Every two months we’re treated to a brand-new issue of Elska, the bimonthly zine focused on highlighting a diverse cross-section of the LGBTQ men who live in various cities around the globe. Past issues have dived into the queer populations of Brussels, Istanbul, Los Angeles and everywhere in between. The new Elska issue takes us to the city of Seoul, South Korea, which, as the zine’s founder Liam Campbell tells us, proved to be the most difficult to produce thus far.
“Honest photography and personal storytelling” is what sets Elska apart from other queer zines, and the mag prides itself on being a sophisticated peek into any given city through its local residents. The magazine does this through open calls for participants, filling each issue on a first-come, first-served basis. And Elska features a wider range of ages, races and body types than you’re likely to find elsewhere, making real effort to illustrate that “sexy” occurs across all sizes and shapes.
“Everybody is welcome in Elska, and they’re all beautiful in their different kinds of ways,” the magazine’s website proclaims.
But as Campbell tells Hornet, after 21 issues published thus far, this new Elska issue highlighting the queer men of Seoul “was the most difficult to make yet.”
“The main reason was that even though the city is well-known for being cool and modern, society is very conservative,” he says. “For the past few Elskas, our lists of participants filled within a week, mainly from people reading our announcements on social media and spreading the word. But for Seoul, we messaged literally hundreds of guys randomly on apps like Hornet and got no luck. Almost everybody wanted to be ‘discreet,’ fearing what could happen if their families or co-workers found them in a gay publication like ours.”
Campbell also mentions that “pressure to conform to certain standards of gender and sexuality” stood in the way of producing the issue as well, along with concerns like career, academics and family life.
He continues, “If dealing with that wasn’t enough, though, we also encountered saddeningly large amounts of low self-esteem from people we talked to. Even when we tried to explain what Elska was all about and showed them that we include a diverse group of people on our pages, they kept saying things like, ‘I’m too ugly to do a photoshoot’ or ‘I’m not special enough.’ It kind of isn’t surprising if you look at Korean media, for example by watching any K-Pop video. The standards of beauty and ‘perfection’ are ridiculous.”
As of today, though, the new Elska issue is officially out to the public, available for purchase in print and as a downloadable e-version.
“We really only managed to make it work through the help of some local artists, activists and drag queens,” Campbell says of this new Elska issue. “They helped to spread the word and led us to ultimately 18 men who we photographed for both our Elska Seoul and Elska Ekstra Seoul editions.”