Interview with a Vampire
Arlene RussoIn this job it’s nothing new to meet somebody who thinks they’re offering something different to other people. However, it’s rare that you actually do meet somebody who is, in fact, offering something so completely different that it’s worth remarking on. Such was the case for The Drum recently when the magazine sat down to an interview with Arlene Russo, publisher and editor of Bite Me magazine, a Glasgow-based vampire magazine for fans of the permanently suntan-challenged. The (perhaps) surprisingly down-to-earth Russo has been publishing the magazine since 1999 and now circulates the publication to readers all over the world. But why vampires?
“As far as I remember, vampires have been a part of my life,” says Russo. “I first became interested in them through watching the old Hammer Horror films. Some people were into ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’, but for me I just remember when Christopher Lee bared his fangs in ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’. I was allowed to stay up late and watch it, aged 10, and that image captivated me. I’d go to the children’s horror section.”
Though not trained as a journalist, Russo was keen to make her way writing for a living and, through pure persistence, practised until she found success. Eventually the Herald picked up one of Russo’s articles and she was on her way. Over the next couple of years she worked on a freelance basis, reporting on interesting stories from around Glasgow. After five years writing about standard topics, however, Russo began to write articles about the supernatural. Then, in 1997, a meeting with the Glasgow Vampire Society prompted her to visit the USA.
“I started writing about the Vampire Society in Glasgow and from that I heard about this event in Los Angeles. It was the biggest ever Dracula party in the world. It was a convention; there were authors and Hammer Horror stars there. It was amazing. I’d never been to America, and it was so inspiring to celebrate the 100th birthday anniversary of Bram Stoker’s book. I’d been there for two days, and I just thought ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to go back to Scotland and do something. This is my mission. I must do a fanzine.’”
However, on her return to Scotland a friend suggested that, rather than put together a vampire fanzine, she apply for a business grant and start up a fully fledged magazine. Russo decided to have a go at a business proposal and, to her surprise, she was given the grant. Once the office space, computer and printer were arranged, then came the daunting task of actually running a business.
Russo explains: “That’s been a bit of a problem, because in my mind it was set up as a fanzine. It’s been a big, big problem and issue to think, ‘This is a product to make money.’ And that’s something it’s taken me years to realise. Because, when you love something and it’s a hobby, it’s very hard to make it commercial. People think having a hobby that’s also a business is a good thing. It’s the worst thing, it’s the worst possible thing, because you like to give away your product, and you give it away when you shouldn’t. It’s hard to say, ‘Well, this is a product. If you want it you have to pay.’ It’s hard to look at it as a money thing.”
There have been other challenges as well, not the least of which has been facing off against a sexist attitude from the publishing industry. Russo explains: “I’ve found it very difficult. I didn’t know publishing is so male-dominated. I’ve had such a tough time with printers. I’ve walked in with my designer and the printer has talked only to him. I’m going ‘Excuse me, but I’m paying for this.’ It can be very sexist.”
The horror genre itself has also traditionally been dominated by men. However, Russo believes that this has been down to the design of the publications themselves, rather than the genre. She says: “When I was doing my business plan, the statistics said that your person that’s into horror or sci-fi is male of a certain age, but I’ve found that’s not the case. If you don’t put all those tacky images into the magazine, women will buy it. I’ve got a lot of women that wouldn’t ever dream of buying a ‘horror’ magazine subscribing to me. Women like it because I put nice images in the magazine. I don’t like looking at blood. I’ve never had anyone write to me and say, ‘Could you please put more blood in the magazine?’ That’s not what people want.”
Some may find this odd, for a vampire magazine, but Russo maintains that Bite Me is more a celebration of the vampire image, the costumes and the style, rather than glorifying the more violent side of the creature. As Russo explains: “To me, the vampire doesn’t represent something that drinks blood. I don’t see that part. You choose what part of the fantasy you want. I’m not really that concerned about the reality of it; it’s more the fantasy. I don’t want to offend people, I want to make people happy. It’s something to read in your bed at night with the lights down. It’s just something a bit different, a bit thrilling, but not terrifying. I don’t want anyone to get nightmares. Open the newspapers if you want that.”
Thus far, the magazine has enjoyed a growing circulation from as far away as the USA and even New Zealand, and Russo frequently publishes articles and photos sent from all over the globe. Its website, www.bitememagazine.com, enjoys hits from users all over the world. However, until this year the magazine has not been actively marketed at all. With Russo the only full-time employee, there just hasn’t been the time. This is set to change next month when the magazine’s first ad campaign breaks. The campaign, which was created by DB Advertising, will coincide with the fifth anniversary of Bite Me.
Russo met DB managing director Debbie Bennett at a networking event in Glasgow. She remarks: “I met her at the Royal Concert Hall, and I was drawn to her because I saw her portfolio open and she’d done a campaign for blood transfusion. I thought that was quite funny.”
Next month will also see another profile-raising event for Bite Me, when the new Hollywood vampire movie “Blade: Trinity” premieres. Bite Me is to appear in the movie as a prop, after Russo was contacted last year by producers.
Russo is now looking for an agency to handle the magazine’s database and subscription orders, a move which should free her up to spend more time raising the magazine’s profile. Among the chances missed in the past because of a tight work schedule has been a chance to appear on Channel 4’s “The Salon”. Though, more recently, Russo was able to act as ambassador for the magazine when the Edinburgh Dungeon opened its new vampire exhibition. After all, who better to have at the launch than the editor of Scotland’s only vamp mag?
It’s been a tough journey for Russo and Bite Me and, as the only member of staff, there may still be tough times ahead for the editor. But with support from a growing readership and a genre that boasts a massive global fan base, Bite Me should continue to attract interest as Scotland’s most unique magazine.