Suspect Press, the quarterly literary magazine that has been publishing the work of Denver poets, fiction authors, comic-book artists and culture writers for almost a decade, has announced that it's suspending operation.
"We've been planning for a while to bring things to a close," says editor-in-chief and author Amanda E.K. "We thought we'd be able to bring a couple more issues than we did, but with the pandemic, we weren't able to get most of our advertisers. It's been a struggle to raise the money to put out the issue."
Suspect Press started as a vision of then-City, 'O City owner Dan Landes, zinester and novelist Brian Polk and poet Ken Arkind. Over the past seven years, it's gone through several iterations, with leaders ranging from Kaela Martin and Josiah Hesse to E.K. and comic-book artist Lonnie MF Allen, who joined the team three years ago.
The free print magazine became the envy of the indie publishing scene around the country, says E.K. She recalls people visiting the magazine's booth at DiNK, the Denver Independent Comics & Art Expo, and talking about how they wished their cities had something like it.
In the literary world, where emerging artists and writers often work for exposure and little else, Suspect Press has always paid contributors...even when the publication itself was operating on spit and sawdust.
"I love paying artists and writers for their work," says E.K. "I love when I tell them I have a payment, and they're surprised. I love when people are excited about their first publication. It's been such a community hub for people to find each other and make friends."
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The latest issue, which just hit the streets, was supposed to be published in April. But longtime advertisers such as the Denver Art Museum and the Oriental Theater, which had been temporarily shut down by COVID-19, slashed their marketing budgets and pulled ads. Suspect Press had to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign instead.
Despite losing revenue that made Suspect Press possible, E.K. says that she's thankful for all the support that businesses have shown the publication over the years. She's particularly grateful for ongoing contracts with small outfits like Mammoth American Tattoo and Iris Piercing Studio.
And in recent years, no advertiser contributed as much to Suspect Press as Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe-based corporation that poured money into Denver's DIY art scene. But the immersive arts giant has financial troubles of its own. And the troubles extend beyond money issues.
When lawsuits against Meow Wolf over sexual harassment and workplace discrimination were made public, the team at Suspect Press did some soul-searching as to whether it should continue accepting money from the organization. "We would check in about it," E.K. recalls. "We didn't want to be associated with the stuff if it was truly what was going on. We had some exchanges with them, and they were very communicative and respectful of us being concerned about it. Communication-wise, it was a good experience."
Cash-wise, things went south. Although Meow Wolf is going through with plans to open a Denver outpost in late 2021, it's pulled funding from local arts groups and efforts.
"We had our Meow Wolf contract for two years, and that was going to end in October," explains E.K. "So we were planning on doing some kind of different direction no matter what from then, whether that be looking for grants or becoming a nonprofit. ... It's been a struggle, so we decided to bring it to an end."
With this edition of Suspect Press, she notes, it's "going to be completely done."
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Well, sort of.
Allen plans to look for grants and shift Suspect Press back to a collective, E.K. reveals. "He wants to do more comics and more political essays," she explains. "He still wants to keep it a print mag, but it's going to look different."
Allen knows the work involved in running a publication; for the past three years, he, Hesse and E.K. did everything from editing and designing the magazine to marketing, soliciting advertisers, accounting and invoicing, and building the website.
"I'm hoping some younger kids who aren't jaded by how much work it will be will bring something to it next, or at least provide a platform for other people to publish and share their work," E.K. concludes. "A free publication, that is. There are only so many of those."