Studio Visit: Ryan Fitzgibbon

Tag Christof
Clément Pascal

April 05 2015

There is certainly no shortage of clever, well-designed indie publications today, but it’s fair to say that few transcend their intended audiences and even fewer become emblematic of larger cultural shifts. One young title that has certainly captured the zeitgeist is Hello Mr., founded by Ryan Fitzgibbon, a young designer who has spent time at IDEO and Fabrica, to dispel anachronistic stereotypes about gay men and open a new dialogue about and for “men who date men.” The magazine is smart, authentic and human—almost vulnerable—and thanks to its universal themes and beautiful design is a joy to read, regardless of who you are.

We caught up with Ryan this week, just after he sent issue 05 to print, at Hello Mr.’s studio in Greenpoint.

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Hometown: Midland, Michigan

Current location: Brooklyn, New York

Primary mode of transport: Feet

How do you take your coffee? 

Americano, black

What’s your favorite sandwich? 

All of them

What’s your Sunday ritual? 

I’m an early riser, even on the weekends. I try to get in and out of the gym before 9:00 when it starts getting crowded, leaving me the rest of the day to catch up on my inbox, or with the occasional friend, do my laundry, and cook. I almost always make time to cook on Sunday.

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We were talking about you in the studio and we’ve pegged you as a young Gert Jonkers. Have you met him? Where do you see Hello Mr. in a decade? 

That’s very flattering. I’ve yet to met Gert, but am a fond admirer. Legends in this industry like Gert have paved the way for young guns like myself. I couldn’t say for sure where Hello Mr. will be in ten years, but I know that a lot of people have high hopes for the brand. Our second birthday is coming up this week, and when I consider how much I’ve learned in this short amount of time, it’s evident that whatever lies ahead is not just going to come easier, but faster as my confidence grows with each issue.

Do you think the magazine’s success would have been possible at any other time? It seems like a lot of people even outside Hello Mr’s obvious target audience read it. 

No, I honestly don’t. The idea 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 no where in sight for me. I saw an opportunity to host new conversations for my generation, and leap-frog 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.  

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You have a background in graphic design, right? What did you do before starting the magazine? 

I sure do. 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 SF 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. 

What other magazines, past an present, are your favorites?

Fantastic Man, BUTT, Apartamento, 032c, have always been staples in my collection. However, the greatest influence in starting Hello Mr. were the creators behind titles like Underscore, Offscreen, Kinfolk, Bad Day, Apology, 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.

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Tell us about your setup at the moment — your team, this new space… 

When I moved to Brooklyn after my time in Australia, I set up shop in a shared studio in The Pencil Factory—an actual ex-pencil factory, converted into offices for designers, illustrators, filmmakers, and more. When the lease was up, I found a studio around the corner in Greenpoint with the boys who run TRNK. Up until this point I had been going at it alone, but last October, Francisco Tirado joined me full-time as Assistant Editor. We’re supported by a cast of subeditors, designers, and interns who help make the magazine happen, but day-to-day, it’s just the two of us, typing away at our desks.  

What should we look forward to in the upcoming issue? 

The thread that ties issue 05 together is the concept of “coming into your own.” Since we’re largely submission based, each issue reflects the experiences of our readers. I feel like I’m just hitting my stride with Hello Mr. so it’s been interesting to observe the evolution of our content from issue 01, being mostly about questioning, to issue 02 about reflection, to this place of comfort with ourselves in issue 05. Between the cover story, feature stories, photo essays, and a handful of shorts on sex, the ways we seek assurance that we’re “okay” became an evident subject this time around. Additionally, I invited Zhang Qingyun to guest art direct this issue, so the aesthetic of the magazine also reflects our evolution. I’m quite proud of this issue and really excited to start seeing it on shelves soon.

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What’s been making you happy lately? Read anything good so far in 2015? 

New York is finally thawing out, so I’m looking forward to pulling out my tennis racquet and spending more time outside again. Most of what I’ve been reading lately are submissions or revisions of essays for Hello Mr. I did, however, manage to find some time to speed through Sophia Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS, which I obviously related to and highly recommend to anyone, not just female entrepreneurs. 

Tell us a little about your personal style. What are you into this season? 

Moving around so much over the last few years has resulted in a pretty easy-going attitude about clothes. If it’s minimal, versatile, and of a certain quality, in general it works for me. Less prints this year, more neutrals. Oh, and light wash denim—more of that. 

All photos by Clément Pascal.