Bite Me goes big on butts

by Steve Watson in May 2014
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Art & design

With its tongue firmly in its cheek and its bottom proudly on display, Bite Me is the new arts and culture magazine that brings a little fun to the sometimes overly serious genre. Made in Hong Kong by “chief butt” Katrina Tran and “art butt” Jason Schlabach, the entire first issue is dedicated to exploring the arse.

But it’s not all schoolboy sniggering – Bite Me might be light-hearted but it’s not stupid, so I caught up with Katrina and Jason to find out more about their new publishing venture, and what their wandering eyes will focus on next.

Bite Me magazine

So what made you want to focus the first issue around bottoms?
We really wanted to skewer the build up of ego that we’ve seen in fashion media, amateur and professional, over the last few years. The idea was to strip away some of the identity fixation that we took issue with and make it about the work.

And butts are a perfect subject matter for that. We’ve all got one, they get far too little attention (except for a few celebrities) and they are great to work with when it comes to putting together an attractive and cheeky layout.

As you say in the magazine, butts are simultaneously rude and silly, and I feel like Bite Me as a name has a similar tone – it’s confrontational but also fun. What’s the thinking behind the name?
Like so many good ideas, we don’t remember exactly how this one came about. You’ve nailed what we like about it though and why it stuck. We wanted something that didn’t limit what we might want to do with the project in the future, and ‘Bite Me’ allows us to experiment with the content and format as we go along.

Bite Me magazine

And how does that fit with your wider aims for the magazine itself?
The tone that you mentioned is the single most important element of the magazine. We wanted to make a magazine (we are huge fans of the medium and this project started from a fan’s perspective) that projected an attitude that bounced between rudeness and humour. The counterbalance to this was that the contributors, concepts and design had to reach for the highest level of quality. That mix of motivations and filters seemed right to us and helped us to stay on track to make something that we hope stands up next to our publishing idols, but offers a more light-hearted view of culture.

What has the response been like so far?
The first response that we’re very proud of is from the contributors. The people we approached overwhelmingly loved the idea and were happy to take part. And the reception from readers has been great as well. Very humbling. We’re really happy to say that the feedback has picked up on our goal and we’re getting a lot of compliments on the tone of the magazine and how much fun we brought to the issue.

Bite Me magazine

You’re based in Hong Kong but your contributors are from all around the world – do you see Bite Me as having a regional identity or is it completely international?
It is international in perspective and scope. There are great reasons for making magazines that are tied to a geographical context, but it’s not something we’re interested in with Bite Me. The cultural phenomena we want to take aim at are global. We love niche or local viewpoints, but will use them in service of a broader understanding of something more universal.

What’s the independent publishing scene like in Hong Kong? 
As far as we know, the English language independent publishing scene is pretty low on output and in the area of arts and culture even more thin on the ground. Locally in Hong Kong, Ha Wan Pao is a great zine that has these revealing looks into stories behind the people who make the things that surround our daily lives. We love it, but we wish there were a hundred others to mention – maybe Bite Me can show others that print publishing is worthy of pursuing!

I was speaking to a Chinese would-be publisher recently who told me that in China the bureaucracy stifles independent publishing – I assume Hong Kong is more open?
Hong Kong has none of these restrictions. It’s got high-speed internet that can access virtually any site on earth, a lot of printers to choose from and no red tape. It’s wide open for anyone to start a publication with an idea and a little gumption. We had to file our title with a remote bureaucratic outpost and then we were good to go (they were very polite and great with advice – although I think we were their only visitors that week!)

Bite Me magazine

You achieved an entirely international outlook with the magazine – where did you take your inspirations from?
We’re magazine junkies, so we grabbed ideas liberally from everyone we could. It’s embarrassing to say who we were looking at since we have so far still to go to reach the level we are aiming for. That said, Bite Me owes a huge debt to Cabinet, Fantastic Man, Lula, T Style Magazine, Apartemento, 032C, Acne Paper and so many more who have inspired us – I can go on forever. We also have to mention Tumblr, which is one of the most vibrant platforms around and a kind of naive, wonderful way of looking at content that we tried to reference in putting together BITE ME.

We’re also totally in love with magazines of yesteryear; The Face, Nova, Smash Hits, National Geographic – oh man, these really inspired us growing up. Spending all our pocket money and spending hours pouring over the spreads. Even in this digital age of scanners and really cool archive tools, we have stacks and stacks of magazines piled up all over the place. Nothing beats flicking through old magazines – ahhhhh, there goes two hours!

What can we expect from the next issue? Is Bite Me going to stay cheeky or will it be moving onto less risqué ground?
We’re looking at another body-centred theme, but decidedly less cheeky. We don’t want to get trapped into pushing boundaries for that sake alone. We’re going to continue to look at the different ways people view and respond to these body issues that confront us all. All this while keeping a smirk on our faces and trying to push this magazine to ever higher standards.

Bite Me
Ha Wan Pao

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