It was a busy day in Guelph and there wasn't much time for small talk. An American television crew was visiting. Phones were ringing off the hook and Ginty Jocius was worried sick about filming the centerfold for his next issue.
The theme, still not determined, was likely to be "June bride." But as always, the full-color center spread would border on the lascivious: alluring female in seductive pose, come-hither looks, lace and flowers, overstuffed pillows, maybe a glass of wine. You get the picture.
And as always, the featured femme fatale would be a hog. A real, living, grunting, rooting hog, dressed (or undressed, more probably) and posed just like one of Hugh Hefner's bunnies.
They're called littermates, and they grace the midsection of Playboar magazine, one of the most improbable farm publications ever to roll from a printing press.
Playboar, a quarterly for hog farmers, sneaks into the U.S. mail from Guelph, Ontario, where a handful of fun-loving Canadian farm boys have dedicated their lives to making something more than a pig in a poke.
Heaven knows there's precious little in the American economy to make a farmer smile these days, but at $10 a year Playboar is an inexpensive antidote. The press run is now up to 30,000 copies (70 percent go to farmers) and it is growing. In some rural outposts, mere mention of the slick magazine evokes an appreciative cackle.
Everything in Playboar is about pigs. The problem with that is that it's a limited field. So Playboar invents, hamming it up with outrageous pig puns, sowing barnyard humor wherever possible, ribbing swinish establishmentarianism.
Playboar has an advice column by Ham Landers. It has a Ribley's--Believe It or Else! page (a typical recent one limned George Barnyard Shaw's classic drama, "Pig Aliens"). It has reviews of movies such as "Tarzham the Pig Man," starring Boar Derryck and Miles Oinkeefe. There's always the centerfold, of course; plenty of pig-related cartoons and humor articles that are often humorous.
(One farmer in the Midwest, by the way, hangs the centerfolds in his pig barn and swears that reproduction has increased as a result. Hog heaven.)
Lest you think they've created, say, a National Hampoon of the swine industry, Playboar also carries serious articles on hog breeding, serious reviews of serious books, scientific notes and legitimate advertising.
A little background here. An itinerant reporter first encountered Playboar on a cold winter's day in the Midwest. A fellow was sitting, feet up on a table, in a veterinarian's office in Audubon, Iowa, grossing out on Playboar. The scene became a tidbit to file in a notebook.
Next encounter was with Eugene Glock, a very serious soybean farmer from Rising City, Neb. Have you ever seen Playboar, he was asked. "Hey, isn't that something?" Glock responded. "We gave a subscription to my brother-in-law as a Christmas gift."
Jocius, the managing editor, explained that Playboar was started as a limited, local attempt at humor three years ago by Thomas Hagey, the editor, whose family farms in Ontario.
A year ago Hagey and his pals decided to expand the magazine into "a classy quarterly, produced on a professional basis and go to all of North America." Hagey, Jocius and a couple other full-timers handle all the production, with a lot of help from free-lance writers.
"If we kept it strictly a put-on," Jocius said, "the market wouldn't sustain a thing like this. But if you combine the serious material with humor, you should have some chance of success. The trouble with traditional farm magazines is that they really don't have a fresh approach. We've tried to be creative with serious stuff, making it as positive as possible."
For example, the latest Playboar has a witty but entirely serious piece about the "Pig Mac"--actually, an examination of the potential for pork products in fast-food outlets, typified by McDonald's current experiment with McRibs sandwiches.
An upcoming article discusses what Jocius calls "a milder form of rape." That is a report about canola, a new form of rapeseed that is grown widely in Canada. The grain thrives in a cold climate and is a coveted substitute for soybeans as pig food.
Not everyone, however, thinks Playboar is so funny. Attorneys from Hefner's Playboy Enterprises filed a 60-page complaint in Canadian courts, objecting to registration of the Playboar name. "Our lawyers think we don't have much to worry about," Jocius said. "Can you imagine us walking into court to answer the complaint, leading a pig in on a leash?"
If the centerfold isn't bad enough, Playboar adds injury to insult by featuring a Catalhog Store, from which readers can order T-shirts, ball caps, neckties, littermate posters and stickpins, all with a Playboar emblem that vaguely resembles the Playboy jewelry logo.
"Where do we see it going?" Jocius asked rhetorically. "Probably bankrupt. We'd like to get more advertising, but there is some difficulty with the agencies. They're not sure about us. We've actually had advertisers overrule their agencies and insist that they place ads with us."
So, Hagey and Jocius are boring ahead with their promotions, which included a subscription-sales booth at the American Pork Congress in Iowa earlier this year. Jocius was pleased with the reaction.
"A guy who weighed about 450 pounds came by, saw us and did a double take. In a loud voice that everyone heard, he said, 'Well, I'll be dipped in ----,' and he called his wife over to take a look at us. I liked that."