In what were you involved before Hello Mr.?
My career path is quite a full-circle story, actually. I went from paperboy (my first job in life) to editor of my high school newspaper, which is where my interest in graphic design became apparent. I studied art and design at university while interning for People Design in Grand Rapids, MI. Following graduation, I moved to San Francisco for an internship at IDEO and at 21 was hired as a communication designer and strategist, spending the ensuing three years traveling to conduct research in Brazil, India, Singapore, and Australia. I burned out at 24 and left IDEO to explore other opportunities. I applied for and spent two weeks at FABRICA, Benetton’s communication research center in Treviso, Italy. At this point, the concept for Hello Mr. was just coming to form, and it was apparent that my head was elsewhere. After receiving the rejection, I returned to San Francisco to evaluate my options and decided to start over by getting rid of 80% of my possessions and moved to Australia where I spent the next year getting the magazine off the ground.
Why did you decide to create a magazine “about men who date men”?
Hello Mr. was born out of a need for something new. The idea for Hello Mr. was conceived in 2012, around the time that marriage equality in California was being challenged. I was living in San Francisco. Every conversation being had about LGBT people was centered on marriage. It was challenging, productive (mostly), and necessary, but I was 24 and marriage was not in sight for me. I saw an opportunity to host new conversations for my generation, and leapfrog what I saw as the inevitable end of political debates. The other conversation happening around this time was the imminent “death of print.” Imagine trying to launch a gay print magazine in Silicon Valley during this time. It took a lot of determination to disregard the doubt and charge on with my convictions. And I’m glad I did, because I think it’s quite clear now that those conversations have indeed shifted. I launched Hello Mr. boldly claiming it as my attempt at “rebranding gay media.” Though, I wasn’t just talking about the visuals. The luxury of depth in the personal narratives of this generation of gay males was long overdue, especially in print.
Was the design concept down to you alone?
Initially, yes. When it comes to design, I’m always open to feedback and value the opinion of our readers. As the magazine progresses, we’re evolving how the interior of the magazine is functioning. In the last few issues, I’ve shared the responsibility of laying out the magazine with designers in our network. I love having new sets of eyes on Hello Mr. It’s been just me for so long that bringing on additional help for the visuals is what inspires me to go forward, and breathe new life into the magazine. This most recent issue, I introduced a guest art director, Zhang Qingyun, who oversaw the composition of the entire book, introducing very subtle improvements to the typography, grid, and color palette that will elevate the magazine while still preserving what’s familiar and beloved about it.
How long did it take you from the first phase of the designing process until conclusion?
Designing the identity for the brand was the initial step, which organically led into designing a framework for the magazine, through designing tools like our media kit and the brand guidelines, which I sent out to the earliest contributors to introduce them to Hello Mr. The decisions for which fonts, colors, and grids would be used began here. Once I had some essays and visuals to work with, I lost track of time all together, referencing other magazines and playing around with countless versions of how Hello Mr. could look. It’s a rolling process, the design of the magazine, but it’s starting to get faster now that a template has been established.
Who were the initial collaborators, and how did they helped to give shape to the contents?
For the first year, I was mostly isolated (in Australia) as I prepared to get Hello Mr. off the ground. At the expense of my sanity at times, wearing all hats in the beginning is what allowed me to establish the clearly defined parameters of this new brand. After it started to get off the ground, and after the Kickstarter was successfully fulfilled, the collaborators were there right in front of me. Hello Mr. would be nothing that it is today without the support of a talented crew of contributors and volunteers around the globe who feel as passionately about growing this brand as I do. The individuals that have been engaged with creation of this brand from the beginning are the greatest advocates of what Hello Mr. aims to achieve, and that’s why the key readers and supporters of the magazine have been here since day one.
What is your relationship with advertisers, and moving forward how do you see this developing?
The biggest thing I always have to consider is the value alignment with what Hello Mr. is about and furthermore, how accessible they are as a brand. The top brand attributes that we launched with, and use as our checklist are accessible, realistic, insightful, coy, endearing, and witty. It’s important that the collaborators we align ourselves with uphold those values so we don’t turn into a company that tells you how to be or that prescribes a certain lifestyle. As our magazine is starting to take on advertisers, I put a lot of thought into what products I’d want next to our content. I’m picky in the sense that I wouldn’t want a reader to flip through my magazine and feel isolated, or to have a negative reaction to the commerce within the content. Choosing the wrong brands runs the risk of cheapening the quality that our readers are paying more for. As an odd parallel example, when Joanna Coles was put on as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, one of her first motions was to cut off all relationships with the sex-toy advertisers that littered the back of the book. A year later, Cosmopolitan has won a National Magazine Award for the first time since its emergence in 1965. If you treat your brand with respect, your readers will respect it too.
Apart from being gay, what characteristics do all your cover men share?
They’re all trailblazers of some kind, powering through some movement and with some vision for themselves that’s more often personal than it is grandiose. All our cover misters are unsatisfied with the status quo and are typically on the cusp of something—that is, they’re undergoing some shift or experiencing some kind of tide change that’s moving them into the next part of their They’re all sharp-witted, charming, daring, deeply talented, and an inspiration to many.
What do the contents must gather to have the editor-in-chief’s seal of approval and make it’s way to the press?
Each issue should evoke a range of emotions. Mostly, I hope that people who read Hello Mr. feel like they’ve discovered something that reflects exactly how they’re feeling, even it they weren’t expecting to at face value. The table of contents is neatly curated, with no sections or real division of content. In that, the entire magazine becomes a book with an arch and a resolution. I also created the magazine to be able to stretch outside its demographic. The magazine is about men who date men, not for men who date men. So when a woman in her forties decides to pick up Hello Mr. while wandering around a Barnes and Noble, she could feel a range of emotions too. Even though she’s “outside the demographic” it could still reach her on a personal level. A reader named, Daniel Lawson once explained it, “It feels like a manual for gay and straight people. It’s reflective, relatable, but most if all it’s human.”
Given that you fill so many roles in the process of making each issue, which part of this process you consider to be your favorite?
The interactions I get to have with the people who help create it. The community is the binding that makes this magazine happened, and I created Hello Mr. to inspire people and change perceptions about a gay experience. A younger version of me used to frequent the periodical section of booksellers looking for a sense of community so I could understand what it meant to be gay. Now I get to inspire the Ryan Fitzgibbons to come, and to work with like-minded amazing people. That’s the best part.
How many copies are you printing and how many countries is the magazine currently distributed?
6.500 copies distributed in 21 countries.
With what magazines have you grown up with?
In my teenage years and into university, I subscribed to GQ, Nylon Guys, PRINT, ID, IdN, and Monocle. As an adult, my taste evolved to include Fantastic Man, BUTT, Apartamento, Colors, and 032c, as staples in my collection.
What magazines inspire you nowadays?
The greatest influence in starting Hello Mr. were the creators behind titles like Underscore, Offscreen, Kinfolk, Bad Day, Apology, The Great Discontent, and Day Job. As peers, we inspire and motivate each other in our independent projects. The collaboration behind the indie magazine movement often goes unnoticed, but we’re all in this together, all us little guys.
What binds the gay reader in Siberia to the magazine, the same way it binds to a reader in NY?
The biggest challenge and greatest feat we achieve in Hello Mr. is constantly finding new universality in the stories we publish. And as I’ve mentioned, the universality lies in its human quality. People feel connected to something that is compelling and something that reflects them, their relationships, and their inner dialogue.
How is the “Hello Mr.” man?
Someone who doesn’t want just accept the status quo as true. Someone who has a sense of individual style, who isn’t all that affected by the mainstream, and someone who is smart, cherishes the long-read – separate from sexual orientation or identity. The magazine evolved into what it is today by creating a deeper emotional understanding for how the media represents this new generation of men who date men, so the Hello Mr. “mister” instantly understands that.
What do you consider to be the hardest about being an independent publisher?
I’ve learned so much since starting Hello Mr., but an important skill I’m constantly practicing is the art of delegation. Any entrepreneur can appreciate the discomfort that comes with sharing the responsibility of caring for your baby with someone else. Slowly but surely though I’ve brought in new people to help me grow what I’ve made. And it’s getting easier to let go of the more I’m realizing how deeply knowledgeable people are of the brand and the direction it’s headed.