ORONO, Maine — “We’ve come a long way since our first issue,” wrote the team of twentysomethings behind Flannel magazine in its newest issue.
Sean Collinson, Travis Bourassa and Jessica Harvey have been compiling photography, illustration and writing from creative Mainers since the first copy of Flannel was printed in November 2008. The magazine introduced its fourth issue to date on Feb. 12 at a release party and art show in Hunting House Gallery in Orono.
It is hard to describe the art in Flannel. The writing in the new issue challenges the reader with stories of college freshmen struggling to succeed and a series of painfully awkward letters from a man who has connected with an old flame by e-mail. All the art is black-and-white. Illustrations swing between the work place-friendly and the grotesque. Photographs range from beautifully composed landscape shots to photos of frenzied crowds at hardcore punk shows. You can almost smell the sweat.
According to the introduction in its first issue, Flannel is designed to “show you what we love about the state: the great outdoors, the creativity, and the do-it-yourself mentality.” The new issue simply states, “Inside, you’ll find photography, illustrations and writing from Maine’s best up-and-coming artists.”
Flannel started as Collinson’s final project in a graphic design class at the University of Maine. Until the latest issue, the magazine was completely handmade. The three editors printed pages everywhere they could, and Collinson cut each 8-by-8-inch page by hand. Bourassa punched two holes in every sheet of paper. Harvey tied each issue together with multicolored string. Collinson said they could compile only about 10 magazines in the time it takes to watch a movie.
“Sean kept talking about changing the ’zine,” Harvey said. “It was too much work to make them all by hand.”
The newest issue was printed at Northeast Reprographics in Bangor. Its glossy pages and heavy cardstock cover leaves it feeling more like a short book than a magazine. The new Flannel features more artists, photographers and writers than ever before — 23 in total. Bourassa said the switch from handmade construction to professional publication allows Flannel to produce more issues.
“This won’t be a limited run like the first issues were,” Bourassa said. “If there’s a demand, we can make more.”
“We really wanted to go the extra mile to make it worth the money,” Collinson said. “We’ve never charged for Flannel before.” The magazine costs $5. Previous issues were purchased by donation only, and many were given away for free, according to Harvey.
The group has been surprised by the reaction Flannel has received since its inception. They told stories of receiving a phone call from Australia asking for a subscription. Companies are calling with increasing frequency looking to advertise. The group is working on deals to sell Flannel in several Bangor and Portland area businesses.
“It’s getting to be more of a business,” Collinson said. “Ads covered most of the cost of printing this time around.” He said that previous issues of Flannel were paid nearly completely out-of-pocket.
Flannel retains its original rough-around-the-edges feel despite the polished new format. The magazine is still mostly produced out of the Orono apartment Bourassa and Collinson share.
“The process hasn’t changed,” Collinson said. “We still lay out the entire magazine on the floor.” He said the team spread out all the submissions on the hardwood between the TV and the couch. The editors decided which photos made the cut and played around with different pairing options until deciding on photo layouts they liked.
“We plan everything,” Harvey said. “This isn’t just a cut-and-paste job.”
The group has become optimistic with the original success of their product. In September, Bourassa and Collinson plan to relocate to Portland. They hope to connect with a larger artistic community, with the ultimate goal of self-employment through the magazine.
“It would be great to be able to do Flannel for a living,” Collinson said.
All this success and growth isn’t to say Flannel hasn’t made any enemies. Bourassa said a group of lighthouse enthusiasts had stumbled upon some statements from Collinson that left them less than pleased with the magazine.
“I think I said something like that I would only take a picture of a lighthouse if it were on fire,” Collinson said. “We’ve always been quoted about how we hate lighthouses. It’s not true.”
Whatever possibly icy reactions the Flannel team may face from lighthouse fans throughout the state, the three editors plan to continue propagating Maine art through the magazine for the foreseeable future.
“The thought of getting out of Maine hasn’t even crossed my mind,” Collinson said.
To learn more about Flannel or to order a copy of the newest issue, visit www.flannelcollective.com.