Gargoyle was founded in 1976 by Russell Cox, Richard Peabody, and Paul Pasquarella. By 1977, Peabody was the only member of the original triumvirate left. He ran the mag until 1990 with several co-editors through the years, most notably Gretchen Johnsen (1979-1986) and Peggy Pfeiffer (1988-1990). Based in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Gargoyle was dedicated to printing work by unknown poets and fiction writers, as well as seeking out the overlooked or neglected. The magazine archive is housed in the Special Collections at George Washington University’s Gelman Library in DC (some back issues are still available to the public as well—read on). The mag was on something of an extended hiatus as of 1990 and resurfaced in 1997. FUSE interviews Richard Peabody, one of the founding editors of Gargoyle, on January 31, 2013.
Interview conducted by Aubrey Johnson (Susquehanna ’16)
Where did the name Gargoyle come from? And what was the inspiration behind the creation of the magazine?
Two buddies and I were looking for something to do after grad school. Russell’s marriage had fallen apart. Paul was recently out of the Navy. I’d just hitched across the US and back and been to a poetry reading in Madison, WI. I had a bunch of names and “Pan” was the one we chose. We went to the Washington Cathedral cuz they had a Pan statue but we no matter what we did we couldn’t get a decent shot. While we were messing around Russell kept snapping pix of the gargoyles on the cathedral. When he developed the film it was quickly obvious we should go with “Gargoyle.”
We were three writers who couldn’t get published. Seemed like a good way to print our own work, but once the submission started to roll in we realized maybe our own work wasn’t so good after all.
As one of the founding editors, how would you say Gargoyle has changed and grown over the years? Also, where do you see it going in the future?
LOL. We began as a newsprint monthly. Did 4 issues in the first 5 months. Then we shifted to a poetry book sized format. Though we’ve shifted formats from that point on. I’ve always said I’d be assassinated by a crazed librarian cuz there’s no way to bind all of our issues together. They look like broken teeth on a shelf. All different shapes and sizes.
The longer you last, the bigger names you attract. That’s part of the change. We solicit work from some folks who are on our Wish List. But mostly we’re buried in submissions these days, to the point where we finally have interns. About 8 of them at last count. We’ve also been shrinking our submission window to the point that now we only read during the month of June for our annual issue.
The future? We’re hoping to have all of the issues since #48 available in Ebook versions by spring. That’s the current plan. I’ve thought about spinning out an online zine site that features original work. Dunno. I’ve also thought long and hard about bagging it. I’ve been at this a long time now and I’m more and more interested in my own work these days.
Gargoyle has been around for over 35 years. What are some tips for producing such a long running magazine?
LOL. If you really want to do it, you’ll find a way. Quit when it’s no longer fun. Spread the chores around. Have a binding party if you do it yourself. Those were always fun back in the early days. Print work you can read 4-5 times and still find something to love about.
How do you choose the cover image? Does it follow any theme?
Not for the magazine, no. Lucinda and I took turns for awhile, but since she bought a farm in West Virginia and moved out there 4-5 years ago, the onus has been increasingly on me. The covers for #58 and #59 were found browsing images online. There are a lot of great visual image sites and deviantart.com features all kinds of work by independent artists and photographers from all over the globe. The cover artist for #58 is in Spain. We’d have never crossed paths if it wasn’t for the web.
What’s the selection process for submissions? What is taken into consideration when looking at each piece?
These days I read everything by people I know, by name authors. The interns juggle the rest. I like to get three in agreement for a Yes. The magazine has developed a quirky bent voice all its own. And through the years we’ve managed to find poets and writers who have the ability to plow that particular vein of humor/seriousness we love.
In the early days we’d make suggestions on pieces that were almost there. These days we’re overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. We were seeing 100 submissions a day the first two weeks last summer.
I tell my students that there are three basic piles. The YES Pile. Where you know it’s fab and you want it right away. Then there’s the NO Pile. Too many mistakes, typos, lack of anything that makes you want to read it twice. And the largest pile is always the MAYBE Pile. If you’re sending out work and editors are sitting on it for weeks/months, then it’s competent enough that they’re holding it to see if Nick Cave sends something, or Jane Smiley. That teenage dating biz where you might get a better offer by Thursday for Saturday night. So you hedge your bets. If the dream names don’t show up then you accept some of the work from the MAYBE Pile. That’s how it works.
Is it ever a struggle to find the right pieces for each issue, or do you usually stumble upon a few that amaze you?
A few always amaze me. I’m astonished at how often works dovetail together. As thought there were subtle threads or themes linking pieces together. Do we ever struggle? Not with submissions.
What do you like about running a small press literary magazine? What are the advantages as opposed to larger presses?
Well, you’d need to define what you mean here. How small is small? How large is large? By the nature of longevity alone we have established a niche in the lit world and a rep for being a writer’s magazine in that writers read it. In terms of reaching my peers, it’s been a real bonus. Rather than say “larger” I’d say “independent.” We’re not beholden to a university program or department. Nobody tells me what to do in terms of the actual work on the pages. That freedom is both a draw for some folks and scary for others. At the same time, we don’t have a new batch of university interns every year, or an actual office location, or distribution via a university press.
How does the magazine raise funds for publishing?
Mostly out of pocket. We lose about $5 thou per project. I’m not rich. I teach and edit manuscripts in order to pay for everything. I don’t know more than 1-2 editors who actually do make money in this business. I always laugh at folks who think—well, we have to break even. Never gonna happen. Litmags are a labor of love. That’s why they have the average lifespan of a May fly. If you don’t love what you’re doing, don’t do it. I mean we have sales via Amazon, or via our site through PayPal. We get checks in the mail. We have some university subscribers though not that many any longer. That used to be the life’s blood of most indie publishers. And distribution is more and more difficult. Our most recent distributor, Ubiquity, just kicked us to the curb. We’re also not a nonprofit corporation when it comes to the IRS. We make a little money selling off archives to the Gelman Library at George Washington University.
How many people does each issue reach?
No clue. Online mags always brag about their hits but I look at a lot of mags for under 5 minutes. Dunno if those numbers really mean anything. We printed 3,000cc back in the 80s but it has shrunk until now we print about 1,500cc these days. Most mags lie about their circulation. I used to hear editors say things like, 5 people see every copy of our mag so 5x their print run was their circ. I just shake my head.
The other big change is Print on Demand printing. My printer in Charlotte, NC own that technology and the fact that after an initial run of 500cc, I can call him and say, we’re having a reading in 2 weeks, send me another 250cc, is just great. Saves me from bleeding money into inventory storage. Also allows you to fix any errors right away. I love the impact that’s had on the biz in terms of possibilities. I’m not, however, as enamored of the Vanity book publishing aspect of all of the self-produced books.
In all, how is the success of Gargoyle?
Not for me to decide. An awful lot of people have heard of us. That’s the longevity again. People who read an issue are often stunned that we’re not much bigger. I get CVs all the time from people who want to work for me and tell me they’ll start in the $$$$ range. We’re basically a 2-person bedroom op. My printer is in NC, as I said, and my desktopper is in Asbury Park. The woman who works on my website is in Rochester, NY. Without the web none of that would be possible.
We’ve listed some of the awards our contributors have won on our main Gargoyle page on the website. And listed some of the anthologies that have reprinted work from our pages. We’ve printed a lot of big names, many now gone, discovered folks who’ve gone on to land contracts in the NY book world, mixed newbies together with forgotten writers. That’s the best part. That tribal feeling is what it’s all about for me.