The young artists who founded BOMB in 1981 chose the name because it fit the art they and their friends were making, which was underground, anarchic, and frequently ephemeral. They had no idea that the magazine, the 100th issue of which is now on newsstands, would have such staying power.
BOMB's format — composed primarily of interviews with artists by artists, with interviewer and interviewee often from different genres, such as poetry and painting, or music and film — turned out to be highly popular.
The concept bubbled up out of the stew of art and conversation that was happening at the time in downtown Manhattan. The magazine's editor, Betsy Sussler, who in 1981 was acting and directing for an ensemble theater company, recalls the time as intensely collaborative. "Everyone was working with everyone," Ms. Sussler said. "Jim Jarmusch would step in to do a film clip for someone in theater, or Ross Bleckner would do the stage sets for Gary Indiana's play."
One night, Ms. Sussler, who was 26 at the time, said, "‘Wouldn't it be great if we started a magazine where we talked about the artwork the way we talk about it among ourselves?'"
The idea of giving artists a chance to talk about their work, instead of only being talked about by critics, was particularly appealing to the founding group. "It was one of those ideas you throw around: ‘We should have a magazine of our own,'" the artist Sarah Charlesworth recalled. "Magazines like Artforum and Art in America always seemed to be coming from some other voice of authority."
In addition to Ms. Sussler and Ms. Charlesworth, the group included a painter, Michael McClard, and a writer, Glenn O'Brien, who had a column in Andy Warhol's Interview magazine and a variety show on public access television, called "Glenn O'Brien's TV Party." A friend, Liza Bear, had experience starting a magazine, having founded an earlier, short-lived magazine of artist interviews called Avalanche, so she became an adviser.
Mr. O'Brien, in an interview, took credit for coming up with the name. "I was thinking of something along the lines of ‘Cahiers du cinéma,'" he said, referring to the magazine that helped launch the French New Wave, and to which filmmakers such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard contributed. "I suggested that we call it ‘Films That Bomb,' with ‘Films that' in really small letters, and ‘Bomb' in really big letters," Mr. O'Brien said. "Everybody said, ‘That's great, but let's leave out the ‘Films That.'"
Both Mr. O'Brien and Ms. Sussler said they liked that BOMB evoked an early 20th-century avant-garde magazine: Wyndham Lewis's BLAST, the two issues of which contained contributions from Ezra Pound and Rebecca West.
With a loan of $3,000, the BOMB group put out their first issue — a mix of interviews, essays, and the odd manifesto. After the first issue, Ms. Sussler said, they got a grant of $5,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts, which allowed them to keep publishing. The magazine also got ads from downtown nightspots, including the Mudd Club and Puffy's Tavern, and from art galleries. "The first dealer to place an ad was Leo Castelli, and then everyone else followed," Ms. Sussler said.
The early issues focused largely on the downtown scene, but over time, the magazine has expanded its view far beyond New York. The 100th issue features interviews with the Hungarian novelist Peter Nádas, the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, and the Swedish painter Mamma Andersson, as well as ones with New York artists such as Kara Walker and Kate Valk (the actress who stars in many of the Wooster Group's productions). BOMB also does an annual "Americas" issue, devoted to artists and writers from Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Right now, BOMB is redesigning its Web site, with funding from the Andy Warhol Art Writing Initiative and NYSCA. The new Web site, which will launch in a beta version next week, will be database-driven, allowing users to search back issues easily and allowing the magazine staff immediately to link to past interviews with people who are in the news — an interview with Helen Mirren on the occasion of her Oscar win, an interview with the late novelist Roberto Bolaño on the occasion of the recent publication in English of "The Savage Detectives."
Most significantly, BOMB is digitizing all its archives, so will be able to access the magazine's more than 800 interviews. "It will be a tremendous resource," Ms. Sussler said. "They're intellectual oral histories of the cultural scene, not only in New York but now worldwide."
Ms. Sussler attributed the magazine's longevity to the support and enthusiasm of a broad community of artists. There are more than 75 contributing editors on the masthead, from the fields of visual art, architecture, film, theater, and writing. Besides doing interviews, the contributing editors suggest artists whom the magazine should feature.
"We go to them every year or so and ask who is on their radar screen," BOMB's senior editor, Nell McClister, said. "They're really our eyes and ears on the ground."
Visual artists also support the magazine, which is a nonprofit, by donating art works for the silent auction at the annual gala, which is generally attended by a high-profile mix of writers, artists, dealers, and curators.
"While it's become much more of a real, professional publication over the years, it still comes from very much within an arts community," Ms. Charlesworth said.
Though the other founders are no longer on the masthead, having continued their artistic careers, Ms. Sussler has found a real home at the magazine. "I didn't understand how much I would love editing," she said. "Because my interest in film and theater was all about dialogue. When you're in rehearsal, you're transforming text, you're coming to an understanding of the playwright's text, and that's not so different from the process I use at BOMB to create the interviews."