The story of Flannel begins in the way these stories always do: in the basement of some dude’s apartment in a college town.
Two years ago, it debuted as a zine featuring photography, artwork and creative writing. The cover featured a black-and-white photograph of a man’s forearms tattooed with an outline of the state of Maine. It was gritty in a hipster kind of way, and the fact that the 54 copies of the first edition were printed on a photocopier, cut by hand and bound with a piece of red twine made it even more so.
“The craftiness was by necessity,” says Flannel co-founder Travis Bourassa from Waterville, Maine, who graduated from the University of Maine in 2009 with a degree in broadcast journalism.
Bourassa and new media major Sean Collinson from Albion, Maine, who graduated in May 2010, had tried a zine before, but they found that all of the contributors wanted to review things. This time around, they wanted contributors to make things. Like art. And poetry.
Collinson and Bourassa wanted the publication to celebrate the Maine they know and love, which is more the stuff of cigarettes and shotguns than lighthouses and lobster boats.
“We’re both from Maine, we both like Maine, so we decided to make something based around that,” says Bourassa. “We have had a difficult time describing the tone of our publication. We hope the name says enough. The name Flannel just reeks of Maine — outdoors, cold weather and hard-working people.”
To give their process a little structure, Collinson enrolled in a graphic design class, where the assignment was to make a book. With Bourassa’s help, he did. The initial print run? Four copies — one for each of them and the issue’s other two contributors, Jessica Harvey, a University of Southern Maine student who is the third member of the Flannel team, and James Grindle, a graduate of the New England School of Communications.
“It hadn’t even occurred to us to make a mass edition,” Collinson says.
But four wasn’t nearly enough. As soon as people saw it, Flannel amassed a cult-like following. For that first issue of Flannel, Collinson and Bourassa ran an extra 50 copies. They upped the next issue’s run to 100. Then 150.
They started a Facebook page and soon had 1,000 fans — and they only knew 100 of them. Queries from would-be contributors started pouring in from around the state.
The next issue, their fifth, is expected in November.
Now that Flannel has taken off, photocopying, and page trimming and binding by hand don’t cut it anymore. The spring 2010 issue is more of a book — softbound, professionally printed, slick. And Collinson and Bourassa have started marketing it, based on advice from UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation.
This past spring, issues of Flannel sold for $5 a copy in several retail locations in the state. And Bourassa and Collinson are moving their base of operations to Portland, Maine.
Originally published in UMaine Today Magazine, Fall 2010
Image Description: Sean Collinson, left, and Travis Bourassa