Terry Hirst and Joe Magazine

Volume 14, Issue 3  | 
Published 01/02/2018

Terry Hirst and Hilary Ng’weno founded Joe Magazine in 1973. They decided to start it because they were working jointly on the With a Light Touch column in the Nation newspaper, with Hilary doing the text and Terry the artwork for the column. Joe magazine, a satirical magazine, developed from there. The first office was an unused room in the Oxford University Press offices at Electricity House, Harambee Avenue, Nairobi. Roger Houghton leased it to them. Some months later, they moved to Esso House, on Mama Ngina Street. 

In January 1974 Nereas Gicoru Hirst joined them as production manager. In January 1975 Hilary moved on to publish the Weekly Review and then Terry and Nereas relocated the Joe office to Victoria House on Tom Mboya Street. Terry was the editor and art director and Nereas was now the publisher of the magazine.

Terry looked for more contributors for the magazine such as cartoonists like the late Edward Gitau (of Juha Kalulu fame) and Ivanson Kayai. Terry took aspiring young cartoonists under his wing, and he would train them for three months for them to produce something that they could put in the magazine. The first ones were the late Oscar Eshikaty, Kimani Gathigira, Martin Ngatia, Stambuli Nassir, and John Githinji - some of whom were employed by Joe, while others were freelancers who would drop off their cartoons. He also took in writers - a young guy walked into the Joe office one day; he was the late Jeremiah Aurah, who at the time was an O level school leaver wanting to be a journalist. There was no money to hire a journalist but Terry said they could publish his articles so that somebody would see his by-line, and then hopefully give him a job. He didn’t finish six months before Nation Newspapers snapped him up. He went on to later become the Nation Bureau Chief in Kisumu. Mugambi Karanja was another contributor who wrote for Joe. Joe was sort of a training ground for many young illustrators and writers. Sam Kahiga and Philip Ochieng were regular columnists for the magazine. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Kibutha Kibwana, and Meja Mwangi among others, also contributed.

Many writers used Joe for their exposure into the popular market. The market for Joe was primarily a male audience. The circulation was 10-15,000 copies per month. Because of this, many advertisers were interested in putting their content in the magazine. However Joe had a very strict editorial policy and they would not do write-ups on advertisers’ products. This reduced the advertisements and hence only a few would be prepared to put up an ad without backup articles. Joe was always on a shoestring budget and survived on sales alone. An additional struggle was no one was going to give advertising for a ‘cartoon magazine’ because the readers of Joe did not really have money, buying power, or interest in the kind of merchandise the advertisers wanted to promote, such as margarine and other household products.

In an attempt to broaden its scope and its market, Joe stopped being published in its original format in March 1978. Joe then became Joe Homestead, and it dealt with women and the home side of things. The idea was to make it more like a family magazine to attract women readers and more advertisers; but the advertisers refused to come unless it was on their terms. In addition, Joe Homestead was not as popular as Joe…people just wanted laughter. Cartoons.

Around 1980/81 the late Frank Odoi turned up at Terry and Nereas’ house in Thogoto, Kikuyu, having come straight from Ghana specifically to see Terry Hirst and Joe. He had been living with a cousin for some months and he was down and out on his luck and said he had nowhere to live. The cousin who had been housing him suggested he go back to Ghana but he didn’t want to without doing what he had come to do. That was how and why he made his way to where Terry was. Terry offered him food and board but he could not pay him because at the time, sales had gone down. 

At this point in the life of Joe Homestead, Terry and Nereas tried a new approach. They thought that trying to work without advertisers was the way to go, and Terry thought that doing the magazine entirely like a comic may work. A cheaper format. Joe Sukumawiki was the new look. It had actually been a pull-out within the Joe Homestead magazine. So Terry and Frank Odoi collaborated to produce Joe Sukumawiki. But the distributor decided not to handle it. Then in 1980 after eight years Terry and Nereas decided to fold the business. Nevertheless, Joe lives on in the minds of his fans.

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