Ryan Fitzgibbon is the founder of Hello Mr., a magazine that aimed to share stories of individuals around the world and create an opportunity for a misrepresented generation of gay men to rebrand themselves. With much grief and fanfare, Ryan announced the closure of the magazine in the summer of 2018.
Anxy founder Indhira Rojas sat down with Ryan to talk about their shared experience making a magazine, and the resulting conversation is as real and raw as they come. They discuss the invisible work behind a passion project, being your own boss, protecting your sense of self, and learning when to say “that’s enough.”
Photograph by Jonathan Daniel Pryce
Indhira Rojas: We’re excited to have you as an advisor on Anxy No. 4: The Masculinity Issue. What are you most looking forward to seeing in the new issue?
Ryan Fitzgibbon: I'm excited and honored to be part of it. This feels like a really great opportunity to use what I've learned through making Hello Mr. and to keep telling those stories through Anxy. I think there's so much to expose and talk about in the conversation around mental health and men.
IR: You said that Hello Mr. is an opportunity for a misrepresented generation of gay men to rebrand themselves in the eyes of the media. What inspired this idea? And why did you choose print?
RF: In 2011 I was living in San Francisco’s Castro District and having all these new experiences, surrounded by a really loving community—but also often feeling isolated. I felt like there weren't a lot of spaces available, whether they were bars or digital spaces. A print object allows for a really intimate experience—to have a window into and to connect to a larger community. A print magazine is something you can experience and absorb in your own space. It oscillates between microscope and mirror, looking at what’s happening outside in your community and reflecting those experiences back to you.
A print magazine is something you can experience and absorb in your own space.
I wanted to create something that could be on the newsstand alongside other men's interest magazines and start to shake up and challenge the traditional ways of curating and presenting content to men. At the time, there was really only one way of doing that—with the GQ/Men's Health approach—which boastfully advertised all of their content, all of the ways you can prove yourself and get a six-pack and get that girl on the cover. It was so loud and so saturated and so in your face. Hello Mr. was quiet and confident in only having the title and the tagline on the cover. When you carried it, or you had it as an object on your coffee table, or in the corner of an Instagram post, it became a badge and an emblem that represented the values that you care about and that says something about who you are as a gay man. And that could only be done in print.
IR: I really like that the cover of Hello Mr. had this softness to it that communicated the type of masculinity that you wanted to showcase.
RF: My argument was that, to your point, there should be room for a healthier and more complete digest of men’s magazines so that there can be shades of variety for however you define your masculinity as a gay man. We’ve seen the category continue to evolve and expand to be more inclusive and also more segmented—that there could be niches of niches. I think that that's incredible and only helps more people be able to find that community at a smaller level that can speak to them directly.
IR: What kind of personal hurdles did you encounter making and growing Hello Mr.?
RF: All of them. I didn't know that what I was signing up for was something so personal. Early on, I recognized that my voice was just the conduit for something a lot bigger than myself. So the responsibility of creating a platform that was starting to change the conversation only grew. That responsibility transpired into a lot of things, some of them positive, some exciting and fulfilling, others more…“crippling” isn't the right word. But it grew so much I felt almost as if the magazine was kind of a form of activism and a force and moving out of my control.
IR: I think that for many creators you go into it not really knowing what's going to happen. All of the sudden it becomes bigger than yourself and it is a big responsibility.
RF: Right. In the beginning, a lot of what I would complain about to my close network, or boyfriend, or family was that I didn't have a boss. I didn't have someone to make sure I was doing the right things, going in the right direction, and growing in a sustainable fashion. But then it started to shift and I felt like I had 10,000 bosses. Everyone who read the magazine, who followed the Instagram, who had opinions—that became who I was working for.
That's exciting to have so much engagement and such a strong push from community to continue raising the bar. Hello Mr. wanted to take on all that responsibility and try to make every bit of feedback happen as quickly as possible. It became really unrealistic for me to carry all of that. It got the best of me.
I felt like I had 10,000 bosses. Everyone who read the magazine, who followed the Instagram, who had opinions—that became who I was working for.
About two and a half years ago, I was really lost. I was confused about how I was going to address everything that I felt needed to be addressed, and how I was going to keep doing it. I got stuck in that. It got really dark and I considered taking my own life. I felt scared and didn't know how to deal with that either. I did have the support of my family and people really close to me to encourage me to get help, and I did. I think what I learned from that experience is that I am only one person I couldn't neglect my own health for the magazine.
IR: There's just so much invisible work that people don't see.
RF: And on the other side of it, we're trying to keep up appearances for the success of the business whether it's to get people excited about being a part of it, or purely trying to convince advertisers and partners. It's such a catch 22 being in that situation of needing support financially but having to fake it until it comes to you. With the whole appearance that I had, specifically on Instagram, I had to go back to how I started this thing—to feeling vulnerable and asking for help—in different ways this time.
IR: From a magazine that's all about mental health, having the openness to say “I need help” and give people the opportunity to step in—there's so much power in that.
RF: I recently saw a quote from Kim Gordon. She said, "People pay to see others believe in themselves." What I used to think that meant was that people would pay and get behind you and support you for already being successful, for looking a certain way, for projecting a successful image. Now how I interpret that as people want to see you be yourself, in control and aware of what you're going through. So things might be going not so great, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to edit that out of your story. I think being honest about it actually helps people feel more connected to you.
IR: When you think about five years from now looking back what do you think you will be taking out of this experience as a whole?
RF: That's a good question. I still feel like I'm kind of in the middle of it all and my grieving process. Deciding to close the magazine started almost a year ago, but when the reality started to set in, it's like a breakup, or any sort of uncoupling, where you recognize and almost have to say to yourself out loud, "I can't do this anymore.” Once that truth is out there, it's hard to deny the need to preserve yourself, and do what's best for you.
You almost have to say to yourself out loud, I can't do this anymore.
I think I'm nearing the hopeful stage. I'm excited about what comes next, but I don't know how much of the learning has landed yet because there's a lot that I'm still processing. I'm obviously very honored and grateful to have had any sort of impact.
IR: Yeah. It's going to be something people will miss from the conversation on a regular basis, but people understood.
RF: I think that my main takeaway, at least what I feel confident telling myself, is that what Hello Mr. did and what it represented happened exactly when it was supposed to. I recognize that the timing was very intentional and happened for as long as it was supposed to as well.
IR: It had a time and a place that was appropriate.
Campbell Addy & Ib Kamara
IR: Just to close with a few hopeful conversations…What were some memorable conversations Hello Mr. started and engaged in that you're really proud of?
RF: One of the things that I was really proud of, which became a big part of how we created each issue, was how many unpublished voices and creative talents that we got the opportunity to share with the world. A large quantity of our table of contents for each issue was submitted, and from people who had something to say but maybe didn't have the right tools to say it, because they didn't have experience, or had never been published before. We took the time to work with them, to edit it, and to represent what they wanted to say.
IR: It might be will uncomfortable to choose, but do you have a favorite issue?
RF: How do you pick, you know? I think each one has a different attitude and a different takeaway. I'm proud of the redesign of the ninth issue. I’m proud of what it signaled to the future of the publication. Even though it only had one more issue after our redesign, it became a symbol, a notch on the belt to show the changing queer media landscape how we need to continue pushing ourselves.
IR: I'm looking at it right now, and it's beautiful. I'm also looking at issue five, and I can see the transition, and the evolution. You can see the publication maturing, so I think that's wonderful. Any advice for indie magazines who are just starting out?
RF: My advice has kind of been the same for the last six years. I see a lot of young designers and creators wanting to launch a magazine because it's a personal mission, or way to express what they think, what they believe, and how they see the world. I think that's only 20% of it. The rest has to be about identifying and understand the needs of your community before you start crafting your vision into a printed artifact.
You have to find your unique voice in that, and make sure that there's a need for it and a community that can't find it anywhere else. I think that's step one.
IR: You're saying it can't just be for you, it needs to be for an audience, and the audience needs to be real.
RF: Right. I sound like a hypocrite saying this. I've heard so many times, "There wasn't anything out there for me, I wanted to create something that I needed as a teenager,” but that's exactly how I positioned Hello Mr. But however cliche, it was the truth, and it was a lot of people's truth. If that's true for you, make sure that it's true for other people, and for enough people to invest in creating something totally brand new. If there's something that just needs some help, or needs to be re-approached, maybe the effort is better placed in contributing to what is already there. If that makes sense.
IR: That makes total sense. If you feel comfortable sharing, or if you're ready to share—what’s next for you?
RF: It's most important to me that whatever I do put myself and time into next has some sense of social impact in the way that Hello Mr. did. I know that it'll never be the same personal experience for me, but it's important that it is needed in the world, whatever “it” is.