Think the economic situation in Indianapolis is less than ideal? Try living in Madrid as the bell tolls for the euro. Karla D. Romero did for a while, but the lure of far more reasonable living expenses has brought her back to Indy, "maybe forever," with the arts publication she co-founded, Humanize Magazine, in tow. Her partner in print, graphic designer Belma Hernández-Francés León, is in town for the summer as well, though she doesn't plan to stay permanently.
Not many magazines - or people, for that matter - could make the transition from one nation to another, one language to another, as easily as Humanize. But such international dialogue is at the heart of the fully bilingual publication, printed in Spanish and English since the first issue was published to web in December 2009. That concept reflects Romero's own background; born in Madrid in 1986, she came to the United States as a military kid, first to Washington state, then to Mooresville, Ind. After studying journalism and philology at Indiana University, Romero headed back to Madrid, where she met León, a Tenerife native.
The two - enamored by glossy, high-concept magazines like Candy (the world's first fashion magazine dedicated to transsexual culture) - resolved to launch their own glossy, devoted to art, music and anything else striking their fancy at the moment. Romero, in an essay in the first issue, notes that it had been a long-time dream: "Three months ago, as I sat in my apartment in La Latina, Madrid's historic neighborhood, I thought about my days as a journalism undergrad at Indiana University. Back then, I would fantasize about working as a writer at some fancy newspaper or magazine."
Three months of interviewing, design and other hurried activity followed Romero's resolution, with ideas of a print run quashed early on: "When we got the numbers, we said, 'So, this whole digital thing is pretty awesome,'" Romero jokes. The first issue featured interviews with musicians Andrew Bird (a little difficult, according to Romero) and Mayer Hawthorne, reports from film festivals held in Madrid and Barcelona, and work by several Madrid-based artists. Fifteen more followed, first on a monthly, then every other month basis; the seventeenth is due this month. All are available for free via humanizemag.com or an Apple app, and those so inclined can order a print-on-demand version ($30 plus shipping).
While the latest issue still resembles the first in concept and content, with the majority of space given over to interviews with artists and musicians, Humanize has expanded to accommodate a recipe section (featuring contributions from chefs from New York and Madrid), as well as poetry and short fiction. Romero translates 95 percent of copy submitted by freelancers, translating from either English to Spanish, or vice versa, depending on the writer. It's a chore for her, largely because of her day job as a technical writer: "The only reason why I hate translating is I do it all day, writing things like, 'How to reset your HP if it's on fire.'"
Recent issues have begun to feature more domestic artists and musicians, with The Bonesetters, then based in Muncie, being the first Indiana-based group profiled. Accordions were next up, leading off issue seven: "Their stories made me wish I felt that way about anything." An interview with Bloomington-based band Hot Fox, with whose members Romero and León spent time at this year's South by Southwest festival, is slated for issue 17.
Romero says the toughest part about the transition from Madrid to Indianapolis is getting used to the way we get around: "I'm traumatized by all the driving here!" But she's hoping to enmesh herself in parts of the community where bikes might be more widely used. Visions of a Humanize office space, along the lines of those recently opened by MOKB Presents and Joyful Noise, have been bandied about, consistent with Humanize's community-minded mission.
Speaking of community-mindedness, part of Romero and León's goal for Humanize is that it reach the uninitiated, say, Romero's old buddies in Mooresville who never left town after high school, or a bored kid in an IPS school. It's why Romero aims to avoid pretense in the way she presents artists, getting out of the way to allow artists to tell their stories via interviews whenever possible. "We're trying to give a very small peek into the world of arts and culture," she sums up.
And the bilingual structure of Humanize is borne out of that desire to reach new audiences, according to Romero: "A lot of great artists in Indiana are bi-national, including some who are of Mexican heritage, so to be able to have this publication to give their parents, who don't speak any English at all, to read is a really great thing. If we spoke more languages, I'm sure there would be more languages!"
Romero and León admit that they're not "business-minded." So while there's not a lucrative profit model for Humanize, the two say they're fortunate to have consistent day jobs (both work via computer from wherever they happen to be). They've made use of social media and word of mouth to promote the magazine, with any media coverage, notably an online profile by El Pais, Spain's largest newspaper, being the icing on the cake.