Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Arts Innovator: Gopher Illustrated, Venezuela and the United States



Magazine freaks: Michelle Benaím Steiner and Lope Gutiérrez-Ruíz show off Gopher’s second issue. Photo: Romina Olson.

In the age of on-demand entertainment and Internet memes, Latin America’s rich cultural achievements often get lost in the cloud of information available in the English-speaking world. But Michelle Benaím Steiner, 26, and Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz, 31—two Austin, Texas–based Venezuelans—have found a way to penetrate the cloud: start their own print journal.

The two editorial and life partners are unapologetic about resorting to what some might consider “old” media. Self-proclaimed “magazine freaks,” they launched Gopher Illustrated, a nonprofit journal of design and literature, in 2010 to start a conversation about Latin American talent in the English-speaking world.

Each issue of Gopher, individually hand-numbered and letterpressed by the editors and featuring a carefully selected color palette, is intended to be a keepsake and a work of art. Only 1,000 copies of each issue are printed. “It makes no sense to use paper to produce things that don’t have the permanence of a book,” says Gutiérrez-Ruiz. “Content should determine format, and not the other way around.”

While they may be producing “old” media, Benaím and Gutiérrez-Ruiz’ business model is very twenty-first century. Gopher was one of the first 100 projects to debut on Kickstarter, the worldwide crowdfunding platform. In only 12 days, family and friends pledged $5,716 to print the magazine’s first issue in July 2010. Gopher is now funded mostly through grants and private contributions.

View a slideshow of Gopher Illustrated below.

Benaím and Gutiérrez—who met in Caracas, where the first issue of Gopher was printed—took the magazine a step further after relocating to Austin in late 2010 and discovering the region’s vibrant Hispanic cultural life. There, Benaím and Gutiérrez expanded Gopher Projects to become a platform to promote emerging local talent—from local chefs to Fusebox, an annual art festival—and found a niche market for a high-end magazine that covers issues that, in the words of their website, are “globally local and ultimately timeless.”

So far, Benaím and Gutiérrez have produced only two issues of Gopher Illustrated. Although they originally intended to make it a biannual magazine, they believe that, in publishing, quality always takes precedence over quantity. “We think the right timing for an issue is whenever we feel totally comfortable with its content,” says Benaím.

The first issue, developed in Caracas, introduced Gopher’s unique look and feel and addressed the question, “What is a legend?”— exploring the impact legendary people and events have on our lives. It includes contributions from Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin and Venezuelan writer Edmundo Bracho.

“On City Limits,” the second issue of Gopher Illustrated—and the first issue published in Austin, in 2011—invites readers to embrace urban living. This issue led Gopher Projects to make the jump from the arts to urban design through the CityScript Project, a local initiative to gather stories from communities, businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs that will be made into public artworks. The first two issues can be ordered for $16 on Gopher’s website.

The editors are now working on a third issue titled “Risky Business,” which they hope to release in fall 2013. Benaím and Gutiérrez-Ruiz want to keep their audience guessing about the content of the new issue.

 Curious readers will need to wait until the magazine appears in independent bookstores in the United States.

All photos courtesy of Gopher Illustrated.

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