Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Long and Winding Birth-Canal of Elarti

Exclusively guest-blogged by Ruhayat X!
Elarti is a project five years in the making. The idea actually came before Wilayah Kutu, because in our naivete we thought a magazine would be simpler to manage than a book.

Not only is it more expensive to produce, it is also probably as close to a commitment as I will have; in the near future, at least. For, now that the almost-stillborn foetus is ejected into the world, I suddenly find that we have to keep it going.

Alarming, maybe, but true. This was not what I had signed up for. Elarti was merely supposed to be a proof of concept, something to be done just to show that it can be done. It was never meant to be a proper business. But now people are expecting it to be one.

There is a reason for my cautiousness: the magazines that have tried this before had all failed. To me, it's a sign that this is not something you should take too seriously. You do it only because you can, not to profit financially from it.

When you talk about Neohikayat Press, you're not talking about a company. It's just Irman and I, two guys and a Mac who do have daytime jobs. I don't know about him, but ever since I left the corporate sector most of the time I struggle to survive. So we come out with something whenever I have spare change. No, Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore.

That's why we can only make Elarti a quarterly -- because that would give me time to save up to fund each issue.

Why self-funding? Advertising would have entailed some kind of compromise; I've been in situations where advertisers insisted on dictating terms concerning the content and placement of the ads. Not acceptable.

Elarti must be completely independent. This is our space, dammit. It is also why we're not going for Government grants or endorsements.

And besides, like I have said before, Elarti is really a social experiment. I want to see if people out there are willing to walk the talk and put money and printouts where their mouths are.

Just as the cover charge for the launch issue was an experiment: Irman was the one who suggested we open it for donations because maybe we'd get a bit more that way for the 50 copies. I was merely interested to see how much value people would put on something like this. I got my answer, and I am not wholly unhappy.

In case you're interested, here is the genesis of Elarti:

The original inspiration was the many zines I'd come across in Malaysia (mainly photocopied cut-n-paste montages done by rabid punk and heavy metal fans) and later the UK (mainly by socialists and artists, which often are one and the same thing). They were produced from the bedrooms of individuals or amateur groups who just felt strongly about something and thought it was too important to not get the message out there.

I am drawn to these things like a fly to a bug-zapper. I've always enjoyed pamphleteering, starting from secondary school to university and then later when I was involved in a small group called the Young Writers Club back in the late-90's. It's kinship.

Anyway. The bunch of us -- Irman, Amir Muhammad, etc -- were sitting around our then-regular teh tarik session in Bangsar before it started going downhill, idly musing about things the way people do. Something needed to be done about Malay writing and someone
should do it, we felt. But for a long while it was just that: talk.

The next inspiration was Rebel Press, an independent setup in the UK that churns out obscure out-of-print works (and, later, original works by relatively unknown authors).

I liked the name. I liked the attitude. I liked the why.

Most of all, I liked the way they worked. My first contact with a Rebel Press production was a tiny book -- a collection of short stories -- given away with a large-circulation men's magazine (no, not the one with bunnies in them, even though I also did buy those for the - ahem - articles and - err - splendid interviews). This was in 1997, I think. My tiny mind was impressed.

Over time I thought about it and felt there was a niche for something small and light that people could buy and read on their daily commute. Hence the name.

And then I came across articles about some company putting up vending machines that dispense mini books for a paltry sum at European LRT terminals (Parisian, perhaps, or maybe London. Who knows -- these Europeans all look the same to me. Wink wink.)

But by far the biggest influence was this magazine called Zembla.

It was hip, kooky or juvenile, depending on who you are. And it spoke of writing in a way that was fresh. One blog described it as a cross between Vogue and a sixth-form school magazine. The layouts were arresting, and some of the articles had intriguing concepts (interview with dead authors, authors reviewing their own books, celebrities like Rachel Weiss interviewing their favourite writers).

Zembla tanked after 8 or 9 issues. You can still see a couple of the covers here.

Elarti's resemblance to Zembla, needless to say, should be apparent.

And then, five years later, here we are.

Sometimes we do something not knowing what the outcome will be. But if you don't reach out -- standing on tiptoe -- and touch the kettle on the kitchen counter, how are you to know that it would scald you? On some days I live for those kind of moments. Childishness -- and a touch of madness -- is what we need in these times.

What struck me most at the launch on Saturday was not so much the expectations people have of the magazine. Rather, it was the experience of having all these writers coming up to me wanting to know if they could please send in their works to be published in future issues.

It seems to me that a lot of creative people here -- new voices doing weird new things, mainly ("My poetry is very, very erotic, is that okay?") -- have been starved of an outlet and here is a platform on which they can be heard.

Which is exactly what Elarti is supposed to do: unearth new talent and present them to the world, without judgment.

Here's hoping it will succeed beyond expectations and then a big publisher jumps in with their own title and kills off Elarti. That would relieve me of my obligation and then I can go off and do something else.
Related Posts:

The Birth of Neohikayat (14/5/06)
All Aboard the Elarti (8/8/06)
Getting Elarti on Track (18/12/06)
Stesyen Elarti (25/12/06)


Greenbottle said...

syabas dan tahniah kepada sdr ruhayat X kerana menghasilkan elarti....bagaimana cara nya kalau saya nak beli senaskah??

saya harap saudara tidak akan kompromi dengan mutu...dan kerana periodikal ini adalah terbitan sendiri saya harap tidak ada 'self censorship' dari mana mana sudut...

saya harap elarti akan menjadi satu periodikal yang saya teruja untuk membaca nya...saya belum pernah teringin untuk baca penulisan melayu moden dan saya harap elarti boleh mengubah pandangan saya...

saya fikir sdr perlu cari 'benefector?' yg boleh menyumbangkan dana untuk sdr terus beroperasi tanpa kompromi... mungkin tidak terlalu sukar bagi saudara kerana saya pasti saudara dan kawan2 mempunyai 'contact' yg sesuai..saya yakin ada mak2 datin yg tak keberatan nak dermakan wang untuk menghidupkan elarti....

bibliobibuli said...

thanks greenbottle, for the support. the magazine should be on sale at silverfish in a day or two.

i bet ruhayat would love to have a benefactor ... so far he's put so much of his own money into his publishing venture.

lil ms d said...

r x, you are not replying to your email. mayday mayday mayday. someone wants to know whether it's true we are an item. die. there goes your saham.

the woman is cute and single and LITERATE. the type you should date. but she's got a bee in her bonnet - she won't believe that we are not an item.

bibliobibuli said...

subliminally perhaps ...

ah how romance flourishes on my blog. the comments used not just for feedback on books but for matching up potentila mates. sweet.

animah said...

Lil ms d, you gotta dump Ruhayat X if he can't even reply to your e-mails. Anyway I thought you had proposed to Amir Hafizi. Didn't he drop down on his knees and accept?

Sharon complained to me that Ruhayat X never responds to e-mails and phone calls. I said ever so sweetly, but he always responds to mine. But then the moment I submitted something to his magazine, he went all quiet on me. Now I know, female writers scare him....

bibliobibuli said...

think i'll open a dating agency here and just charge you the price of a paperback to post your ad

lil ms d said...

i think my friends has more of a chance with amir h than r x himself. r x, you too slow babeh. women like it when men pick up on their signals. and you were complaining about the dearth of good, smart women in kl.

yes sharon, do open up a matchmaking agency here for us writers. you know my type - chinese boys are sooo kiyut!

ok i better get back to work!

Ruhayat X said...

This is to confirm that Dina and I are not an item, we are in fact people, dammit, so stop objectifying us.

Hope miss bee in bonnet reads this. I didn't know people still wear bonnets.

Greenbottle said...

ruhayat X;

forget all this miss bee with bonnet in her hat or whatever...what you need is to find and marry a rich lonely datin and get all the money to keep elarti properly going...focus , man...

lil ms d said...

r x, your miss bee has no bonnet but will head female teenage mag next year. very swish. think of it... 'did you hear about r x? he's dating the ed of ...'

aiyo you turtle. ask her out lah. slow lah you ni. she's cute. and she also has a swish swish DJ unit and plays at the Loft. see, my friends all quality mah.

Ruhayat X said...

Okayyyyy. So I'm supposed to already know this Miss Bee? I don't think I have any hip friends. Friends with hip replacement, yes, but it's a he.

How exciting. I have never gone out with teenage editor of a female mag before.

if said datin is lonely because she's single, then she can't possibly be rich, or a datin. The rich ones would be steadfastedly married, and usually to datuks with lots of facial hair and angry bodyguards.

lil ms d said...

Aiyoh. RX. You spoke to her. I called her for you. You worked together. You told me you found her cute.

(Lil Ms D slaps head)

bibliobibuli said...

aiyoh. soap-opera.

i can't bear the suspense ruhayat. just ask the lady out and keep ms d happy.