Pub Notes: How we got a Bat Signal and what we plan to do with it

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“You are remembered for the rules you break.” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur

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This is the alt-weekly I worked for in Macon, Georgia, where Otis Redding used to live.

We, The Devil Strip and all the people who have been supporting it, are now T-minus 26 days and counting to the first issue. I am alternately elated and terrified. This feels, depending on the exact moment, like either the greatest or dumbest idea I’ve ever pursued. (Once, I interviewed Gary Busey. Same feeling.) But the people I meet make me grateful I’m doing this. They keep me going. My eyes are opened daily to cool, new, weird and awesome things.

Like, 427 Design. Walking into their offices is to distill pleasant surprise into its finest form.  The moment I did, I considered quitting this and begging them to hire me. That was before I’d exchanged more than greetings with Andrea and Justin. Their brains. Their abilities. My goodness.

Ditto for having lunch with Helena Larios or getting an hour with Mark Krohn or touring neighborhoods with Akron2Akron, or sipping dirty chai and holding big conversations with Liz, Max and Jason at Urban Eats, or speaking to 100 Torchbearers at once, or learning how to make coffee with Albert Masco, or joining the board for the newly-minted nonprofit version of Crafty Mart.  That’s not an uncommon week for me lately.

So, step one to starting a magazine—or anything worth anything at all—is to find people.

But even if meeting people was all I had to do, even if I could just sit and write stories about them all day—without worrying about print runs and layout and selling ads and finding freelancers and distribution locations, keeping the editorial calendar on track, posting and sharing and losing sleep over everything—I wouldn’t. The struggle is real. And I enjoy it.  Every hurdle hurdled equals another few people to reach with these stories and a few others who’ll end up in new ones.

It didn’t start out this way for me. About four months ago, I quit my relatively well-paying (and relatively easy) day job where I worked alongside a host of talented and kind people. Day one, I panicked. For a week, leaving my house was an accomplishment. Going to the OSC Tech Lab, or sitting at Nervous Dog and Angel Falls—interacting with other human beings!—this was a challenge. Now, my calendar stays packed with new faces and places.

There are a lot of people to thank already—Beth Boggins, Bridget Ambrisco, Nicole Mullet, Jessica Cherok, James Hardy and Jenny Conn chief among them—and there will be more by the time I’m holding that first issue, after I finish crying awkwardly in the parking lot of whatever gas station is closest to the press, but my wife, Dr. Heather L. Braun, is atop that list. She’s amazing. If she weren’t, we wouldn’t be in Akron and I wouldn’t be this happy. This whole thing started when I sheepishly mentioned I was kinda, sorta thinkin’ about maybe doing something like an alt-weekly because Akron doesn’t have one—and she didn’t shoot it down. She was supportive.

“Yeah, I think that could be cool,” she said, pausing before she added (I’m paraphrasing), “You’re so smart and good-looking and funny. Wow. I just like everything that comes out of your mouth.”

In the end, I was the one who needed convincing, to take the leap, as it were.

So I was a bit surprised last week when someone questioned just *why*I’d start a print magazine in a digital age when content is increasingly consumed more on phones and tablets.

What took so long? I wondered when I heard him politely wind-up to gently toss his query my way.

It’s a little bit that I’m old school and like print—the tactile experience—and a lot that local digital-only media has a hard time standing out. This is the easiest way for me to cut through the clutter. With the magazine, dedicated Akronites can stumble across our large, tabloid-sized magazine in the restaurants, bars, coffee houses and arts organizations they already frequent while finding more places to try and more people to meet.

As I put it in our media kit, which you can see by clicking here, the print magazine will be our Bat Signal, going up every couple of weeks so “our people”—the smart, creative, passionate and civic-minded—not only find us but also the people we’ve met. This way, they can connect and we can all do more together.

In practical terms, The Devil Strip is just an arts, entertainment and culture website and print alt-weekly. In practice, however, it’s a stretch of common ground for the creative community—its creators, consumers and evangelists alike—to play, mix and mingle. Or that’s the plan.

By the time the paper is ready, I’ll have a list of a few dozen locations around Akron where you can find a copy. But to make sure the Bat Signal is strong, I’m buying 15 used newspaper boxes—and looking for more—to refurbish and put out on the mean streets.

I don't want ours to ever look like one of these neglected, ugly boxes. (PHOTO: boxesofblight.tumblr.com)
I don’t want ours to ever look like one of these neglected, ugly boxes. (PHOTO: boxesofblight.tumblr.com)

It isn’t enough to have the boxes, however. I want them to look nice and reflect the Rubber City’s creativity, so next Tuesday, I’m launching a Kickstarter project to raise enough money to adorn these boxes with local art. The Knight Foundation will kick in $2500 if we hit our goal. The Akron Art Museum will host a gala (or party, whatevs) to unveil the work. The Akron Area Arts Alliance will collect submissions from artists once the project is officially a go.

Again, the people here are amazing.

The full details will appear Tuesday. Whether you can contribute financially, I hope you’ll at least help spread the word about the Kickstarter. Tell your artist friends get ready to submit. Let’s do something cool together.

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