At work with: Hamizah Adenan, Odd One Out
After leaving her job in IT, Hamizah Adenan discovered a passion for writing while working for a US financial publisher in Kuala Lumpur. When an opportunity came up to be part of the team at local independent magazine Desiderata she moved there, helping produce three issues before deciding to publish her own magazine. Odd One Out tells the stories of people that break convention, and the first issue was launched last week.
Where are you today?
I’m currently in Berlin. Odd One Out is a magazine based in Malaysia, but I’ve been setting up a remote office in Germany for quite some time now to work closely with the printers.
What can you see from the window?
A Croatian restaurant and an Italian ice cream shop with a consistently long queue of ice cream lovers. I try not to open the window so often, because the smell of food makes you instantly hungry. It can be very distracting.
Are you a morning or evening person?
I’d like to say I’m a morning person just because I like to start the day early and I look forward to a cup of coffee every morning. But I’m no stranger of working late into the night either. I use to work as a production editor in a company that produces publications for the US tax legislation, and in order to coincide with the working hours in Chicago, we had to work from 10pm to 6am, five days a week. So for more than 3 years, I was a night owl. It was bearable during the first year, but I’m glad the job ended. There has to be some serious implications on your health to persistently put yourself to work at odd hours of the day.
What was the first magazine you remember enjoying?
I used to hate magazines. When I was younger, some of the more mainstream titles that I’d purchase was only because it was something cool that everyone was reading. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t benefiting in any way from the content, nothing about the photography or the layout is exciting, and after you’re done with it, it takes up space and it becomes a sight for sore eyes. So I have to admit, there was a time when I thought that magazines weren’t worth buying.
But then I discovered Apartamento and that’s when I realized that a magazine doesn’t have to be restricted to a particular template. With Apartamento, what I immediately noticed was it felt more like a book. I especially didn’t know what to make of its biannual publishing calendar because I felt that was rather odd. But I found it exciting knowing that a very beautiful looking bookazine was going to have several different issues over the course of the next few years. I love that it’s the perfect size to carry around, that although it comes off like a designer’s type of magazine, the content and writing doesn’t necessarily alienate those who aren’t designers, the photography is not conventionally pretty, but I could stare at it for hours and hours, wondering about the stories behind them, it’s also thick and sturdy, like it’s meant to be read and flipped through several times, not just for show on your coffee table.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
I have a huge stack of unread magazines back at home so I’m pretty left behind. These magazines don’t come cheap, so I refuse to be those people who flips through the whole magazine in 20 minutes and you’re done, and it’s off to the shelf never to be flipped through again. So I end up reading everything, every article, every word, of every single magazine I’ve bought. That way, I feel like I’m getting more of my money’s worth.
It’s not a completely ridiculous way of magazine consumption and I don’t feel like I’m wasting time reading the less interesting articles, because I don’t believe there’s such a thing as less interesting articles. If someone went through all the effort to research, write, edit and publish a particular piece, then I’m sure it’s worth reading. And though this method may be a little slower for me to catch up on newer publications, it’s actually very rewarding.
For example, one of the few magazines that has really stayed with me is The Believer mag. It really relies on the quality of its content, it doesn’t rely on beautiful photography to elevate its writing. I’m still thinking about the piece they wrote on Dave Chapelle, the interview with artist Micah Lexier, and an article called The Resuspended City, a comparison of an 1875 St Louis Map with its modern day Google maps counterpart. It’s fascinating stuff. All of these writings came from the October 2013 issue of The Believer, so I’m not lying when I say I’m very left behind. Another favourite of mine this morning is from Latvia, called Benji Knewman. The idea of it is just remarkably genius, a collection of interviews and stories told by the perspective of a fictional 38 year old man. There should be more magazines like this.
What inspired you to launch your own magazine, and what would you highlight as its unique factor?
I was a part of the editorial team for Desiderata magazine (one of Malaysia’s first independent mags) for quite some time and having worked with them for quite a while eventually created the desire to produce something of my own. One of the things that I particularly love while working with Desiderata was being able to sit down with people from all walks of life and listen to their stories. I find it very inspiring how these people instantly open up and become very animated when they start to talk about their experiences.
Malaysians aren’t very open and expressive to begin with because we grow up in a very conservative environment so to be able to interact with them face to face and exchange ideas at a deeper level was very refreshing. But it wasn’t only about presenting their stories to the world, I was also very particular about the way I presented them to the world. I wanted to blur the lines between different countries and eliminate any preconceived ideas that people would normally get when they hear ‘Malaysians’, so I made sure that the photos was able to create a feeling of familiarity, and that you sort of feel that you are invited to take a peek into their world. I wanted the photos to feel more like outtakes, an environment that would depict something that would happen behind-the-scenes, and should be able to carry its own weight and tell its own story.
Hopefully, this is able to change the world’s view on the country and add another dimension to a narrative that an international audience is so use to hearing.
In his recent review of Odd One Out Steve Watson noted it uses a familiar indie mag ‘vernacular’. Was this deliberate?
When I designed the magazine I didn’t go into it with an indie mag aesthetic in mind. I wasn’t a designer, I had no design background whatsoever, so I wanted to keep it as simple and as uncomplicated as possible. At the same time, I wanted it to be like a magazine that I myself would read. I did receive a lot of suggestions to come up with something new and original, or some felt that I should keep it as minimalistic as possible with pristine photography, and lots of white spaces. I did take these suggestions into consideration and I thought to myself, that coming up with a groundbreaking design would be cool and exciting, but it wouldn’t reflect who I was. It would be me trying really hard to impress people and that just feels incredibly pretentious.
So I decided that I would stick to doing something that I personally love and I feel most comfortable with. Granted, it does take cues from a particular everyday life interiors magazine that we have all come to know and love, but in the next few issues, I’m hoping that we’re able to find our own footing and settle into our own unique style.
Tell us a little about the publishing scene in Malaysia
The independent publishing scene in Malaysia is still relatively new and in its early days. There aren’t a great number of selections compared to our neighbouring country, Singapore. But the two local magazines to look out for is Desiderata magazine (a Malaysian Kinfolk so to speak) and a soon to be released publication called Musotrees. Both magazines feature stunning photography and share a very similar minimalist approach to their design.
Having previously worked with Desiderata myself, I was able to observe the local reaction to it when it first came out. The response was really positive mostly because magazine fans in Malaysia absolutely adore Kinfolk and Cereal so the market was ripe to come out with a local version that mimics a similar style. But it was a business that was extremely difficult to sustain especially when targeted exclusively to a Malaysian audience. It’s still considered somewhat of a luxury to spend around RM 50 (9 pounds) on a single magazine. Not to say that they don’t have RM 50 every month to spare, it’s just a magazine isn’t something that they would choose to spend it on.
There are some great shops in KL at the moment that’s perfect to pick up a copy of your favourite title. I would definitely recommend visiting Snackfood, Bok Tjuv, and Basheer Graphics Books (who also have a store in Sinagpore) although large bookstores such as Kinokuniya is also beginning to stock more and more independent magazines as well.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Landing a distribution deal in an attempt to make Odd One Out more available worldwide. For all we know this could either be the worst or the best thing that could ever happen to the mag. But I look forward to seeing the result and how it performs at an international level.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Taking on the many promotional and marketing tasks that goes into expanding Odd One Out’s readership. I think it’s very important for me to keep in mind that the magazine isn’t going to sell itself so it’s crucial to keep the momentum going. If I end up with a whole load of unsold stock laying around, I really have no one to blame but myself. But when you’ve constantly got your mind on the business end of the project, it really takes you away from all the fun, creative aspects of magazine making that it can leave you feeling rather uninspired.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Getting back to emails. There’s an interesting idea going among my friends about social distribution and building an extensive online encyclopedia focused on swapping magazines.