06. 13. 2018. 09:36

Panel Magazine – Issue #1 (review)

Review by Viola Balogh

„Panel Magazine” released its first issue, with the mission of featuring outstanding English language literature and arts from Central and Eastern Europe. – Viola Balogh's review.

„Panel Magazine” released its first issue, with the mission of featuring outstanding English language literature and arts from Central and Eastern Europe.

The launch of the journal was made possible by an international, and mainly Budapest based, editorial board, consisting of British-Hungarian writer Jennifer Walker, journalist, editor and writer Masha Kamenetskaya, Duncan Robertson and editor at large Matt Henderson Ellis.

Panel has its roots in the experience of like-minded individuals meeting in a ‘foreign’ city, with a shared faith in the artistic potential of the region. The inaugural issue launched on May 11 at Massolit Books & Café, echoes the enjoyment of its founders in bringing about the publication. The entire first edition is available on the website of Panel (panel-magazine.com). Encompassing 10 literary pieces accompanied by the illustrational photos by 8 contemporary artists, issue #1 realizes the concept of assembling thematic publications. In the present case the content, showcasing a wide variety of genres (short story, essay, interview, etc.), revolves around the concept of ‘home’. As a reader, I found it both fitting and exciting to gain insight into the questions of living abroad, leaving the old and finding a new home.

Having observed the glossy cover of a printed paperback copy, the play on the Hungarian use of the word ‘panel’ occurred to me. The illustration by Maria Gyarmati depicts the silhouette of a man searching the sky, leaning forwards, shielding his eyes from the sun, while standing on the balcony railing of a high building, perhaps a ‘panelház’. Well, at least with a pessimistic outlook a ‘panelház’, a block of prefab flats, but more ideally a modernist, more liberal, house. To live in comfort, yet with the constant, overwhelming proximity of strangers in the apartments on either side of you, to me captures the trial of living in a foreign country: having lost a sense of ‘home’ and, as it appears searching.

Issue #1 features fiction and non-fiction, poetry in both English and Hungarian, an interview as well as book reviews. One of the highlights of the number for me was the starting piece, a short story by film education consultant, Matthew Daintrey-Hall, titled ‘City of Smiles’. A story about place, it lays ground for the following works with a haunting tone and a mystery. Budapest, a city with a key role in the life of the magazine, is established as ‘on the brink of East and West’ where characters are mercilessly attracted to their fate. To me ‘City of Smiles' was strongly reminiscent of the atmosphere of Hollywood classic ‘Sunset Boulevard’: stars of black-and-white cinema larger than life and inherently flawed discover the repressed wishes and emptiness in their hearts.

‘The Magic of Cars’ an essay by Panel editor, Duncan Robertson, breaks away from depicting Budapest and reflects on living in a new country, one’s connection to cars and the curious correlation between the two experiences.

The issue also presents translations, as in the case of an excerpt taken from ‘My First Two Hundred Years’, a memoir by Pál Királyhegyi, translated by Paul Olchváry. The comic short story is a refreshing read after the ‘heavier’ previous works.

Panel’s first issue includes poetry in both languages, from the pens of newly emerging poets as well as more established ones, such as Gábor Gyukics and András Gerevich. I found the idea of parallel (English and Hungarian) text to be exciting and well worth keeping in the future. The poems did not necessarily establish dialogue with the question of ‘home', the theme of the issue. (As a reader, perhaps the featured prose had a more lasting impression on me.)

Another highlight of the issue was an interview by Masha Kamenatskaya with the author of the internationally acclaimed novel “Dagny, or a Love Feast’, Zurab Karumidze. The Georgian writer shares his thoughts on writing in a foreign language, ‘Dagny’ and its success, the Georgian literary scene and elaborates on what he defines as ‘home’.

To wrap up the issue, editor Jennifer Deborah Walker, takes a greater leap from Budapest and puts out three intriguing reviews of translated works from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

I can’t help wondering how the team members of Panel picture the distribution of the magazine. Perhaps a precise mission statement could be beneficial. In any case the call for submissions for the autumn issue is open now, for both pieces of writing and visual art, via the magazine’s website.

Concerning the visual impact of Panel, the question occurred to me, whether the visual art serves as complementary content to the writing or as a somewhat independent priority. If the case be the latter, I would consider adding a few more pages to the otherwise thin booklet, to celebrate the visual art of the magazine in a more pronounced way. In the current issue all the writings are paired with pictures and I wish, in certain cases, that the text would’ve been given room to breathe. Moreover the font is, at places, reduced to a size smaller than one comfortable for the eye, so that an illustration can be placed on the A5 format pages. Inserting visual art so that it is cut in half at binding by the seam and selecting an almost black and white patterned background to a text printed in black are not ideal solutions. Visually, I think, the magazine will need to mature, establish a more homogenous profile.

In the announcement of Panel’s launch on HLO, Panel Magazine was referred to as a ‘new home for English-language writing’ (quite appropriate considering its current theme). I would like to keep the metaphor. Panel in my opinion could live up to the ‘title’. Steps have been successfully taken to lay down a stable frame, there is a sense of ‘coziness’, with curtains already hung, pillows placed, but not everything has found its place inside the house yet. With the dedicated work of its editorial board and the artists involved, Panel Magazine has the potential to truly turn into a home for the English-language literature of Central and Eastern Europe, which many of us might ‘visit’, want to return to or even possibly contribute to in the future.