The first thing Phil Villeneuve did when he arrived in Ottawa from Honey Harbour, Ontario, as a still-closeted 18-year-old, was drive to a gay bar and grab a copy of Fab magazine.
He remembers flipping through the pages under the light in the rearview mirror in his car and gazing at the sexy pictures of hot boys and outrageous drag queens partying in Toronto nightclubs.
“I was alone in the dark just browsing through it,” he says. “It was so dirty to me then, for someone who wasn’t out. I went home and hid it under my bed. And I kept hiding them under my bed.
“Fab gave me the courage to go to a porn store and buy a real porn magazine, so I started putting that under my bed.”
For Villeneuve, it was his first window into a new and exciting world, and it helped him come out. When he eventually moved to Toronto, he says, he applied to be a Fab intern under former editor Mitchel Raphael.
It wasn’t long before Villeneuve was added to the masthead as the music columnist. Then, last year, he took the reins as editor. “It has been a glorious journey,” he says.
Sadly, on March 12, Fab publisher Pink Triangle Press (PTP) announced the magazine is folding, just one year shy of its 20th birthday.
Villeneuve will stay on at Xtra – and he will continue to contribute content similar to Fab’s fun and sexy style.
Publisher Brandon Matheson says the painful decision was purely financial and is part of a larger restructuring plan for PTP.
Unfortunately, 10 talented people were lost in the process. Sixty-four full-time staff will remain at PTP. The press has also announced the pending sale of HARDtv and recently sold its shares in OUTtv.
“We are not immune from the changing and challenging media landscape,” Matheson says. “Advertising revenue has been dropping in recent years for all media, including us.
“It’s important to stress for readers that some of the content that they’re used to seeing in Fab is not necessarily going to disappear. It’s going to show up in other channels.”
Later this year, PTP will launch a new website called Daily Xtra (dailyxtra.com), which will replace xtra.ca, and expand its breadth of content.
“The press has been around for more than 40 years. One of the reasons we have existed so long and we are as successful as we are, even in hard times, is that over our history we have had to make some really difficult decisions to pave the way for a more solid foundation in the future,” Matheson says.
He remembers another time the press had to make a difficult decision: the closing of The Body Politic, in 1987, to let Xtra emerge. “This is really the same thing. We’re at that time again.”
Since Villeneuve took over as editor one year ago, the glossy magazine has undergone a stunning redesign and has grown to better reflect the playful and cheeky side of Toronto’s gay scene.
Love poured in from readers on social media following the sad announcement on March 12. Villeneuve had tears in his eyes. “I just want to hug everyone. People on Facebook and Twitter have been saying how much they’ll miss it and how important Fab was to them, and like me, it was their entry to all things gay. For so many guys, when they leave home, the first place they go is the Village and get a copy of Fab.”
Fab has three issues remaining, and Villeneuve says the final edition will be an homage to what he calls “Xtra’s little sloppy and drunk party-girl sister who just wants to talk about underwear and shoes.
“It’s such a different voice from Xtra, and we need that voice,” he says. “Fab is about the silly, fun things that we all really need sometimes.”
Fab was first launched in 1994 to compete with Xtra, says PTP executive director Ken Popert. PTP purchased it in 2008.
“Over the years there were dozens of magazines launched to compete with Xtra, but Fab was the only one that marched to its own drum and danced to its own tune,” Popert says. “It didn’t define itself as ‘not Xtra.’ That was a mistake the others had made.
“I think it’s had a good run under our management, and we were true to our intention to let it have its own voice, and certainly, the last year it has turned into a remarkable publication. That’s why it hurts like hell to give that up. We have been trying not to do this for about a year.”
PTP is certainly not alone. Other Toronto dailies have recently enforced pay walls while announcing sweeping layoffs and plans to outsource key editorial departments.
“There are an awful lot of forces conspiring against print right now,” Popert says.
At the same time, Matheson says, Xtra and Fab are no longer the only Toronto publications where readers will see advertisements featuring gay and lesbian couples.
“Everything has changed,” he says. “We have also seen societal change, which is part of our own success. You can pick up a paper like Metro or Now and see some gay-targeted advertising, when 10 to 15 years ago, you didn’t see that.”
Matheson says PTP will continue to change to ensure long-term sustainability. “We are in the process of turning a very big ship around, going from a purely print mentality to a web-first company.”