Gay magazines are often consigned to one of two fates: vacuous lifestyle titles that swing between pop culture and personal grooming, or more recently, two a penny erotica journals. Unfortunately, most of them don’t really seem do anything to push gay culture forward in a smart and less stereotypical way. Rare then are the subtle and more nuanced publications like Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom’s Butt, and over the last couple of years Ryan Fitzgibbon’s Hello Mr., the sixth issue of which recently launched in Berlin.
The magazine’s beautiful new issue issue takes on the mystique of Berlin and general ideas about experimentation, featuring a cover and intimate photo series shot by Berlin-based filmmaker and photographer Matt Lambert. It also includes an interview with photographer Marcus Leatherdale who got his start working for Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1980s and has since shot everyone from Andy Warhol to Madonna to Divine, and as usual there are numerous personal essays tackling modern gay life from interesting and individual perspectives.
The idea for Hello Mr. came about during six months Ryan spent in Singapore whilst working as a strategic brand consultant. “Whilst I was traveling I kept dipping in and out of comfortable gay life to back in the closet essentially. I would spend my weekends in Singapore in magazine shops or looking at the newsstands and there was no gay offering. Of course there wouldn’t be in Singapore. I did bring a few issues of Butt with me, but I wouldn’t have been confident enough to read those in public. So when I got back to San Francisco, my main idea was to make something for the community the traditional gay publication didn’t cater to. As soon as I started really forming the core character it was everyone else I was selling the idea to that started encouraging me to make something that was on shelf and that would be disruptive.”
“With the first issue I was hung up on and immediately cast as another gay magazine they wouldn’t consider… until they saw it.”
- Ryan Fitzgibbon
An “exercise in vulnerability” is how Ryan described issue one. “I still really see that as what the success of the magazine is founded on,” he explains. “It’s not just my own vulnerabilities that I’ve exposed to create something, the content that the magazine naturally collected through submissions was all extremely vulnerable; a lot of thoughts and feelings about being left out of the conversation in some way or another."
That was nearly three years ago and the magazine has definitely found its feet, sticking to its guns and only changing where its readership needs it to. “Three years is quite a long time for something like this to evolve and our readers who have been there from day one are growing up and evolving too, maybe getting married or having new experiences," he tells me. "I’ve always said that it’s a reflection of modern gay life so it needs to be reactive in that way.”
As the magazine and its following have grown, so has its distribution, which sees Hello Mr. stocked in 22 countries and counting. “I’m essentially still a one-man show, so I do distribution and sales. With the first issue I was hung up on and immediately cast as another gay magazine stockists wouldn’t consider… until they saw it.”
The tagline “about men who date men” has remained a constant. “It’s strategic,” Ryan explains. “It’s apparent it’s a gay magazine, but it makes you rethink the content; it’s just about men who happen to date men – or marry them, or shag them or whatever. It’s stuck and it’s the only copy on the cover. I want it to be there as it goes into markets like Singapore and shops that have never carried a gay magazine. Just the fact that that tagline can exist in those places is another success or step forward.”
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