Paper Cut: An Interview with Shane Trotter & Dave Harlequin of STIFF MAGAZINE

Paper Cut: An Interview with Shane Trotter & Dave Harlequin of STIFF MAGAZINE

Stiff Magazine is a unique independent magazine celebrating “alternative culture, modeling, and entertainment” that’s branching out from South Carolina. Founded and published by Shane Trotter with Dave Harlequin serving as the Editor-In-Chief, it’s filled with love for the Horror genre, rock ‘n roll, and plenty of beautiful models.

Stiff Magazine is not so much a horror themed publication, but one that offers a glimpse into that lifestyle. How would you attempt to define that and what Stiff offers, that you won’t find elsewhere?

Dave Harlequin: Well you’re exactly right, we’re not just a horror-themed publication, we’re not just anything really. There’s so much that goes into alternative culture and entertainment, and we try to cater to all of it. I mean horror fandom itself goes way beyond just movies, just like alternative culture goes way beyond just tattoos, piercing, rock & roll & modeling. Most of us come from very “geeky” backgrounds, I know I grew up playing D&D, video games and collecting comics… actually I still do all of that.. all of us are really big horror fans as well, I know I’ve been obsessed with horror since I was about 8 years old… so that being said, we just tried to put out a professional magazine from a fan’s point of view. One that doesn’t discriminate against anything in/around alternative culture and entertainment and actually chronicles the lifestyle and fandom as much as it does the new releases and pretty girls.

Stiff Magazine was birthed from Graveyard Girls and workings with unique models and styles. How exactly did the transition from concept art shift in focus to a magazine? And how has the magazine evolved because of this?

Shane Trotter: Back when I first started the Graveyard Girls thing as a series in 2002, there were no options for independent models. A girl could take her clothes off for one site that’s been around for years, or she could just wait to be discovered by some magical talent guru. Alternative modeling existed, but it wasn’t really a subculture yet. Graveyard Girls was pure accident, but it worked, then it got copied. I originally did it as just something fun and didn’t think it would be repeated. By the time 2007 got here there were so many carbon clones out there it became distracting. I had a choice of kill it, or make it into something special, so I went to print.

Can you explain some of the difficulties with launching Stiff? What have been the biggest obstacles in launching a paper trade in a digital age, especially such a specific genre publication?

Dave Harlequin: Honestly, I haven’t seen any real major difficulties with this. I mean there’s hundreds of websites out there, and while a lot of them are really good, they’re still just websites you know? Print magazines have a certain prestige about them that most people tend to (even if it’s subconsciously) take more seriously. Personally, I think that if you have something solid, that you can hold in your hands, it just feels much more real than something on a computer screen.

Shane Trotter: Paying the print bill was the hardest part for me. I had sponsors lined up, but they all backed out at the last minute, and I was left with the option to cover the costs myself. We literally had no printer two months before the first issue, so I started looking at print-on-demand options. All were too expensive except one, but that one opened up availability to almost the whole world. It was like a match made in Hell.

Stiff Magazine is currently offered as a quarterly issued publication. Are there designs to expand this format to more issues or beef up the quarterly content? Will this be balanced more with the digitally based publishing?

Shane Trotter: I’ve done the online thing, and I never want to go back. As for digital, I’ll offer it, but only if we have done it in print. I would love to see this thing go to monthly status at some point, but it all depends on the readers staying behind it and making it something we all can make a full-time living with.

Your publication is like equal parts Fangoria, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and Maxim in a Tattoo Magazine kinda shell. Is that an accurate description? What else would you say makes it stand out from those influences?

Dave Harlequin: Well those aren’t really the titles I’d personally use in describing what we do, I mean, honestly I’ve never even read 2 of the titles on this list, and the others, I’m not really a fan of, but I do see what you mean. I’d say what makes us stand out really is that we just do our own thing and try to give a very polished, high-quality product that’s good enough to hold it’s own with every other magazine out there, while still offering a very “for the people, by the people” approach to it.

Shane Trotter: (laughs) I will be glad to take any and all search engine hits possible as long as they don’t want to sue me.

Being a magazine that explores alternative culture and entertainment how do you feel this can expanded to more mainstream America? Do you feel there’s been an over-saturation of inferior products in this regard from others?

Dave Harlequin: Honestly, I’m not really sure I’d want to expand it to mainstream America too much. I mean come on, mainstream America thinks the “Twilight” series and those M. Night Whatshisface flicks are great (laughs). As far as expanding to a wider audience in general, my goal is to keep getting bigger and better content all around, and we’re already hard at work on that with lots of cool stuff already ready to go to print.

Shane Trotter: I have never been acceptable to the mainstream, but the creeps and freaks are almost the majority. In 50 years, the ones without tattoos and funny hair in the nursing homes will be the oddballs, and a lot of the mainstream entertainers right now are really closet freaks.

Based out of South Carolina how has that environment served as an atmosphere for Hollywood Horror, rock ‘n roll, and tattooed beauties?

Shane Trotter: We are in the “Bible Belt” and all things here are supposed to be proper and safe. I’m not proper or safe. Death applies to everybody, and the original Graveyard Girls concept was to be a reminder of that. With that said, I don’t think this concept would have been as successful in another part of the country. If religion is the hero, I serve as the anti-hero. In places like New York I’d just be another dork shooting photos. Our location has served the cause quite well.

Dave Harlequin: Oh absolutely (laughs) I mean, just take a look around and explore this place. Horror has always had a home in the Carolinas, in many forms. There’s been countless films (bothHollywood and indie) made here, there’s even a life-size replica of the Michael Myers house from Halloween, and there’s a huge horror-punk/rock scene here, most notably, The Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13 (which gave way to Wednesday 13/The Murderdolls and The Graveyard Boulevard) out of Charlotte, and (Joey Ramone’s proteges) The Independents out of Florence SC. Plus I think a lot of it is rebellion to a degree. The Rock & Roll lifestyle has always been about rebellion, and Carolinians have a lot to rebel against. I’m not just talking about the local politics either, I’ve done a lot of traveling and there seems to be this really unfair stereotype surrounding NC, that we’re all just a bunch of small town rednecks…. and I’ve never even lived in a small town or been anywhere close to what anyone would consider a redneck, but it’s still there you know? I guess it’s just because that’s all most people know about the place, it’s like, Charlotte is one of the biggest cities in the southeast, Asheville is an arts & cultural mecca, you know stuff like that, but all people really seem to think about is NASCAR, NFL, College sports, bluegrass, and BBQ, and granted, all that stuff is here, but you can find every bit of that in New York and California too. So you know, I guess a lot of it has to do with striving to keep moving forward culturally to better represent our home to the rest of the world.

You feature many beautiful models in high concept cover art. How does the process start from model to photographer to finished product? How are new models incorporated from their submissions?

Dave Harlequin: (laughs) I stay far away from the modeling side of things. I don’t want to show any kind of bias on choosing our models, I actually date a model (Hollie Quinn), and have since long before she was published by us in issue #2. I didn’t want anyone to think that she, or anyone else got in just because of me. Plus I’m not a photographer or anything, so this question’s for Shane. (laughs)

Shane Trotter: I played a part in selection at the start of the magazine, but have since started college. I leave the model selection part up to Mystic (our art director & chief photographer) and our staff photographers, and my focus is on education and paying for this magazine. Most of them now are experienced, unlike the newbies we had back in the original days, but I have something planned for that “new/indie” market too. I can’t tell you what the plan is just yet though.

What does your Special Issues – Stiff: After Dark and the art book projects offer outside of a regular subscription?

Dave Harlequin: (laughs) Nudity, and it’s all modeling, no other content.

Shane Trotter: I should also add it’s not Graveyard Girls. The art books are meant to showcase the capabilities and talent of our photographers, and most of them are incredible at shooting artistic nude material. There’s always been a restriction to using the name Graveyard Girls though, and that is there can be no nudity.

As the Editor-In-Chief, what types of articles do you look for to format an issue? Are there specific issues or topics you tend to gravitate towards? Do you accept outside writing submissions?

Dave Harlequin: Oh I absolutely accept outside writing submissions, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many talented people already and am always interested in more contributors. As for what I look for, it really depends on a lot of things. For example, when we do a retro-review in our “Spookshow Spotlight” section, I tend to lean towards what classic is being remade around that issue’s release, like right around when the remake of “The Crazies” was coming out, we did a retro on the original. When it comes to video games, I lean towards the new releases most relevant to our readers’ interests, you know, stuff like that. I also get a lot of ideas for content from our readers that I always encourage to write me emails and help me deliver the content that they want to read about. This is after all their magazine and I do my best to always give the readers what they ask for.

What areas are you hoping to cover with future issues? Any details on what’s to come?

Dave Harlequin: well in October, we’ll be releasing issue #4, which will be our annual Halloween issue. We’ll be debuting 2 brand new sections: our “Featured Artist” which will first spotlight Sid Haig, complete withan exclusive interview, and our “Fatal Attractions” which will first spotlight The Myers House. We’ll also haveexpanded content just for our annual Halloween issue, including an exclusive interview with “Last House on the Left” star David Hess, a 4th “Spookshow Spotlight” film review, on something outside the 3 main feature categories (Feature, Indie & Retro): this time being the black-metal documentary, “Until the Light Takes Us” and a whole lot more.

Shane Trotter: I’m also hoping for world conquest. Dave tends to forget that critical part.

Be sure to check out the Stiff Mag Website for more info on this independent publication. Click here to snag a subscription of your own. You can follow Stiff Mag on Facebook for more updates and tag along on Twitter.

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Born in the steel scrap-yards of Lorain, Ohio, Zach Shildwachter is a VHS Vagabond wandering the Cleveland landscape in search of the perfect Horror movie and Banana flavored snacks in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse. Until the Dead walk, our Hero remains an Aspiring Filmmaker, Compulsive Writer, Self-taught Artist, and amateur Super-Hero.

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