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Behind the scenes: Cakeboy magazine

Posted by Stine Fantoft Berg on Wednesday, July 13 2016

Sean Santiago, founder of Cakeboy magazine, on queerness and spending money in the wrong places

Men’s magazines have changed a lot since their heyday in the late ’90s, but even if FHM were still with us today, you can bet it wouldn’t look much like Cakeboy magazine. Published out of Brooklyn, Cakeboy challenges the norms of men’s magazines by exploring queered perspectives on masculinity, and the third issue is looking fresher than ever.

I caught up with founder and creator Sean Santiago to talk about his journey so far, and the continuous learning curve of self-publishing.

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What’s your background?
I’ve worked for a lot of online magazines and brands on both content and art direction, but mainly writing on design. I’ve been blogging and using social media to express my point of view for as long as I can remember. I reached I point where I wanted to scale it, but talking about myself and taking outfit pictures felt very limiting. I wanted to expand to tell other people’s stories, and also to invite others to tell their own stories and address topics they feel passionate about.

It started out as a small zine that was printed in 200 copies. I then Kickstarted the second issue, which feels more like a second phase, or the first real issue. It has been such a learning curve and Cakeboy has definitely grown a lot over its three issues.

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In what ways has it grown?
I think the biggest change is in my attitude, and my realising that I don’t have to do things in a certain way – Cakeboy can be whatever I want it to be.

Looking back, not knowing the business at all has been quite damaging. I’ve spent a lot of money in the wrong places. When I launched the Kickstarter, I didn’t really know to which extent I’d need the money. When you’ve never published anything before it’s easy to overlook parts of the process – like the costs involved in distribution, which I hadn’t thought of at all.

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Another thing I didn’t realise was how much I should be praising the product – a print product is premium, even if it’s a zine. For a long time I was selling it for way less than the production costs, which I didn’t realise until it was too late.

I’m working on being more pragmatic and intentional in my approach to publishing. That basically involves being able to answer the questions my dad always asks me: what is it, what does it want to say, and why does it need to be in print? And, in the current political climate, what does a magazine that speaks to a LGBTQ audience need to do, and what should it represent?

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What are you currently working to improve?
At this point I’m trying to be a better editor. In this issue I really like the moments where the editorial voice of Cakeboy really shines through. I want to play around more with the idea of tropes of content and coming up with original ideas for content that is well-researched and thoughtful, and paired with visuals that work to tell stories in the most dynamic way possible. And in a way that keeps me sane!

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The boldness of the design really stood out to me with this issue. What’s your approach?
There are so many considerations involved in print design that you take for granted when you’re used to working online. When I showed the previous issue to some of my friends, I was a little bit upset by their reactions to the design. The thought was that, because I didn’t have a lot of experience, I’d go with what felt safe. But that wasn’t delivering a design that helped people understand the Cakeboy brand. It looked pretty enough, but people were struggling to get the message as they were flipping through.

So I spoke to a designer friend, who told me that I could either really standardise it, or throw it out the window. So I decided to throw it out the window because, as I said before, I don’t think it needs to look a certain standardised way. So for this issue I was trying to make it as much as an expression of the content and tone of voice of the magazine as possible.

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How do you choose the people you feature?
I meet a lot of people through Instagram and Tumblr. They’re people who do interesting work, and present themselves in a way that sparks my interest, usually dealing with ideas of beauty, queerness and the presentation of self.

I wanted to make a magazine that shows a broader spectrum of queerness; I work really hard on making Cakeboy less literal and not trying to pin everything down all the time. Queerness should never be easy – the whole point of it is ambiguity. So the aim of the magazine is to explore themes and ideas relating to queerness and empowering people just through giving people space to talk about things that are important to them, from all ends of the spectrum, whether that’s weightlifting or gardening.

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