the logo, limiting our design options or, on occasion, making it look a bit like SEX.
And we do try to avoid the issue, or minimise it. Here’s our current editor, Darren Scott: “I didn’t really know with the first issue I did. I had the Stranger Things cast on the cover, and didn’t even consider that it would look like it might say SEX behind them. Ever since then I’ve been very careful to make sure the F isn’t covered if at all possible.”
So to summarise:
No, the magazine wasn’t deliberately called SFX so that it would look a bit like SEX.
No, we don’t sit in the office sniggering like overgrown schoolboys, going, “Tee hee, cover up the F to make it look like SEX!”
Oh, and it’s also not – as one popular YouTuber claimed – a cunning exercise in subliminal messaging. How on Earth could it be “subliminal”? We get asked about it every week!