Tens of thousands of stubbly guys around the world know who "Mantic59" is. He's the first point of contact for just about anyone who has Googled "wet shaving" -- that is, the old-school style of getting whiskers off your face that I've already blogged about twice.
Mantic59 is actually Mark Herro, an Oconomowoc native who now lives in Texas and who has self-produced dozens of YouTube videos on the art of wet shaving -- including how to properly operate a double-edged safety razor and how to build traditional lather.
The videos are nothing fancy; they're folksy, even, but to the subculture of men who like to shave like their grandfathers did, Mantic59 has become somewhat of a cult hero.
I found Herro the same way most guys did. After years of paying $6 per four-blade razor cartridge and wondering if there was a better way, I watched a few of Mantic59's videos and gave it a whirl. Only after he posted a Talkback on my first blog did I realize that he was a native Wisconsinite, and Herro accepted my invitation for interview.
We caught up with Mantic59 via e-mail, and several of his answers surprised me:
OnMilwaukee.com: I'm sure you've heard this many times, but what does it feel like to know that almost everyone who kicks around the idea of trying wet shaving stumbles upon your videos first? I mean, "Introduction to Traditional Wet Shaving" has almost 400,000 views on YouTube.
Mark Herro: I have to admit I'm still amazed, even after four years of doing videos about a topic that most people hardly think about -- except maybe to gripe. I guess a lot of people are unhappy with their shave.
OMC: What is it about your videos that resonates with people? Posters on Badgerandblade consider you a "guru" and actually call your videos relaxing ...
MH: Most people say they like my videos because I try to make them humorous and entertaining while still being informative. I think one main point is that shaving doesn't have to be the mundane, costly, even painful process it's become for many people. With some knowledge and skill -- skill that's been largely forgotten, whether because it wasn't passed from father to son for some reason or because it's been substituted by marketing hype -- shaving can become a pleasant activity, even one to look forward to. Many people find the experience of learning traditional wet shaving to be almost a revelation.
OMC: Four months in, my wife laughs at me when I call wet shaving a hobby -- and an increasingly expensive one at that. How do you answer the doubters?
MH: I simply "dare" them to try it. Many large grocery stores, mega-marts and drugstore chains still carry basic wet shaving supplies like shaving soap and shaving brushes (albeit low-end products) -- they're just often overlooked. I challenge them to try building some traditional lather and use their current razor. Nine out of 10 will notice enough of a difference to pursue more information.
OMC: How did you get into wet shaving, and more importantly, why did you start creating the blog/videos? Are they making you any money?
MH: Actually my wife is to blame. I used an electric razor for 30+ years: buzz buzz zip zip done in two minutes. My wife adored the feel of my freshly-shaved face but it didn't last very long. In 2004 we were spending our wedding anniversary in Las Vegas and as a gift she took me to an Art of Shaving shop and had them give me an old-timey barber shave. It was nothing short of life-changing: my face was insanely soft and smooth and I didn't have to shave again for two days. I was constantly stroking my face in amazement (a few years later Corey Greenberg would describe it as "faceturbating"). After we returned home I started surfing the Internet, trying to learn more about this way of shaving and discovered that there was damned little information out there. I eventually discovered the old MSN Wetshavers forum (now defunct). Over the course of the next year or so I slowly learned (and learned to appreciate) shaving with a brush and traditional lather. I graduated from using a three-blade cartridge razor to a single-blade safety razor, then to an adjustable safety razor.
In 2006 a casual comment on the Wetshavers forum suggested that "someone needs to do a video on how to shave!" The general consensus was that the idea is appealing but probably too difficult to do. A lot of members thought you need to see lather in three dimensions and be able to feel it to truly understand it, and a lot of the background techniques really need to be shown "in person." It was also felt that the video technology of the day wasn't quite up to the quality that was necessary to properly demonstrate shaving. But I took it as sort of a challenge and put together some test footage using a cheap camcorder and Windows Movie Maker and asked the MSN guys to comment. I got some really good feedback and suddenly it didn't seem so impossible. I deleted the test footage and put up the three part "introductory" series that you still see on my YouTube channel.
As for the money, last year I got enough video views and subscribers to qualify for the YouTube "Partner" program, so I do get a small check from them every month. My blog gets a little revenue, too, and I've even gotten a few donations from readers. But it's never been a priority and it's just "beer money," certainly not enough to make a living on!
OMC: But your day job has nothing to do with this, right? If I'm not mistaken, you work in telecommunications but once worked in media?
MH: Right. I work in the telecommunications department of a large university. I do have a bachelor's degree in the engineering part of radio and TV (from UW-Platteville ... Go Pioneers!) but I've been out of that field for 25 years now. I knew the basics of video production, but my skills were way out of date: I had to learn a lot of it (particularly video editing) all over again.
OMC: What does Mantic59 mean? I rarely see your real name published -- are you a private person?
MHL The name kind of came by accident. "Mantic" was an abbreviation of another username I had on several computer systems in the 1980's, long before the "Internet" came along (though the word mantic is a real word in itself). I just kept on using it when the "Internet-age" took over. When I first signed up for YouTube the name was already taken so I just added a random number.
At one point I tried to steer my username to "Shave Tutor" but for some reason "Mantic59" continued to stick with people so I just kept it. I still call my video series Shave Tutor, though.
I'm not a particularly private person but I do try to take reasonable precautions against divulging too much personal information into a medium I don't have a whole lot of control over. I've been online for a long time and I've seen my share of shenanigans.
OMC: And you're originally from Oconomowoc? Do you miss Wisconsin? Do you visit?
MH: Yep, born and raised in "Cooney," though I moved after I graduated college in the '80s. I miss Wisconsin in the fall when the leaves turn. Then the snow flies and I don't miss it as much. It's been a few years since I visited.
OMC: Finally, I'm sure your bathroom has more equipment than most, but what's your current set up? Please describe the hardware and software that you're currently using.
MH: I admit I have a pretty ridiculous "shave den" but my day-to-day shave kit is relatively modest. I have some high-end stuff but I often use a $40 shave brush, a small adjustable safety razor with blades that cost me all of 17 cents apiece, and a variety of favorite shave creams and soaps.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.