A look back at Elska in 2021

Liam Campbell
9 min readDec 31, 2021

Reflecting on a year's worth of our local boys and local stories

Erik B, from Elska Dublin, giving a little something tropical to usually wet, grey Ireland

As we approach the end of another year, I'd like to take the time to reflect on the past year of Elska content, and also to give a few stats and 'awards' surrounding this year's Elska issues.

What year was better in general, 2020 or 2021? I guess for me 2021 was better, if at least because I had the fortune to travel rather a lot, taking advantage of vaccination privileges in various countries, and having done my travels before the latest variant arrived and sparked fresh regulations and lockdowns. A good portion of 2021’s travel however will reflect Elska issues to be released in 2022 — the 2021 releases were based on content gathered during 2020, when travel restrictions were the most severe and vaccines weren't yet available. Because of the difficulty with travelling, this meant that two of Elska's six annual issues in 2021 ended up being re-releases of past issues (Elska Lisbon and Elska Toronto). Although I did my best to make these feel new by adding lots of previously unpublished content from those cities, I fear that they still didn't quite give the excitement of a truly new issue. That said, the original release of Elska Toronto sold so poorly that for many it felt brand new. Similarly the new version of Elska Lisbon caught much more attention than it did in the past.

The Elska Year in Summary:

1-Elska Lisbon (Portugal)issue (04), released 2nd February, 2021

Our Elska Lisbon cover boy, Ricardo V, with a bit more clothes on than he had on the cover

Our Lisbon issue was first released in March of 2016, and at the time it had a relatively mediocre reception. In my mind, that's because Lisbon hadn't quite reached the level of being a tourist hotspot that it is today. We were just a little bit too early. However, over the years demand increased, and after receiving one too many "When will you reprint the Lisbon issue?" messages, we decided to do a very small run of 150 copies that we put on sale in January 2018. For this we made some minor content changes, including a change of cover from the original that featured a clothed Daniel R to one with a nude Ricardo V. This new issue sold out very quickly, so we did another identically small reprint, and we almost considered doing a third, until I got too distracted with other work to follow through.

Skip ahead almost three years and we ran a poll among our Elska Editors Circle (these are our deluxe annual subscribers and Patreon supporters), asking them to choose one of our sold-out issues to reprint. Lisbon won, so we did our fourth and probably final reissue. People adored the cover, as do I, and several people have been in touch to say it's their favourite issue of all time. For me, it's actually one of my least favourite Elska issues in the canon. However that's probably more to do with what I'll just refer to vaguely as 'production problems' (if you ever run into me in a pub somewhere, buy me a drink and I'll spill the secrets)!

2-Elska Dublin (Ireland)issue (32), released 6th April, 2021

Steven P, from Elska Dublin, someone who led to one of the best shoots of the year but one of the worst story contributions (erm, 'cos he didn't submit one!)

Our first truly brand new release of 2021 came from a shoot trip in the summer of 2020, during a time when Ireland was locked down to visitors from the USA (which is where I live). However, I cleverly used my British passport to enter Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and then, after a fortnight's self-quarantine in Belfast, I slid over the southern border to make this issue. What I discovered was a city that truly surprised me. Firstly the rain and grey that I feared turned out to be an exaggeration. And it was much more cosmopolitan and pretty than I expected, and the people were much less conservative than I imagined. And friendly too. I really fell in love with Dublin, and with the issue I made there. So even though no other Irish city really seems like an obvious candidate for a future Elska issue, I'd love to give one a try one day. 'Elska Cork' perhaps, how does that sound?

3-Elska São Paulo (Brazil)issue (33), released 14th June, 2021

Bruno V, from Elska São Paulo — who would believe that anyone would write in to complain about having featured this lovely lad?!

Shot during November 2020 just as the southern hemisphere summer was arriving and Brazilian lockdowns were being lifted, I flew to São Paulo. The guys I met there were some of the most open I've ever met, but damn were they hard work! Brazilians aren't so good at making commitments or at being on time, which was a massive headache for someone trying to do over a dozen photoshoots in a week, but at least it was easy to find new participants when others let me down. The sexiness of this issue is off the charts, and the issue contains an Elska first — a trans man who opted to do a fully nude shoot (we've shot several trans men in the past but none decided to bear all until São Paulo). This elicited a few however, with one reader writing in to say that they expected Elska to be a "vagina-free zone"! I had written a response to him, but decided to sit on it a few days before sending. But then before I had the chance to send it, I actually received an apology for his previous letter. So, that's something positive, I suppose! Like with Ireland, I'm tempted to do a future Elska in Brazil, but next time I'd need to spend a few weeks so that it's a little less stressed and rushed — Brazil is haaaaard work!

4-Elska Toronto (Canada)issue (08), released 5th August, 2021

Richard W, from Elska Toronto, who graced our pages with one of the most memorable shoots and stories in Elska history

I felt genuinely guilty to release another past Elska as part of 2021’s six issues, but with the travel restrictions I just couldn't manage to make anything truly new. So I ran another vote with the Editors Circle and this time Toronto won. This surprised me because Toronto had been our second-lowest seller of all time after its initial release in November of 2016. This time, noting that changing to a nude cover seemed to have boosted the fortunes of the Lisbon reissue, I decided to offer a nude cover for the new Toronto, and a full-frontal nude at that. It seemed to work, with the new version selling better than the original, but still it wasn't a massive seller. I guess the world just doesn't find Toronto (or Canada) that exciting. It's a shame because I think it's a really solid issue, and Canada doesn't deserve the reputation it has. I can only hope that eventually people figure out what they're missing. Spoiler: 2022 will have our second Canadian issue, and it's definitely not dull!

5-Elska Atlanta (Georgia)issue (34), released 5th October, 2021

Devlin J and TeeJ, from Elska Atlanta — can you feel the love?!

Elska has become known for its diversity, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I chose to visit Atlanta in part because people had told me that it was the 'Black gay capital of America'. But I also chose to go because it was somewhere I could drive to, avoiding travel restrictions and the unsafe conditions of air travel at a time when vaccination rates were still very low (this was in April 2021). Anyway, as with any Elska issue, I didn't search for any particular type of guy, letting the schedule of shoots fill spontaneously with those who volunteered to participate, and it just so happened that the issue became, majority men of colour, proving what I'd been told about ATL. When we released the issue we got a ton of accolades in particular about the cover, depicting a soon-to-be married couple in an embrace. Sadly, direct sales of the issue were very poor, suggesting that Black bodies just don't sell, that conventional notions of beauty in gay Western societies favour the White. However, it turned out that sales of the issue in shops were actually very high (particularly in shops in North America). So maybe the problem was more about a broadly negative perception of the USA (the majority of Elska customers are outside America) than something motivated by race. It's hard to know for sure though, but I'm certainly happy with the issue exactly as it is.

6-Elska Casablanca (Morocco) issue (35), released 2nd December, 2021

Anas A, our Casablanca cover boy and the only person in the city to provide us with a full (outdoor AND indoor) photoshoot

Making an issue in Casablanca was the culmination of a long process of carefully researching which city in Africa would be the best choice for our second-ever African issue. We spoke to men in several cities across the continent (except in South Africa, where we'd already been for our sixteenth issue); the level of enthusiasm was simply highest in Casablanca so we chose that town. Once we arrived though the local enthusiasm turned out to be greatly tempered by a fear of actually participating in the issue, especially in photoshoots. This resulted in a very different kind of Elska issue, one led by text rather than image, and one that has a more journalistic or even academic vibe. I personally find it very interesting, but I suppose it is a shock to the average Elska reader who's more used to a photographically-led publication. At the time of writing this, the issue's been out for just under a month, and sales have been slightly below average. However the amount of positive feedback received has been above average. Perhaps it's an issue that people generally don't think they want, but once they try it, they're glad for having taken a chance.

Estafi, from Elska Atlanta, giving me one of my favourite shoots of the year, 'cos I can't resist a pretty kitty!

And now for some stats and awards about Elska in 2021:

  • Top selling issue of the year: Elska Dublin
  • Lowest selling issue of the year: Elska Atlanta
  • Top selling Elska Ekstra zine of the year: Elska Ekstra Dublin
  • Lowest selling Elska Ekstra zine of the year: Elska Ekstra Toronto
  • Best stories (based on the amount of letters we received praising them): Elska Toronto
  • Best photography (based on the amount of letters we received praising them): Elska São Paulo
  • Highest proportion of nudity: Elska São Paulo
  • Lowest proportion of nudity: Elska Casablanca
  • Prettiest pet (we always manage to shoot a lot of cats, dogs, and other pets): I don't know if 'pretty' is the right word, but I will never forget the lovely slithering beauty pictured with Christopher L in Elska Dublin
  • Top todger (indeed, we do get plenty of DMs from fans wanting to tell us which dicks they really love): Devlin J's dripping dick from Elska Atlanta
  • Best bum (my choice here, 'cos I still can't get it out of my head): Christopher L's lovely bottom from Elska Dublin
  • Favourite story of the year (my choice): ‘Włączają się światła' ['They turn on the lights'] by Patryk J from Elska Dublin — it's rare to get a story that is scary, so this one remains unforgettable in my mind
  • Favourite photo of the year (my choice): The one of Ricardo V that graces the cover of Elska Lisbon
  • The city I'd most like to return to: Lisbon
  • Best cover of the year (I got so many compliments on these two): Tie: Elska Lisbon and Elska Atlanta
  • Crush of the year (the guy who makes me most regret my professionalism): Mohamad T from Elska Casablanca
The six Elska releases of 2021: (from left) Lisbon, Dublin, São Paulo, Toronto, Atlanta, Casablanca

Currently 'Elska Dublin' has already sold out, and probably 'Elska São Paulo' will be the next to go out of print. So if you'd like any of these Elskas in your collection, order while you can from elskamagazine.com. Then watch out in early spring 2022 for our next issue, made in… hmm, check for the Easter egg under the back-cover flap of 'Elska Casablanca' for your clue!

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Liam Campbell

Editor + Chief Photographer of Elska Magazine, a gay photography + culture mag, sharing local boys and local stories from around the world.