The other Maine

Posted March 29, 2009, at 10:40 p.m.

Ask someone from away to talk about Maine, and you usually hear the same stuff over and over again. Lobsters. Beaches. They’ve never been north of Portland. Do we have running water and electricity? Why, yes, we do!

The reality is that, yes, the lobster industry in Maine is very important, and yes, it’s incredibly beautiful here. But once you strip away the touristy sheen, you have a whole other world. It’s the world that most Mainers live in, and it’s the world that University of Maine seniors Travis Bourassa and Sean Collinson seek to explore with their magazine, Flannel, now in its second issue.

Flannel, better classified as a zine, is a hand-bound, hand-copied publication started by the pair last year to document the Maine they know and love.

“We wanted to focus on the things in Maine that aren’t explored by the mainstream media,” said Collinson, 24. “Maine is not lobsters and lighthouses. The reality for people here is not what is on postcards. Flannel is about the ‘other’ Maine.”

Bourassa and Collinson speak from experience. They both grew up in the Waterville area, and have lived in Orono and Old Town for the past five years, as students in new media at UM. They’ve seen that other side of Maine — the mill towns, the unemployment, the empty storefronts. The reality is a far cry from the trendy bistros and boutiques you see in glossy magazines and online.

“I’d like to see some Portland magazine showing a guy who’s been laid off from the mill, or a woman pushing a shopping cart down Main Street,” said Bourassa, 25. “Ninety-five percent of the people in this state can’t afford an expensive downtown apartment. I don’t think of us as Vacationland. We’re just calling it like we see it. Maine is raw, and dirty, and it’s not easy to live here. But it’s real. That’s why we love it.”

To that end, Bourassa and Collinson, along with collaborator Jessica Harvey, recruited friends and acquaintances to photograph, write and be written about, to fill the pages of their proposed magazine. A few crucial posts online later, and they had more than enough contributors for issue one. Issue two was then on its way.

“I was amazed. People saw posts and asked if they could contribute. They came to us,” said Collinson. “There’s a real interest in a forum for artists and writers to show off their work.”

The only real structure behind Flannel is that the editors want to show off art, writing and topical subjects that have to do with Maine. Each issue has a theme, too.

“This new issue is about death,” said Bourassa. “The next one we’re working on is about DIY culture.”

Their contributors come from all kinds of backgrounds. Aaron Mitchell, bassist for Belfast punk band Afghan Banana Stand, has some seriously hilarious and twisted drawings in the latest issue of Flannel, including the cover art. Writing by Bourassa and Collinson and art from KT Long round out the content in issue two, as well as photos by Harvey, documenting everything from towns and abandoned beaches to the visceral thrill of a punk show.

“I think a good example of the kind of dynamic we want for Flannel are the pictures of the beach in winter,” said Bourassa. “That’s Old Orchard Beach. In the summer, it’s sunny and packed full of people. In the winter, it’s freezing and empty, even though it’s still really beautiful. That’s Maine, eight months out of the year.”

Zine making dates back to the 1950s, when enthusiasts for a particular area of culture, be it science fiction literature or music scenes, would cobble together pictures and articles. While most zines had circulation of 5,000 or fewer, some went on to become well-respected voices in underground culture, such as the still-publishing feminist magazine Bust, or the music rag Maximum Rock n’ Roll. The Web site boingboing.net, which started as a print zine before moving online, is one of the most well-read blogs on the Internet.

DIY zine making is a long way from the early days, when scissors, glue, a stapler and access to a copier were all that was required to make a magazine. Now, with the ease of use and affordability of layout software, anyone with a computer and access to Adobe InDesign can make a nice-looking product. Such is the case with Flannel, which is laid out by Bourassa and Collinson on their MacBooks. Funding from the Foster Student Innovation Center at the University of Maine and support from the University of Maine Museum of Art have helped.

It’s still copied and hand-bound, however. Some things never change. Bourassa and Collinson don’t want to keep any specific deadlines for when they publish, though they generally hope to put out a new issue every few months, and Collinson is using Flannel as his capstone project for his studio art degree at UM.

“We keep it vague, so we don’t have any real deadlines,” said Bourassa. “We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot if we don’t have everything we want to have for an issue.”

Neither Bourassa nor Collinson is quite sure where Flannel will take them, but for now, they’re happy to keep putting together a cool-looking magazine about the things they find interesting: regular life and art in Maine.

“We don’t take it too seriously, but it’s something we love to do,” said Collinson. “We’re not completely convinced it’s as good as people keep telling us.”

For more information, visit www.flannelzine.com.

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