As they crept around the premises of an abandoned Lockport warehouse, the only audible sound was of snow crunching beneath their feet. Though signs warned against trespassing, three UB students were too intrigued by the post-apocalyptic scene to back away from the debris and decrepit mechanical parts littering the floor.
It was in the midst of these parts that they found an old Ferris wheel car. The trio instantly knew what to do: the two boys present rolled it to the center of the room and garnished it with scraps they found, while the girl looked on, her joy uncontainable. This was not just the decoration of a hunk of rejected metal – this was a defining moment in their quest to create.
Contrary to what one may assume, Rocket Lawn Chairs is not a group that transforms outdoor furniture into projectiles. It is the brainchild of an elusive English major whose adventurous nature (and request to remain anonymous) is part of her allure, according to her friends. For the past year, she has been excitedly discussing plans to create an on-campus publication open to submissions of all sorts from all UB students. This past month, Rocket Lawn Chairs finally released its first issue, described as a "serial modge-podge of loosely connected art and writing," and featured a picture of the friends' warehouse creation on the cover page.
The students in charge of Rocket Lawn Chairs hope that people will take advantage of the freedom to submit anything they like – as long as what they want to submit is printable, it's suitable for the journal.
How students can get in the publication, however, is a bit abnormal.
Submissions can be made via email (email@example.com), or in a different fashion – via library book.
On the last page of the first issue, instructions inform readers that students who wish to submit their work can place their submissions in "any random book" in Lockwood library. All they must do to complete the submission is email the title of the book and the call number to the publication's email, and the editors will find it and run it in the following month.
Though the creator was unavailable to talk, her fellow editors acknowledged that she is responsible for many of the ideas that fuel Rocket Lawn Chairs, like the idea to focus on a different theme each issue (along with the idea of the publication itself). According to her peers, the editor's dedication to her vision is the reason it finally came to fruition.
"[She] wanted to do Rocket Lawn Chairs for a really long time…and she was part of a club, but the officers of the club didn't want her to have so much control over it," said Jacob Kassner, a junior media study major. "She was like: ‘Fine, I'm gonna go do my own thing.'"
With nobody looking over her shoulder, the ambitious editor approached friends and classmates with the idea for a student-run arts publication. She looked to fellow English majors, members of clubs she was in, and willing friends to submit their own creative work to the magazine. According to Kassner, the initial plan was for Rocket Lawn Chairs to be focused on more visual art than anything else, "like the funnies in the newspaper." However, when people started submitting literary pieces, the editor was flexible with her vision; she was happy just to create something artistic and different, regardless of the focus.
Kassner is not just a stranger who submits work – he is one of the friends whose help the mysterious entrepreneur initially sought out. He is responsible for the artwork in the magazine, including comics and even the cover work. Though Kassner personally is indifferent to who looks at his work and how they react, he still submits art and puts time into the publication – mostly in order to support his friend.
"I don't really care about the audience, I [submit comics] because my friend asked me to," Kassner said. "I just create a lot of media over the course of a month, and I feel like: ‘Well, if it's within my ability to draw a comic for [her], then I should do that."
Some students, like freshman communication major Nicole Faerman, are intrigued by the "unorthodox" way that the magazine runs.
"At first, I wasn't sure if it was a joke or not," Faerman said. "But after reading through [the publication], I think that the people in charge just genuinely enjoy thinking outside of the box. It makes me feel like they want people who write for Rocket Lawn Chairs to have as much fun just giving in their work as they probably do putting it together."
In addition to hiding submissions in books, the paper itself instructs readers not to discard the magazine, but to "Leave it in your chemistry class…stick it in a random mailbox…pass it on." According to the assistant editor (who also requested anonymity), a junior philosophy and linguistics major, they must get creative with distribution because of the small number of copies that are actually printed.
"We have a very small amount that we put out. One hundred twenty-five copies…[it's] a very small operation," he said. "We give them to strangers and try to put them in places people will see them, like Clemens Hall."
The assistant editor is another of the editor's close friends. When the time comes to put the publication together, it is the two of them who spend hours in the Lockwood Cybrary printing out pages and tweaking the layout of each issue. Because it is new and relatively underground at this point, the staff relies on donations from students' leftover print quotas in order to print all of the work.
The assistant editor acknowledges that print quota donations will only last for a limited amount of time, and looking forward, he plans to enlist help from UB's Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities to obtain money for production. Though there is still much work to be done, he believes Rocket Lawn Chairs will be worth it, as it will provide an outlet for those who otherwise would refrain from sharing their poetry or artwork.
"In any given community, no matter how small, there's always some kind of talent that just doesn't get out," he said. "I feel like this is a good opportunity for people to get anything out there that they're working on, just to show people, so they can see what is in the community around them."
Just how far the publication will go is unknown, but the editors do know one thing: they're doing something different and exciting, and for them, the mystery is worth it.