culture | 25 june 2018
how do you start up a journal? we catch up with holly hunter, the brains behind Aotearoa’s most playful arts & literary journal 'mimicry'
words: charlotte doyle
images: supplied by mimicry
header design: todd atticus
portraits: russell kleyn
There are already infinite guides online about ‘how to’ make a literary journal. Many warn that it will not make you rich and will make you time poor. But, money and time become a willing sacrifice if it means you can support and empower the voices of a creative community.
1. fill a gap
Founded from her central Wellington flat in 2016, Mimicry was born from Holly’s enthusiasm for her friend’s creative endeavours and desire for a forum that published work just for the sake of it. Self-described as “Aotearoa’s most playful journal”, Mimicry was intended from the outset to be, almost subversively, relaxed, organic, and unintimidating.
Working at Victoria University Press as an editor at the time, Holly had valuable insights into the operation of New Zealand’s literary community. This put her in a prime position to just create the exact kind of publication she wanted herself. She was prepared to be reckless and sink money and time into something new, to test the waters of what she could do and how she could showcase the works of people she admired.
2. the name game
‘Mimicry’ literally means “the action or skill of imitating someone or something”. In evolutionary biology the term is used to refer to the use of similarity, or mimicking, as a tool for evolution and development. For example many insects that are completely harmless look like they can sting to imitate a wasp that can. In the case of Mimicry, the similarity is to build on generational voices and tastes, and look to the existing literary community as a guide.
‘Mimicry’ also pokes fun at the journal itself and plays on the fact that “New Zealand doesn’t really need another journal.” Holly explains that to begin with Mimicry was a ‘journal’ by accident - another reason why the name is so appropriate. The first edition was labelled a journal because Holly wanted it to be taken seriously, but then journals are typically repeated publications.
The simple ambition to publish the works of her friends has now flourished into four editions with a wide range of contributors, sold in well-known independent bookstores around the country. Holly has no intention of stopping anytime soon (or at least until she feels “uncool” and it’s time to pass it on).
“the action or skill of imitating someone or something”
3. clever visual material
The design of the very first Mimicry starkly embodies the meaning of the word ‘Mimicry’. The phases of the moon on Eleanor Catton’s infamous ‘The Luminaries” are subverted and skillfully imitated on its cover, replaced by partly eaten away versions of artist Julian Daspher’s colourful drum heads. Todd Atticus, artist and friend of Holly, has crafted each of the journal’s covers, posters and all other visual material. Like Holly, he is devoted to pushing boundaries, with an art practice that mimics, subverts and twists pop culture. Holly says they share a “sense of the ridiculous”.
Each cover design responds to the journal’s overall theme once the content has all been collated. Since the formation of Mimicry was somewhat accidental, the themes and tone of each edition has not been fixed in advance or pre-determined, giving each of them a very different flavour. Where the first Mimicry was sleek and modernist, the second featured a man in a cardigan holding a dog with yellow paint dripping from his face.
4. fill it with content
Mimicry’s point of difference to other arts and literature journals is it’s broad inclusion of mixed media. Arts and literature for Holly encompasses poetry, creative writing, comedy, music, art and photography. This sweeping inclusiveness ensures the journal’s intended purpose of being fluid and accessible.
For editions 2, 3 and 4 Mimicry has dropped mixtapes featuring music from emerging local musicians. Mixtape 4 was released for NZ Music Month with tunes from Heavy Chest, Girlboss, St Bartholomew, Bad Friend, milk, and NIISA. These can be found on Mimicry’s bandcamp page. The call for submissions for the second issue was a video featuring Hera Lindsay Bird and Bill Manhire mechanically telling the viewer to submit ‘because you’re not getting any younger’.
While there hadn’t been any calls for submissions for the first edition (because the intention was to specifically support the work of flatmates and friends), Mimicry quickly became a slick operation.
In stark contrast, there were over 100 submissions for the fourth edition, most of them poetry. Holly could only pick 20-30. She confesses that she dreads the selection process. The decision-making about who is in and who isn’t weighs on her mind. Sending out the rejection emails is the worst part, especially if personal stories are included in the work. Holly emphasises that pieces are not selected because they necessarily meet a certain standard but because they have the right fit for the tone of that particular edition.
"Bookstores still earn a status."
5. make it professional, get it printed, and ‘sell’ it
Holly’s eas(ier) ride in creating Mimicry is largely thanks to the skills she gained as a graduate from Whitireia’s Publishing course (this is a not so subtle plug). A ‘crash course in publishing’ the year long programme offers publishing training, and is very practically focused involving apprenticeships at publishing houses across New Zealand, mentoring, and teaching of technical skills.
When founding her own publication from scratch, the course’s insights into the publishing world were an enormous asset. Holly knows how to use the programmes that make a journal look professional, knows there is a specific line length that works best for a readers comprehension, and most of all knows how to play the publishing game.
An increasing number of literary journals are now found exclusively online, including Starling, Turbine and Snorkel. With the view that hard copy is a dying art, Mimicry has always been printed and sold online. Holly points out that, for Mimicry, online recognition and a following is vital, but she isn’t sure it translates to an increase in hardcopy readership. There’s nothing like the journal being physically picked up and read in a book store. Unity Books still has its important role to play.
In a further push for crafted physical copies, Holly has also created a spinoff zine called Mini-cry, a miniature version of Mimicry. All handmade the zines were hand stitched with printed illustrations from Kate Dupree and only included eight pieces. Holly wanted something more homemade.
To truly sell Mimicry, and Minicry, Holly “went hard from the beginning”. Pre-established connections to bookstores through her job at Victoria University Press helped. So does confidence. Her journal has landed a prime spot on the front counter at Unity Books and can now be found in many other well known independent book stores, Vic Books in Wellington and Time Out in Auckland included. Bookstores still earn a status.
6. get it off the ground
Holly’s flat in central Wellington debuted Mimicry’s very first launch. Packed full of contributors (mainly friends), and friends of friends, the dining table was nowhere to be seen and a bedroom was opened up to the public, guests lounging on the bed with glasses of red wine dangerously in hand. Flatmates manned the front door selling copies of the journal and handing out free posters. These posters are still proudly plastered on the flat’s walls, years later.
The second launch was very different. This time publicly hosted by artist-run Meanwhile gallery when they were based in a space on Victoria street, the crowd dominated the footpath outside. Inside it was boiling hot, a crowd crammed into the space. The third was hosted at Meanwhile again, this time on Willis Street. The fourth was crowded in around the art at Enjoy on Cuba Street, another independent artist-run gallery.
The launches are never too serious, always packed full, and feature performances from a number of its contributors. At the fourth launch, local musician St Bartholomew performed for the crowd, who also heard readings from ‘Rufus Nightingale’ (a romantic poet born two hundred years too late), Tim Grgec, Caoimhe McKeough, Marianne Bevan and Rebecca Hawkes.
By the fourth launch the crowd was vastly different to that of the first. More established, and supporting a broader pool of writers, artists and musicians, Mimicry is starting to attract more strangers beyond Holly’s friendship pool. Perhaps that’s part of the attraction, each issue is different.
Holly reveals that the launches make up for the energy-sapping process that comes beforehand - the editing, crafting, and polishing the journals pages. Replying to emails. At the launches she gets to pick out the “right level of cheap” wine and nibbles, meet all of the contributor’s and their friends, and see everyone’s reactions.
7. support a community
Mimicry’s goal to support burgeoning artists is achieved beyond just the launches and the printed product. As part of the LitCrawl in 2017 the journal featured with a reading event showcasing eight different speakers sharing their poetry. A session of poetry readings and short fiction published in Mimicry has also been held at Vic Books.
The third edition of Mimicry was also guest edited by zine makers Carolyn DeCarlo and Jackson Nieuwland, editors of the ongoing zine Foodcourt. Holly still worked closely with them, but to have guest editors for the journal’s third edition indicates a strong desire to foster collaboration and have the publication create a sense of community. She hints that there are future local collaborations to come.
8. maintain the brand
It’s easy to think that the ability to publish journals on a screen has made their creation infinitely more straightforward. The Internet is where you will attract a wide scope of attention. Digital content can be updated, changed, and manipulated without the pressures of ‘going to print’ and meeting fixed deadlines.
But creating a journal in the digital age brings other pressures. Cultivating ‘the brand’ is imperative to survive. Holly confesses that the social media upkeep is one of the most tiring parts and she does it all herself, Mimicry’s Facebook and Twitter (the literary community likes Twitter).
Maintaining a personal brand is hard enough, let alone one for a journal that wants to sensitively promote the work of others, and it can reach a saturation point. For the cover of the fourth edition Holly and Todd have tried to ‘unembrace’ the ‘branding’ by taking the word Mimicry off the front cover. Mimicry has probably attracted a sufficient audience by this edition that it will be recognised regardless. With over 800 likes on Facebook, Holly proudly tells me that she frequently spots her posters in the background of Instagram photos.
While the branding has it’s frustrations, Mimicry has also now earned enough kudos and recognition that it recently received a grant from Wellington City Council’s Creative Communities Scheme. Holly was applying for arts funding since the second issue of Mimicry, but she found that a pitch for an idea wasn’t considered enough; there needed to be proven success. She muses that these constraints on funding availability from the outset of creative pursuits can put a significant strain on edgy and fresh ideas coming to fruition.
9. do it for the sake of it
There is very minimal, if any, self-praise associated with Mimicry. Talking to Holly there is the very real sense that this journal was born from a genuine desire to locally foster and support creative thinking, which is surely the best way to go about it. Starting off with commissioning her friends and now receiving submissions from all around the country, each edition of Mimicry grows in reach and in readership.
When starting a journal from scratch, be prepared for sacrifices. Holly says, “if you lose $500, who cares, at least you did something creative.”
Buy a copy of Mimicry: Here
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