The story of Escape magazine actually begins in 1978, although the Escape name doesn't appear until 1982.
In February 1978, a "bar rag" type format magazine, named The Milwaukee Calendar, was started up. That early publication was bought by the publishers of Gay Chicago magazine in 1980 and became Gay Milwaukee for about one year. In May 1981 publication of Gay Milwaukee (which was labeled "volume 4") ceased because of lack of advertising support. But it is virtually certain that what had been Milwaukee Calendar (volume 1 thru 3) and became Gay Milwaukee (volume 4), was morphed into Wisconsin's Escape magazine (volume 5+) after advertising difficulties were resolved.
Gay Milwaukee, when it was being published, had been owned and printed by Ultra Ink Inc.; that same company was credited with production and typesetting of Wisconsin's Escape at the time of the first issue we have been able to locate (Volume 5 no. 2, dated January 29, 1982). That issue was published by a new corporation name, We Escape Ltd., but still of Chicago, Illinois. Escape's publisher was Erin Criss, with editor Jon-Henri Damski. And significantly, Milwaukee's Ron Geiman wore many hats in this new publication(account executive, features, etc.) Thus, this was Ultra Ink's second foray into publishing a Milwaukee LGBT community guide.
As had both Milwaukee Calendar and Gay Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Escape magazine covered bar activities as well as major news stories: perhaps one of its most important issues was that of March 1982 (volume 5 number 5) when its cover showed Governor Dreyfus sign AB70 into law, making Wisconsin the first "gay rights state".
But this further foray into a bar-rag size Wisconsin magazine was also short-lived: by early October 1982, Escape became affiliated with Chicago's GayLife newspaper. Jon-Henri Damski was already writing for GayLife, so the transition appears to have been a smooth one. Escape converted into a newspaper format, which was inserted as "Part B" in Wisconsin area distributions of GayLife newspaper. Ron Geiman remained with the paper, and became essentially the Escape editor of the new format; he had a regular article titled "Ron's Wisconsin" in each issue.
[As background: in the nineteen seventies, two men named Grant Ford and Ralph Paul Gernhardt had the only gay press in Chicago. By 1976, Grant Ford was publishing a newspaper type publication in Chicago called Gay Life (also known as "GayLife", one word). Grant sold the paper to Chuck Renslow, who ran Gay Life for seven years. (Additional info about Chuck Renslow)]
By May of 1983, "after much discussion and consulting with some of Milwaukee's business and community leaders", some changes were made to the Escape section of GayLife. As Ron stated in that issue: "We are now on green paper (class- just like the Journal), and on the copies distributed in Wisconsin, Escape is now the cover sheet of GayLife. Escape will still appear in the Illinois issues as an insert..."
But sometime later in 1983, Escape was no longer being published. That void of a Wisconsin-focused GLBT publication became the catalyst for the founding of Milwaukee's longest running LGBT publication, when in November 1983, Ron Geiman, who had been writing for and editing Escape, together with friend David Iraci, decided to start a new publication, IN Step. In Step went on to publish for almost 20 years.
Disclaimer-- Any publications reproduced here are shown without release because we have been unable to locate the copyright holder, if any. Their reproduction is intended to document and honor those who made such early contributions to the community and with full desire to include proper credit, if known. We will remove any reproductions immediately upon notification of or from any valid copyright holder.
Credits: All known surviving copies from Jerry Johnson collection,
now donated to the permanent holdings of the UWM Special Collections;
Page design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: October-2007.