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Thursday, December 3, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Media Watch

Dirt Is For Guys Too Hip For Highlights And Too Young For Gq

Dirt, the first rag for teen guys since Boys' Life, hit newstands with its third ish, chock full of stuff like "10 Ways to Sneak Into Shows," interviews with Ministry's Al Jourgensen and junior welterweight Charles "The Natural" Murray, and a step-by-step guide to kissing girls ("Don't suck that kiss. . . and carry gum for your breath").

Whoa, hold it. How to kiss a girl? So that's what those raging, hormonal, Nintendo-popping 14-year-old guys think about while chowing down the cheese and macaroni special in the cafeteria.

"Guys wanna know about that stuff, even if they're not ready to talk about it," said Spike Jonze, 22, a Dirt co-founder. "There's a big difference between intaking information and outputting personal information. Guys do want to be educated. There's a definite demand for information."

Outputting personal information?

Spoken like a true former teenager still hooked on techie talk and acne angst. Jonze and fellow Dirt dudes Andy Jenkins, 27, and Mark Lewman, 25, were hanging out in L.A., working for Freestylin' (an L.A. bike pulp). Their first Dirt-y vision was the short-lived skateboard rat rag Homeboy.

Then along came Sassy in 1988, the phenomenally explosive post-post-post modern magazine for irreverent teenage girls. Its in-your-face attitude and chatty wit grabbed teens' attention - 2.5 to 3 million readers with each issue.

Dirt seemed like a natural follow-up; a "fuel for young men" blueprint for the trials and trib's of 14- to 19-year-old dudes too hip for Highlights and too young for Details and GQ. Sassy owner Dale Lang (also guru of Working Woman and Ms.) added fire to the fuel by hiring Jonze, Lewman, and Jenkins. Launched last fall, Dirt now has a base of 150,000 readers.

Sporting tons of funky graphics, turbo-charged pics, and stiletto-sharp humor, Dirt reads more like a washing machine on a permanent spin cycle than The New Yorker.

Although definitely eyeball-catching, it's too early to tell how successful Dirt will be. Rough stats say 78 percent of its readers thought Dirt's first issue was "way cool" and 80 percent would subscribe once Dirt goes monthly. It's currently a quarterly magazine, packaged in a bag with either Sassy or Marvel Comics.

Makes sense, right? Guys and comics go together like peanut butter and jelly. Jonze says it's a promotional dream - a "Dirt Bag" with a Marvel comic book, the latest Dirt, and "other cool things, like a cassette from Capitol Records with songs by the Beastie Boys and the Smithereens."

Sassy sisters dish out Dirt, too. "We get a fair amount of letters that start off, `I know I'm not supposed to be reading your magazine, but . . .,' " Jonze said. Sassy readers pass Dirt along to their brothers, friends, and boyfriends.

"Everyone was so skeptical," Jonze said. "The market groups and demographics said teenage guys don't read magazines."

"They're a market that's not being served," agreed Nelson of Lang Communications. "No one's ever tackled this market before. All the other magazines are all on one thing, like sports or skateboarding. There's no general, across-the-board magazine that teenage guys can go to."

"We think guys are more intelligent than they're given credit for," Jonze added.

It's that R-E-S-P-E-C-T which makes Dirt tick. The first issue received 17,000 responses.

"We try to humanize the issues," Jonze explained.

The humanizing articles don't mince words, either. Dirt covers everything from voting to high school dress codes to one young man's personal experience with his girlfriend's abortion.

Still in its adolescence, Dirt relies heavily on its reader survey, "Probe," in the back of each issue. ("What's the worst thing that ever happened to you with a girl?" "How many Q-tips do you go through in a week?" "Would you chew up a nasty-tasting vitamin B-12 for $5? Yes or no?")

"We don't try to second guess our audience," Jonze said. "The surveys just guide our thoughts. It's just something to sink your teeth into."

Go ahead. Take a bite.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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