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.Related Posts:
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.
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)