Monday 17 September 2012

Interview: Jungle Jim magazine

  1. What was the inspiration for setting up Jungle Jim and what is the ethos/agenda of the magazine?
    I think both of us (Hannes and Jenna) were at a stage when we were working on things that were dependent on outside factors – people, money, circumstance etc. It was becoming frustrating and we dreamt of having a creative project which we could run on our own terms – something we felt was important, but also not too serious (Little did we know…). One day it just reached a crisis point – we were sharing an office at the time – and we decided to start a magazine. Hannes has a background in independent publishing, but I had absolutely none – so we were guided by very little other than what we thought we could achieve, and for which we felt there was a need. Looking around, there were very few print magazines offering the magical combination of storytelling and images I remembered from childhood. We wanted the adult version – something different, shocking, ‘out there’ – and where I could sometimes get away with publishing my own writing! At the same time, I was becoming more and more interested in pulp writing, the ethos of that time – where writing was accessible, imaginative, visual, dramatic, narrative-driven and relatively ego-less (for better or worse). Of course, it’s easy to idealise that time, but we felt there was also a lot to learn – especially in a country where reading is not the entertainment of choice. We became fascinated with the idea of western pop-genre ‘clashing’ with Africa, of the new truths and exciting ideas this could reveal – and potentially the sacred cows we might upset. So we launched the magazine with this ethos: “Jungle Jim is a bi-monthly illustrated print publication, aiming to showcase narrative- and concept-driven African stories. Taking from the pulp tradition, we publish short and serialised fiction that entertains and engrosses in all dramatic genres, accessible to all, but with a high quality of writing. We seek to publish stories that explore the collision between the visceral daring of pulp and the reality of living in Africa.” And our motto is: “African tales of the uncanny and the unexpected.”
  2. Why did you decide on 'Jungle Jim' as a title?
    It was the first one we could both agree on! We knew we wanted something tongue in cheek, memorable, and which acknowledged/mocked the way Africa had been portrayed in pulp in the past. We also saw the title as a nod to the way we wanted to experiment with re-colonizing western genre: A literary explorer, without borders.
  3. Could you describe a 'typical' / the latest issue for our readers?
    We try keep each Jungle Jim as diverse as the continent itself – despite each issue being quite short (though we do our best to publish twice a month) we try feature a cross-section of countries, story-telling styles, genre and atmospheres. For example, our upcoming issue Jungle Jim #15 features a Zimbabwean detective serial, a South African ghost story, a Tanzanian-set noir and a psychological sci-fi from Cameroon.
  4. What does the term 'pulp' mean to you? I saw an interesting collection of classic Egyptian pulp magazines online recently. What are your favourite classic pulp titles?
    As mentioned above, we try take the best of the Golden Era of pulp – prolific writing that even casual readers anxiously awaited, and flocked to buy. Of course, this writing was not always original or of good quality – but some great, revered writers wrote for the pulps, and we try maintain a standard of which we can all be proud – a high quality of writing AND of ideas. What we love about the pulps too was their narrative force – they had to be strong enough to keep readers coming back. I don’t know what our other team members’ (Hannes and Shaun) favourites are, but mine are the Afrikaans western pulps of the 60s/70s – like Temmers Van Die Woestyn, with Kobie and Hannah Ras, the cowboy couple! I also have a huge weakness for noir. So all the noir classics go without saying.
  5. How do you feel that African literature (and African mystery/horror/pulp in particular) differs from American pulp? Have you noticed trends or themes in African writers' work or style that give Jungle Jim stories a coherence?
    I think there are two ways to answer the first part of that question, depending on how one defines pulp – but I’ll answer it in the way best in keeping with our magazine: the African pulp and genre writing that we seek to publish operates on multiple levels – of course there’s the story, and this stands on it’s own – but the relationship with genre, and the expectations therein are fraught with intrigue, and our writers often make use of the opportunity very well to say something unexpected and profound about the place they find themselves, living in their respective countries, with their respective histories. Of course, good pulp/pop genre writing from anywhere in the world should do this too, but we find it particularly interesting in an African context. Then there’s definitely the unique style of story-telling, long established, that varies from country to country, which we love to see authentically playing a part – these trends are more visible in a national context – very visible in Nigeria and South Africa, from where we get a lot of submissions – rather than Africa in general – it’s a very big continent!
  6. Where do you see the magazine going? What is your hope / dream for the future for Jungle Jim?
    Like any magazine, we hope to expand! Really, our first aim is to be able to keep going – to continue providing writers of all levels with a place to publish their work, and to be the first stop for readers everywhere looking for imaginative, compulsive writing from Africa – and pulp in general. We hope to reach out further within the continent – we’re always looking for submissions from new African countries – we recently received our first from Malawi – and also to be able to distribute the magazine in other African countries. The day I receive a submission from The Central African Republic, maybe we’ll have earned a break. Also, we hope to represent languages other than English within the magazine – with a translation – allowing writers to express themselves in their first language, and giving readers a real feel of the flavour of countries they have never been to. We’re also working towards a Jungle Jim Anthology. Of course, we’d love to cross over to the pulp-side of publishing and be able to pay our writers/illustrators– we’re working on this too, and hopefully it will happen sooner than later.
  7. What have been your proudest moments as editor?
    Whenever we publish a story that I feel really pushes the boundaries of expectation: whether that of pulp or genre should or shouldn’t be, or the way Africa is perceived, by outsiders and by Africans themselves – stories like Iheoma Nwachukwu’s "Escape to Hell" (JJ 12) or Samuel Kolawole’s "Mules of Fortune" (JJ 5-7). I love it when illustrations and stories work seamlessly together. I love it when anyone is excited about the magazine. Happily, I’m proud quite often.
  8. How does the hard copy of the magazine compare in terms of success with the digital version? How do you see pulp fiction translating to the web?
    I think our hearts will always be in the print version – but that said, a good story is a good story, wherever it is read – and it has been our experience with the digital version, the magazine is still special, even when it isn’t tangible. The fact is that we can’t distribute the print version everywhere we’d like to – and digital distribution means people can read Jungle Jim all over the world. That’s wonderful. Whatever strategy we take in the future will hopefully incorporate both platforms.
  9. Could you talk a little about your business model? Would you ever consider an online-only subscription model?
    What business model? It’s only been very recently that we’ve started thinking in practical and financial terms – none of our team is very naturally excited about either – but we need to do this, of course, if the magazine is going to sustain and improve. Our business model at the very beginning consisted only of one idea: design the magazine in such a way that it is low cost enough that if we don’t sell a single copy, it won’t bankrupt us. Thus the budget/print run was determined by how much we could afford to lose each month! That way we could remain within another good pulp characteristic, which is to keep the magazine cheap to buy, and thus accessible.
    As for online-only subscription, as above, I think we’ll always be fighting to preserve the print version – especially as we’re based in Africa, where digital reading is not yet what it is in the first world. I think, despite the ‘trashy’, DIY aesthetic, we love each issue as a little artwork, and that’s something that print preserves.
  10. Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
    Aside from our amazing, frequently crazy, writers, we have a small but hugely enthusiastic team – proof readers, illustrators – all volunteers - without whom Jungle Jim could not keep going. If you like our magazine, visit our site and check out their other work. Also, please speak to us! We always welcome ideas for how to go farther, faster and further out!

Visit the Jungle Jim website to read more.


Djibril said...

This is a great interview. Thanks, Jenna for speaking to us; and many thanks, Regina for putting this together.

With reference to the online/print question: I bought some back issues of the print magazine from Blank Books, and they were still cheap to have shipped to London. Pulp feels so much nicer in the hand than trying to read it on the screen!

hannesbernard said...

Hi Djibril, we will soon (in the next 2 weeks) have some new Jungle Jims at X Marks the Bokship in UK.