If you haven't a Clue, just wait

June 25, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

The staff of Clue magazine doesn't like the "twentysomething" label.

They admit that's what they are and acknowledge it's the audience they have in mind for their soon-to-be-launched Baltimore literary magazine. And lacking anything better, they even plan to use it in their new publication, which they hope will showcase the city's artistic and literary talent.

But they don't necessarily like the image it conveys -- vaguely elitist, a tad superficial, the idea of a generation that doesn't know where it's going and doesn't really care. Like any label, they say, it oversimplifies things grossly.

"The labels are indicative of negative attributes of this generation, which are or are not true," depending on the individual, says Lisa Farrar, 26, one of the magazine's three primary editors, referred to in its masthead as "publication directors."

"What we're trying to do is give a realistic representation of this generation," she says. "When someone thinks of Generation X, twentysomething, they think of apathy, lack of ambition, whining about the economy, when in actuality we are all working toward different goals."

Adds Shani Mack, another member of the trio, "There's more to our generation and to this area than alternative rock."

Born over a coffee break at Louie's Bookstore Cafe, nursed through dozens of planning sessions there and at apartments across the city, Clue should be hitting Baltimore newsstands sometime next month. The staff hopes to distribute about 1,500 copies of the 48-page inaugural issue, printed in black-and-white on non-glossy paper, throughout the city -- mostly at small bookstores and college libraries.

The first issue will be free, and putting it together has cost the staff roughly $500 of their own money. So far, about a half-dozen advertisers have bought space in the magazine. The staff is counting on additional advertising, plus donations, to defray printing costs, which Ms. Mack figures will run between $1,500 and $2,000 initially.

With a core staff of about 12 helping pull together the work of some 20 contributors, Clue is being touted as a forum for creative talent unlike any being published in these parts.

"I feel like the City Paper and the Baltimore Sun really miss a lot of what's going on in the city," says Karen Conley, 22, the magazine's third publication director. No existing periodical, she believes, tracks the interests of her generation as a matter of course, or offers a forum where her peers can display their drawings, poems, photos and fiction.

Ms. Mack, 29, says she envisions Clue as a focal point for artists, and not just those who live downtown or who hang out at Louie's.

"We've got an incredible cross section of people working on the magazine," she says. "We wanted to avoid the downtown art scene; it seems a little incestuous sometimes. People do think and do art outside of downtown."

"There is talent all over the place in Baltimore," agrees Anthony Dale, 26, who recently began working at the magazine as its director of marketing. "All they need is an outlet."

Alden Phelps, 29, who will have one of his paintings pictured in Clue's first issue, is an example of that talent. A native New Englander who settled in Baltimore after getting married in 1986, he has high hopes for Clue. Making a living as an artist, he says, is never easy.

"There are not too many publication opportunities [for painters] that I've seen," says Mr. Phelps, director of the non-profit Open Space Arts gallery in Reisterstown. "There are a few exhibit opportunities, but they're limited."

He predicts the magazine will sink or swim based on its appearance. "If the quality is good enough that you'll be drawn to look at it, that'll be wonderful.

"The people that run it seem to be on the ball," he adds.

The guiding lights behind Clue say putting together a magazine from the ground up has been quite an education. Not only did they have to learn about marketing and promotion -- Ms. Conley smiles as she recalls their "guerrilla marketing campaign," which had them walking through town looking for artists whose work they liked, then convincing them to become contributors -- but they also had to learn the legal intricacies of setting up a corporation and running a business.

"Plus, everybody has full-time jobs," adds Ms. Conley, who works for a florist and as a waitress at Louie's, where Ms. Mack is a manager. Ms. Farrar is an administrative assistant for a local computer firm.

Jimmy Rouse, owner of Louie's and a long-time proponent of the arts in Baltimore, believes the people behind Clue have an uphill struggle ahead of them. But he thinks -- and hopes -- they can pull it off.

"I certainly think there's room for it here," he says of Clue. "There are so few publications that deal with the arts, particularly for their age group, in the city.

"Baltimore," Mr. Rouse adds, "tends to be a place where a lot of artists live, because it's cheap, but there's not a lot of opportunities [to showcase their work], because it's still largely a blue-collar town."

For more information on Clue, write to P.O. Box 13025, Baltimore, 21203-3025.

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