Traveling with Ryan Fitzgibbon
Words: Sam Wittwer
Images: Maggie Shannon
August 26 2016
From his perfectly coiffed hair to his steely blue eyes – there is something undeniably classic about Ryan Fitzgibbon. He possesses the sort of quintessential good-looks that wouldn’t be out of place in on the screens of a 1950’s movie palace, yet speaking to him in his Williamsburg apartment, it is clear that Ryan is a thoroughly modern man.
Ryan began his career in his home state of Michigan before following the footsteps of many before him to the west coast. He landed at IDEO in Palo Alto, California, where he would spend three years working as a Communications Designer. While the name IDEO may be unfamiliar, their work is surely not – they were instrumental in the development of Apple’s first computer mouse. Eventually Ryan was inspired to pack it up in exchange for a bit of worldly exploration, and made the move to Australia – and it seems like he’s been on the go ever since.
Ryan is best known for his work on Hello Mr., a biannual publication about men who date men. Since launching in 2013, Hello Mr. has become the archetype of the modern man’s magazine – it is a publication that avoids (and defies) the clichés of gay media stereotypes with deftness, while lending itself a platform for stories about the subtleties of being otherised by one’s own culture. Hello Mr. takes on a form of subtle subversion, extrapolating on the what-shouldn’t-be-novel-but-still-is concept that gay men are just…men.
His part in the discovery and curation of these stories has required Ryan to become a bit of a nomad. If his Instagram feed is to be believed, Ryan’s life exists within the unattainably cool realm of the jet set. He seems to split his time between elegantly designed airport causeways and hotel pools, a notion belied only by his prolific output. (We’re assuming, of course, that Ryan has managed to figure out a way to be simultaneously productive and poolside, a trick we too hope to someday master.) We managed to catch Ryan at his Brooklyn apartment to talk about living and traveling as an editor-in-chief.
For those who might not be familiar with your work, what’s your go-to ‘have to introduce myself at a party’ intro?
I publish a magazine called Hello Mr. Our tagline “about men who date men” explains the rest.
It’s undeniably been a momentous year for the United States’ LGBTQ community, as the publisher of a ‘gay magazine’, do you feel like you’ve got a particular responsibility or duty to contribute to the conversations?
There’s a very real fight happening right now that involves a queer counter-culture out there taking Pride back to its roots — back to the rallies, the marches, the history that came before us. What Pride Month does best is allow straight culture to participate in something that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to. Our visibility can make the difference in helping others understand who we are and create hope for a more integrated society. That’s what Hello Mr. aims to do, of course, in a much more subdued approach, while still being visible and still fighting for that same change.
Do you feel like the mode of publishing – namely, print – provides a different sort of responsibility?
The reason Hello Mr. exists in the form of a printed magazine is for the very reason above – to be visible. I remember searching the magazine section at Barnes & Noble as a closeted teenager for gay-focused titles that I could relate to. The LGBT section was always on the bottom shelf, tucked in the back, and often covered (censored) by a black plastic shield. They weren’t accessible to the exact demographic that they should have been the most accessible to. I wanted to create something physical that could be proudly displayed on a coffee table or front and center on a newsstand. I couldn’t do this with just a website or an app. In print you can create a physical badge that people can show off, like Will (one of our readers from Brooklyn) who wrote me saying, “I just read the first issue cover to cover and happily flaunted it on my train ride this morning, a sort of personal fete for this quiet gay 25 year old. Something I have sought after for a very long time.”
Hello Mr. Travel Essentials
Speaking of, you’ve published three new issues of your magazine, Hello Mr. this year. What is, for you, the most exciting or surprising change in the publication as it matures?
This has very much been a transitional year for us. We’re building a solid talent roster and reaching more readers in more geographies. But as our audience grows, producing a product that resonates across borders and generations, and that continues to feel “small” and relatable, is an uphill battle. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” This, for me, is the ultimate goal.
Do you find you’re sticking to a ‘five-year plan’ or is this more of an organic process for you?
I have a hard enough time making dinner plans with friends, so I find the idea of a five-year plan to be more paralyzing than productive for me. I definitely know what direction I’m headed, but I try to let the steps I take be informed by feedback from our readers. The conversations around both LGBT issues and print media is constantly evolving, so it’s difficult to charge forward with that much conviction not knowing what’s to come five years from now. However long this road is for me, all I can wish for is that the stories we tell continue to connect with our readers. This was always a passion project for me, and only until I realized the impact and importance of having something like Hello Mr. in the world did my energy shift to making it last. Print is not a dying industry, but it is a tough bitch. And the 43,000 copies we’ve sent around the world since 2013 give me reason to believe that what we do has real value, and that truly is all I could have wished for.
I’m glad we caught you at home – it seems from Instagram that you’re always traveling. Can you tell us a bit about your favorite places to travel?
Contrary to many people who prefer to never trace their steps when traveling, I really enjoy returning to the places that I’ve been or have lived; San Francisco, Michigan, London, Berlin. It’s nice to see a city evolve over time, as well as the people you know and cherish who still live there.
Do you mostly travel for work? Or is it more of an escape for you?
It’s largely for work, or at least always has some element of work involved. That’s the curse of being an entrepreneur, you’re always switched on.
For someone like you who is traveling a lot, what is it that you see as an essential item to make travel more ‘bearable’?
A phone charger, first and foremost, followed by a face moisturizer to keep from drying out in all that stale recycled air.
Do you find you are the kind of person who needs a ‘home base’ ?
Absolutely. I definitely spend more time away from home – at the office, or on the road – but I return to find balance and peace, so it’s essential that my home is a sanctuary for that.