Since starting this blog and becoming somewhat overwhelmed at its growth over the past 5 years, I've become very aware of the inextricable link between independent publishing and popular culture. No matter how small and seemingly niche, the voices of independent publications, whether online or in print, always seem to point to important cultural shifts waaaaay before mainstream media or the public catch on. In its own small way, I guess The Design Files has been a bit of a game changer in the way people think about design and creativity in Australia. Which is pretty amazing given that it really is still the tiniest operation, based from home, and pulled together with the help of just a small pool of lovely contributors, who generously accommodate our very modest budgets. Such is the magic of the written word, a passionate voice, and an engaged, loyal readership.
My point is, independent publishing is really important. It's actually usually far more important than the publishers themselves realise at first. The best independent publications are part of a movement. In generating content they genuinely believe in, content that is relevant and new, and not tied to commercial interest, independent publishers more often than not become an important part of the subculture they originally set out to document. This is certainly the case with Hello Mr - a brilliant new magazine 'about men who date men', created in Sydney by US expat Ryan Fitzgibbon.
Hello Mr. 'aims to redefine what it means to means to be a gay man today' – a pretty big statement. But that's what I like about Ryan - he thinks big! 'We believe that Hello Mr. can address the need, felt by the modern majority, to rebrand ‘gay’ and move beyond any unrepresentative depictions defined by our past' he explains.
After starting out as a blog, Hello Mr. has evolved into the printed word, supported by a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign late last year, and driven by Ryan's single minded vision to create a relevant publication for a community of gay friends and acquaintances who he felt were not represented by existing media.
You will not see a rainbow flag or a flawlessly toned male abdomen within the pages of Hello Mr. Instead, the first issue, out this week, focuses on themes of growth, tradition, love, loss, and belonging. 160 pages of stories, essays and interviews come from an amazing pool of nearly 80 contributors, including Adam Goldman (writer, director, and actor of the web series The Outs), Brisbane-based writer and author Benjamin Law, Brooklyn-based photographer Greg Reynolds, Australian ex-hockey player Gus Johnston, photographer Kevin Truong of The Gay Men Project, NYC blogger Ryan O’Connell, and many more.
Hello Mr. is dense, thoughtful and it's really brave. Ryan has really put his heart on his sleeve with this project - and it shows. It's a thought provoking, entertaining read - but above all, it's earnest and genuine. An authentic voice, representing a new generation of gay men.
The eagerly awaited first issue of Hello Mr. is out this week - you can purchase a copy online here. It's priced at $25.00 for print copy, or $9.99 for iPad version. And it has NO ADS in it. At ALL.
Amazing work Ryan! You must be well chuffed.
I've always had a love affair with magazines. In high school I was given the opportunity to be a design editor for The Update, our school newspaper in Midland, Michigan, where I was born. I remember that the year I joined was the year the award-winning newspaper was to transition from being built in QuarkXPress to Adobe InDesign. A simultaneous redesign meant the moment was ripe for me to step up and trial a budding interest in design. Deadline week each month was something I look back on fondly; the late nights with free reign of campus, the camaraderie, the drama – never a dull moment!
I wasn’t into sports, so the newspaper, a club for emerging leaders in business, and the Arts Honors Society were the extracurricular activities that kept me occupied and out of trouble during my teenage years. Simple math could have pointed me toward a career in publishing back then. (Retrospective thinking always makes everything appear simple though!) Needless to say, before I ventured into publishing my first magazine, these activities first led me to study communication design at university.
It wasn’t until my final year at Grand Valley State University, in Grand Rapids, Michigan that I started to comprehend the value of design in effectively telling a story or expressing an idea. I was 20 years old and finally out as gay to myself, my family, and my close friends. Though, for my classmates, the people I spent everyday with, I decided to use a class assignment to communicate the news. I designed a book about marriage equality, and for the first time ever felt the influence of design and the role that it plays in shaping peoples' understanding of important issues.
After graduating in 2009 I found myself in San Francisco, California, working for the global design consultancy IDEO, and volunteering as a Co-Chair of Communications for the San Francisco chapter of AIGA, the largest professional organisation for design in the United States. The projects I worked on at IDEO ranged from enriching teacher effectiveness in the US education system, to designing new packaged food products and branding for 'hip' millennial women, to understanding the emotional behaviors behind our financial decisions. I spent the greater part of my time travelling, which at IDEO meant immersing yourself in a culture and uncovering stories to retell to your clients. Singapore, Chicago, São Paulo, Mumbai, Boston, Los Angeles, London, New York City, and Melbourne were all explored with this journalistic lens.
In early 2012, I decided it was time for me to pursue a more personal path. I saw my exit from IDEO as a chance to explore what I was uncertain was left to explore. Ultimately, I found myself back in Australia, a place that embraced me straight away, but that I didn’t have enough time to fully explore in my first brief visit. Some time before moving, I had started a blog with some friends about dating and being gay. It was casual in its tone and frequency, but we were on to something and, like my curiosity about the land Down Under, I knew there was something deeper to be explored. The blog, Hello Mr. soon evolved into the concept for a magazine about a new generation of men who date men.
My research trip to Melbourne in September of 2011 coincided with the 25th anniversary issue of Desktop magazine, and the opening exhibition of Diamonds in the Rough, documenting '20 years of printed ephemera lovingly (and incidentally) sourced, collected and treasured from Melbourne, Sydney and beyond'. It was my heaven, and as hard as it was to leave, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I returned.
Back in San Francisco, I researched the creative scene Down Under, and it didn’t take long to discover the thriving community of designers, entrepreneurs, and independent publishers. Combined with my own quality of life assessment, it was hard to deny Australia the chance at becoming my future home, and the base of my new business.
The inaugural issue of Hello Mr. has been a long time in the making. Both the class assignment that I mentioned earlier and the initial Hello Mr. blog were my early attempts at shaping my own definition of what it meant to be gay. Be it for myself, or for others around me, the disenfranchised feeling that my 'lifestyle' was being misrepresented by the current selection of magazines on the newsstand, motivated me to create something new – something that I wanted to be associated with.
More than a magazine, Hello Mr. is a community of men who date men that hope to rebrand their image, by starting new conversations about their interests, values, fears, and aspirations that extend beyond political agendas and pride parades. This shared sentiment of an entire generation of gay men made the grassroots approach of using the crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter a clear choice.
I could have gone to investors or advertisers straight away to raise funds, but the response wouldn’t have been the same. The individuals that have been engaged with the creation of this brand from the beginning are the greatest advocates of what Hello Mr. aims to achieve.
In previous experience, I’ve helped restructure organisations, redesign brands, and build on existing strategies, but I had never built one from the ground up and stayed around long enough to manage it. As a solopreneur (it's in the Urban Dictionary, so its totally a thing!) the most challenging adjustment for me was knowing when to transition and prioritise the various phases of development. In the early stages, while I was forming the style guide, designing the website, and assembling a contributors agreement, I was also scouting writers, photographers, and illustrators that I wanted to work with, desperately seeking confirmation by their level of enthusiasm that this idea was even worth investing in.
Whenever you’re trying to explain something new to someone, you anticipate asking your audience to imagine, and to 'stick with you'. Remarkably though, I never had to do that with Hello Mr. More often than not, I found my explanations hijacked mid-sentence by my audience, whether gay or straight. I didn’t have to explain the reason why I called it 'a magazine for men who date men' rather than a gay lifestyle magazine. People got it intuitively, and that’s how it became clear that there was something really worth pursuing here.
Prior to launching the campaign and opening up the call for submissions, I had commissioned about 30 percent of the content for issue 01. By the end of, I had received over 100,000 words from nearly 100 hopeful contributors – far more than enough to fill 168 pages.
To say that the editing process that followed was difficult would be putting it lightly. Luckily, I had the help of a brilliant editor in Berkeley, California who made up for my lack of experience and kept me honest about the brand that I was building. Creating anything with the word 'inaugural' before it is perhaps the most terrifying and anxiety-inducing experience anyone can put themselves through. If this was just a one-off thing and it were to completely fail, then NBD, at least I could walk away knowing that I accomplished what I set out to achieve. Oh no. This first edition would set the tone of every future issue to come. Also, if you remember, I made the claim that Hello Mr. 'aims to redefine what it means to means to be a gay man today' – a pretty big statement that I had to live up to! Once the contributions that best represented this vision were confirmed and a structure was formed, all that was left was visualising the articles and completing the design of the magazine.
Of course it all seems like a systematic sequence of events, but collaborating with nearly 40 writers and an equivalent number of photographers and illustrators, while organising the production and distribution was anything but systematic. It was a real test in multi-tasking!
This first issue focuses on universal themes of growth, challenging tradition, love (and loss), and belonging. The content of this 168-page issue contains stories, essays, interviews, and reflections from a diverse group of contributors, including Adam Goldman, writer, director, and actor of the web series The Outs, Brisbane-based writer and author Benjamin Law, Brooklyn-based photographer Greg Reynolds, Australian ex-hockey player Gus Johnston, photographer Kevin Truong of the Gay Men Project, NYC blogger Ryan O'Connell, and many others.
The biannual format means that I’m able to learn from the feedback on this first one before I jump straight into the creation of issue 02. I anticipate parts of the magazine to evolve, just as all magazines do as they grow, but the core principles of the brand will remain. In time, beyond just expanding our reach to more people around the globe, I hope to expand our offering into products and services that are both relevant and attainable to this demographic.
Life is full of happy coincidences, and this was just another one that proved that I was meant to be in Sydney. As all freelancers know, working from home is the fastest way to kill any chance of productivity. Sure, it keeps overhead down, but unless you want to stay in 'start-up' mode forever, you need to find an office and inject some routine into your day. So that’s what I did, I found a lovely co-working space in Sydney, appropriately called Homework that became my new headquarters. As it turned out, Josh Capelin, who I was rented a desk from, also happened to manage s pop-up space on Oxford Street called Under New Management (UNM). As part of the City of Sydney’s 'Making Space for Creativity' initiative, UNM invites creative entrepreneurs to temporarily set-up-shop to test out and share their ideas.
It just so happened that there were no tenants occupying the space for the whole of February, a month that famously attracts thousands of LGBT people from around the world to celebrate Sydney Mardi Gras festival. I couldn’t refuse the invaluable exposure, but as much as I wanted to open the doors to the foot traffic of Oxford Street, my deadline was looming and work had to get done. So, the blank space became an aquarium for the public, watching the design and editing process in action. In the final week, I presented the progress I’d made and held an open house to build increased anticipation of the release of issue 01. I found this much more rewarding than having a proper launch. In a close-to-final-state, I was able to gather last minute feedback and invite our prospective readers into the process. Just as the Kickstarter campaign invited individual investment in the brand, this open format engaged the community into the process more than if I had just presented a final product to them.
It would be cliché to say that there’s no such thing as a typical day for me, but lately typical has been anything but the case, so I’ll try my best. I’ve always been an early riser, so whether it’s a weekend or weekday, I’ll wake up at 7:00am and check my email first thing. The benefit of having contributors around the world is that feedback that I gave them the night before is generally addressed by the time I wake up – it’s incredible how efficient time zones can be for collaboration. I’ve got a pretty serious system to categorise the concern of the email and its level of priority, so I spend about an hour organising my inbox with a coffee and a big bowl of muesli before I make myself presentable to the world.
By the time I get to my office in the co-working space in Darlinghurst it’s 10:00am, and depending on what needs to be responded to first, I’ll spend the rest of the morning sending emails and being a boss (i.e. admin, updating Facebook, Skyping with US-based contributors or my sub-editor in California, other general boss-like tasks).
I eat all day long, so lunch is never anything special and usually happens at my desk. I’d rather be productive getting crumbs in my keyboard than I would endure eating a meal by myself. That said, if I need to get away from my screen and I have something to keep me occupied like editing an article, I’ll gladly 'have here' at any of the gorgeous cafes Surry Hills has to offer, and feel totally creative and important in the company of my Moleskine and selection of pens!
If I’m feeling healthy, I’ll take a break from designing around 3:30pm and pop off to the gym (this happens about once a week, but I feel like I should mention that I do in fact, have a gym membership!). I generally work until 7:00 or 8:00pm when my boyfriend gets out of work. We both love to cook, so we’ll usually meet each other halfway and buy the ingredients for our nightly feast. While he chops up the produce, I download the latest episode of Girls and sneak a peek at my email one last time before it’s shut off for the night. Bedtime is almost always before 11:00pm because my internal alarm clock could care less how many hours of sleep I got the night before, and tomorrow I'll be up at the exact same time, ready to do it all over again.
I’ve always loved the work of Melbourne-based illustrator Marc Martin of The Jacky Winter Group, and was so thrilled to work with him to visualise an article written by Benjamin Law, author of two books and contributor to magazines such as frankie, Good Weekend, and The Monthly. Two incredibly creative minds that came together to create an outstanding feature for the first issue of Hello Mr.
Filmmaker and Director, Guy Franklin is also a talented mister that I’ve had the privilege to collaborate with on the introductory video to Hello Mr. Still early in his career, Guy has already directed music videos for Kimbra, All the Colours, and Delta Goodrem.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t’ say my boyfriend, Michael Kelly, who is one of the most creative and driven individuals I know. He's the technical director and color specialist for Oscar Oscar Salons in Sydney, we couldn’t be in more different industries, but watching him create his first collection for Hair Expo Australia was a truly inspiring process to be on the sidelines of.
I’ve always wanted to design the perfect flying experience for an airline; the tickets, the boarding process, the flight attendants uniforms, the safety-instructional video, the food, the in-flight reading material, the loyalty program, all of it!
Although I have to say, creating my own magazine has always been a dream, so I’m pretty content doing what I’m doing for now!
Opening up the call for submissions in May for issue 02!
It’s hard to beat Surry Hills. It’s central, has great coffee, and enough four-legged furry friends to keep anyone’s endorphins at a constant high (but then again, what neighbourhood in Sydney doesn’t?).
Beautiful Pages on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. This gorgeous boutique shop stocks the best collection of design books and magazines on this side of Sydney. I got to know the owner, Tiana Vasiljev as a neighbour to her bookshop while I had my pop-up shop, and would be honoured to see my magazine on her shelves.
I finally had a chance to visit Kitchen by Mike in Rosebery, surrendering to all the hype, and wasn’t disappointed in the slightest – delicious to all the senses.
Saturday is my day to dream and recharge from the week past. I’ll take myself out for brunch with a stack of magazines and the Moleskine that contains all the to-do lists and ideas for Hello Mr., including the list of potential names that appears on the eighth page. There are only ten empty pages in the back now, but I’ve had it from day one, so it feels like the extension of my brain – a handy tool to have nearby on hazy Saturday mornings.
So far, Sydney hasn’t struck me as a city of many secrets. If it’s good, people know about it. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, but I think any city of its size always benefits from the 'smallness' that comes from underground initiatives. It seems like Sydneysiders are starved for that, and in time, with more initiatives like the one the one I benefited from by the City of Sydney, I think we’ll start to see a lot more of these small creative efforts start to emerge.