Portland's Porn Rag War
And yet, for unknown reasons, the city hosts more strip clubs per capita than anywhere on Earth. Up here in the land of lesbian lumberjacks and statutes forbidding the murder of Sasquatches, the locals sure do like their titties and beer. Portland seems to boast a "gentlemen's club" on every corner.
The sex industry is so huge that it currently supports three free glossy monthly magazines jockeying for strip-club and call-girl dollars. In contrast, Portland has only two free alternative weeklies and one lonely daily paper. At the top of Portland's pornrag heap sits Exotic, which has been publishing monthly since 1993. Exotic used to compete with a newsprint publication called the T&A Times until that magazine's publisher was jailed for an alleged sexual assault. Exotic's current competition is SFX, which began publishing nearly seven years ago, and Portland Uncovered, which emerged from the ashes of another free strip-club rag last year.
The most notable issue in this sordid drama is that Exotic's two competing magazines are helmed by disgruntled ex-Exotic employees and the quarreling, backbiting and behind-the-scenes machinations have often reached absurdly comic levels — sometimes even skirting the bounds of legality.
Off the record, the publishers speak freely of their competitors' alleged addictions, misogyny, mob connections and threats of violence, each of them claiming that the competition sinks much lower than they could ever manage. But get them on an IM session, and their tone instantly morphs into bile-free press releases, gestures of mutual respect and misty declarations about the American Way.
The current soap opera was set in motion back in 1996 when Christopher Lloyd-Baron, a British expatriate, was fired from Exotic.
"Shortly prior to the blowup, Frank [Faillace, founder of Exotic] had gotten Christopher to sign a non-compete contact, which Chris said he tricked him into," John Voge, said, the current publisher of Exotic Underground, a Seattle spinoff funded by Exotic. "So he signed the thing, and shortly after, apparently, Frank fired him by voice mail. Christopher drank himself into a frenzy and came to the office to confront Frank and got violent."
Voge said that after being restrained by other Exotic employees, Lloyd-Baron stormed out of the office.
"Mr. Voge is perhaps not the most reliable source of information," Lloyd-Baron said, challenging Voge's chronology of events leading up to his departure from Exotic. "I was working at the Exotic office late as I wanted to draft and print a letter using the only computer hooked to the laser printer. Frank unexpectedly came back to the office. He became really upset that I was using the computer. Words were swapped angrily, resulting in Frank threatening me. Never being one to back down, I stood up to him. No blows were exchanged. Two days later, he left me a voice mail saying, 'Don't come into the office anymore, we've changed the locks,' or something to that effect." The gently charismatic Faillace disputes both versions of the story. He says he fired Christopher "when he got in my face" after finding him at the unauthorized computer. And he strongly rejects any notion that he kept any "phony accounts."
Nearly two years after this highly contested incident, Lloyd-Baron launched SFX.
"I always knew I could do a better job [than Exotic]," Lloyd-Baron said, not in the least denying that he and Voge "danced" a bit during an argument late in 1999 when Voge worked for him. Almost immediately after their dance, Voge began working for Exotic, vowing to drive SFX into the ground.
Voge alleges that during his tenure at Exotic, the competition with SFX was often nasty and juvenile. Much of it revolved around accusations of stealing one another's magazine racks. Voge and Exotic General Manager Bryan Bybee also claim that Lloyd-Baron mailed copies of Exotic to random citizens, including a high-ranking Portland politician, hoping to land the magazine in legal trouble. Lloyd-Baron claims that this was perpetrated by the now-defunct T&A Times but adds that he wishes he had thought of it first.
But three years after joining Exotic and increasingly dissatisfied with his treatment at Exotic, Voge jumped ship to help launch a Portland version of Xcitement, a strip-club magazine that publishes in several American cities. Exotic's first issue after Voge's departure featured the cutline EXOTIC GOES TO WAR! and a cover picture of a topless woman straddling a bomb. The issue's editorial content was almost entirely devoted to savaging Voge for his betrayal. A subsequent "Exotic Shredding Party" hosted by Xcitement was crashed by an Exotic associate who distributed flyers featuring a cruel depiction of Voge's anatomy.
Voge lasted only two months with Xcitement before leaving to help start Temptation, which was the fourth such adult-themed publication in Portland. But Temptation was stillborn, folding just as its first issue was printed. By his own admission, Voge drifted for nearly a year, dealing with substance-abuse problems before settling in Seattle and re-teaming with his old enemies to launch Exotic Underground.
The power vacuum at Xcitement was quickly filled by Karla Demaree, who, like Voge, had leapt from SFX to Exotic and then to Xcitement. After 15 monthly issues and growing dissatisfaction with Xcitement's investor, she says she met with the Exotic boys and reached a deal — they would help her fund a new publication, and she would keep quiet that they were funding it. Demaree claims that the mutual intent was to bury SFX, a notion that Bryan Bybee of Exotic disputes. For legal reasons, they added an "E" and called the new magazine Excitement.
The arrangement proceeded without incident for two months, according to Demaree, until things went haywire after the third issue was printed. Bybee claims that Exotic had bankrolled Excitement's printing bill but that Demaree had fallen behind in her payments. He says she had sworn to pay them in full upon delivery of their third issue, but when he showed up with the magazines, she only had half of the cash that she'd promised. "Upon arriving at her offices," Bybee said, "our delivery van was blocked in by her BMW, driven by her ex-boyfriend and acquaintance. We asked Karla to move her BMW so that we could depart and she would not do so — instead, she phoned the policed. When the police arrived, they immediately told her to move her BMW, which she abided by. They remained there until we safely left the area."
Rumors circulated throughout the Portland sex industry that during this showdown, someone waved a gun concealed behind a Chicken McNugget bag. There's also an allegation that a crack pipe fell out of one of the principals' pockets while they were talking to police.
Exotic and Demaree severed ties and are now reportedly enmeshed in litigation. Demaree found another investor and started publishing Portland Uncovered, which continues to battle with Exotic and SFX.