Rick Elder, Director Beyond Clothing and Dan Milnor, Creative Evangelist Blurb Books.
AG23: You are both titled “Senior Co-Editor,” but how did you two meet and what are your backgrounds? We met through a mutual photographer friend who thought we might share common interest. Our backgrounds are actually quite different but we do share certain philosophies, certain interests and perhaps most importantly we are both curious. Rick studied history and spend many years in the military. I studied journalism and spent most of my life as a photographer. I would classify us both as facilitators. Rick works to outfit people working in extreme environments. I work with helping people realize their publishing goals. At the heart of most of these endeavors are people telling stories and this is where the Zine plays in. Our species has promoted the idea of story or narrative since discovering fire which allowed for things like language, music and art. There are so many modern humans attempting to continue this ancient storytelling tradition, whatever form that takes, but often times they have no outlet or avenue or no way to amplify their message. Rick and I felt compelled to at least give it a go. To try and create a publication, and a community, that could learn, grow and investigate the world together. We are a long way off but AG23 is our first collective step toward a greater goal.
AG23: What was the original spark that launched the idea of doing a Zine? Rick is the reason AG23 exists. It’s that simple. Within minutes of meeting Rick, he said “We should do a Zine.” I was skeptical at first but the more I pondered the idea the more responsibility I felt to make it work. He was the one who presented the idea and then had the fortitude and focus to create the platform underneath the concept. This is far more complicated, and costly, than it seems on the surface, so logistically it’s a challenge for both of us. We both have full-time jobs and AG23 requires a lot of attention, so we are learning to navigate this reality as we move forward with the first issue.
AG23: Is there an overarching theme or idea that provides the foundation of the project? Yes, to promote understanding through art and dialogue. That’s it. Show us, tell us, educate us. AG23 isn’t here to tell you how to think. We are here to present data from a centrist point of view. Think you know about a topic? Great. Our world is so complex and interconnected. Often times society doesn’t have all the answers, so information must be presented from a neutral perspective, with as much intrinsic data as possible and then you can form your own opinion or conclusion.
AG23: What kinds of content are you looking for? We have one rule for content. There is no rule. We want it all. Mainstream, obscure, controversial, well-worn, whatever. A good story is a good story. And we are interested in anyone with something to say, not just professional storytellers, but rather anyone who has a specific, personal connection with something that has broader appeal or broader importance.
AG23: How did you arrive at the name AG23? Well, “Ag” is silver on the periodic table, and both Rick and I are huge fans of photography and the power that visuals bring to the global conversation. Silver and photographer are forever linked. In addition, “AG” also stand for Aldolphus Greely who was not only a Medal of Honor recipient and polar explorer but he was also the first president of the Explorers Club. The original location of the Explorers Club was 23 w 67th in New York City, hence AG23.
AG23: Why a Zine and not a book, magazine or brand catalog? The Zine and art book worlds are exploding. Over the past decade Zine and art book fairs have emerged in many of the major cities worldwide. There appears to be an insatiable appetite for this style of publication which tend to be hyper-personal and covering topics that may or may not make financial sense for traditional publishing. Also, we didn’t want a precious object like a coffee-table book. We wanted an object that readers wouldn’t mind getting dirty or traveling with. Ideally the Zine will be passed from reader to reader.
AG23: The two companies behind this are Beyond Clothing and Blurb Books which on the surface aren’t related. How is it that these two brands got behind something like this? (Laughs) This project wasn’t born from the brands it was born from Rick and I who happen to work for these brands. In fact, AG23 is a project that is both difficult to explain and difficult to justify, at least financially because it requires digging a financial hole to even get off the ground. So, we just did it. At some point, after we have the first issue, we will ask for permission. (Laughs.)
AG23: What are the physical components of the Zine and what is the print run? Simple and basic. The Zine is a 6x9, softcover, 60-pages, uncoated 70# stock printed in a 2000-copy run. Again, we want something affordable and accessible.
AG23: Is the Zine free? How and where will it be dispersed? The Zine is free and will be delivered in two ways. First, anytime someone places an order at Beyond they will receive a slipcase covered copy of the Zine. They do not know they are receiving AG23 until they open the box. We are doing this because we want to gauge the reaction and we want to introduce the Zine to a demographic who may not otherwise feel the urge to order a copy. And second, readers can get copies for free at AG23mag.com but do need to pay for shipping.
AG23: Is there a digital component to this project? A site, app or other avenue? Yes, we do have a dedicated website which is actually a very important part of the process. The Zine is a catalyst. The Zine will provide a taste of many different stories but the website, AG23mag.com, will be where authors can flush out anything they need to expand upon. Have a book to sell? Links to share? Or perhaps an author has a behind-the-scenes film about the process behind their story. The site is here to serve the author. Whatever they need to amplify their story is what we will post or run via the website. Our advice is to err on the side of sharing more than normal. We’ve learned that people engage with a story for a variety of reasons, some of which aren’t expected or even logical so the more you can share the better off you will be.
AG23: What about design? Are you handling this in-house? Thankfully, no. Neither Rick nor I have a background in design and one of the first decisions we made was hiring a designer. And not just anyone. We wanted to find someone we trusted and someone we could give total creative control. The stars were aligned, our luck was in form and we were able to work with Zoë Sadokierski in Sydney who is not only a wonderful designer but is also an infectiously positive and pioneering person. I met Zoe several years ago and was so inspired by her take on publishing that I made a decision right that second if I ever had a way of working with her I would do everything in my power to do so. https://zoesadokierski.com/
AG23: How are you finding contributors? Who are you after? We are finding connections through our circles as well as the industries we find ourselves in but we are interested in a far wider audience than what we can secure personally. The website has an open submission portal meaning that ANYONE can submit. There are so many talented creatives who perhaps don’t work full-time as artists or storytellers who may not have another option for publication. We are very interested in local people telling local stories that represent global issues. And look, we want a wide range of topics. Whether a story is humorous, serious, timely or not, if it’s a good story we will run it.
AG23: Are you paying contributors? And if not, what is the benefit for someone to contribute? Currently, no. However, this is something we are actively trying to solve. Beyond has gone above and beyond, no pun intended, in committing to this project and one of the things they have done is to create a line of merchandize. The goal is to sell these items then use the proceeds to create mini-grants for things like starting a project, finishing a project, gear rental or any other use the author has to further their work. The benefit it two-fold; amplification and connection. The first benefit is that we are promoting you in any and all ways possible. Second, what we’ve learned already is that most of the contributors share many of the same needs and challenges but most of the contributors don’t know each other. So, our goal is to build this community of like-minded individuals and organizations. There is power is numbers and our goal is to grow and connect.
AG23: If the Zine is free and in limited quantity how are you making money on this project? We are all ears if you have ideas. (Laughs) We live in a capitalist society and revenue always needs to be part of the conversation but not all projects are destined to see a profit. Rick and I never actually spoke about the idea of making money. When you consider the ongoing cost, the startup cost and the time required for us to make this happen I’m not entirely sure, yet, how AG23 will ever see black but being profitable allows for certain freedoms that being in the red does not. So, we have our work cut out.
AG23: What is the dream? What is the best-case scenario for AG23? If I had to sum up the dream in one word it would be relevance. We want to be relevant to contributors, to readers and to the general conversation around whatever topic we are featuring. We all want to matter. Today’s challenge is attention not to mention the overwhelming task of finding a way to make people care. The ultimate dream would be for AG23 to operate like an octopus with each tentacle representing an arm of outreach, education and inspiration. Zine, website, community, podcast, channel and perhaps even a funding arm where other organizations, companies or even countries look to us to help curate what has the most urgent need. We want to be our own creative weather system.