Spotlight: Paper Darts

Interview by Sam Woodworth

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Paper Darts is a fresh literary and arts magazine coming out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Flipping through an issue is a stimulating endeavor. A slim volume of glossy pages featuring sharp poetry, fiction and artwork, each page is soaked with words set against snazzy, colorful art and design.

If you live in the area, it’s hard not to have heard of them. My first encounter with the magazine was when my pal Michael put in issue in my hands at a rollicking party and told me to check it out. Ducking into Big Brain Comics to fulfill a hankering for graphic novels, Paper Darts was on display, and when I picked it up, the clerk said, “That issue is pretty good.” Even going out at night, Paper Darts hosts literary readings and parties at hip venues like the Nomad World Pub, Honey, and release parties for their magazines and books at Minneapolis’s center for all things literary, Open Book.

It’s a pretty young rag. They’ve published three issues with the fourth on the way and one full length book, John Jodzio’s “Get In If you Want To Live.” Yes, still a little pup, but the quality of each new issue increases and exudes staying power.

I met-up with Editor-in-Chief/Lead Designer, Meghan Murphy, and Editorial Director, Courtney Algeo, to talk about Paper Darts at a local cafe. This is kind of what it sounded like.

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 SW: How did Paper Darts begin?

MM: Jamie Millard, Regan Smith, and I started Paper Darts in 2009. We had worked on Ivory Tower together and Alive Magazine together, so we kind of knew the ropes of producing a magazine on a dime. Well, we didn’t really know what we were doing, but we figured it out. Every year, more and more people help us to grow.  The magazine is currently run by Jamie Millard, myself, Courtney, and Holly Harrison, along with a group of fantastic interns.

Do you think of yourselves as a “Minneapolis magazine?”

MM: We’ve always wanted to be really active in the local community, but we definitely want to reach internationally for writers and artists. We’re trying to find more writing internationally and we’re trying to get more translations. We’ve published a few.

CA: The Twin Cities are so steeped in arts and literary culture that of course we’re going to accept a lot of Minnesota stuff because those are going to be the people who have heard of us and have supported us. They’re our people. But, I think that any company would be lying if they said that they only wanted to accept from one group of people. Everybody wants all kinds of great literature. Everybody wants everybody to read great literature.

Do you have distribution outside of Minnesota?

CA: A little bit. We’re in Quimby’s  in Chicago. We have Powell’s in Portland. We’re also in Boston, somebody told us, but it’s not an officially sanctioned sale. We’re really hoping to grow to gain greater distribution. We definitely DIY our distribution.

[ASIDE: At this point in the interview, the Barista came to our table. “Would you care for some War and Peace?” he asked as he set a single, complimentary wine glass in front of us. “Yeah,” said Courtney. “Yeah?” said the Barista. “What is it?” Meghan asked. “All right, sweet, enjoy,” said the Barista. The interview continued with the dark drink, an odd beer, begging to be sipped.]

Your magazine is incredibly impressive for its design. You don’t have a literature section in newsprint and then glossy pages for the artwork. The text and art are designed to flow and exist together, a solid and seamless object. What magazines or journals influenced you?

MM: The literary magazines we were influenced by originally were McSweeney’s, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Opium. They all really had a beautiful design aesthetic. We jumped off their influence, absolutely. But really, we were looking to do the exact opposite of the boring University presses. To us, that was the epitome of what we did not want to do. So we looked toward glossy magazines. What’s wrong with copying GQ and bringing it into the literary world? Something a little more fashion-maggy. I don’t really like referencing that, but it’s traditional, really. It’s not groundbreaking. We looked to actual magazines for inspiration rather than literary journals.

CA: We looked at mass-market magazines because we wanted to make things more digestible. With Paper Darts, it’s beautiful. It’s nice enough to have around forever. That’s the goal at least.

[ASIDE: Finally, Meghan and Courtney shared the mysterious drink “War and Peace.” I had none. They were both sick, and had already bought me a Surly Furious beer or two or three, and were politely answering the questions I asked through mouthfuls of curried chicken salad sandwich. They deserved the drink. After tasting it, they decided it must be a wine/beer concoction. Confusing, but apparently good.]

As a pretty young upstart magazine, how have you attracted the interest of more established writers?

CA: Network is so huge in what we do. It’s not about calling in favors because it’s not that kind of system. It’s a community of people helping each other and not being afraid to ask.

MM: In our next issue we have people like Peter Bognanni who really should not be submitting his work to us, he’s at different level, but he is and he did. And we’re really excited for it.

When does your next issue come out?

MM: We were originally thinking June… but who knows. We’re all working full-time. We put every drop of our free time into Paper Darts, but sometimes you need to sleep more than three hours a night. It’s been a little bit rough for Paper Darts as our professional lives try to take over our Paper Darts time, but we are very, very close.

How long does it take you to put together an issue?

MM: We’re hoping to do two a year.

CA: We do supplemental projects in-between. We did the John Jodzio book, Get In If You Want to Live, and we’re looking at doing another project that’s similar within the next… whenever months… could be 12 months.

MM: We publish every day on the website and that takes up a lot of our time. That’s been interesting because so many writers value being printed in an actual magazine. We respect print too, but your chances of being read are so much higher online. So many more eyes are going to be on you. Recently we accepted somebody to be published online and they said, “No thank you. If you’re not going to publish me in your magazine, I’d rather not be published with you.” That’s the difference of thousands of eyes. Thousands of people can read you online.

CA: Also it’s free. Of course more people will read it.

MM: We used to think of it as a second-tier of writing and now we’re really trying to not think of it that way and really value our online presence and our writers. We’ll see where that gets us. The idea of online magazines used to be a joke, but that is changing really fast.

How would you describe the Paper Darts aesthetic?

MM: Our voice is often characterized by John Jodzio’s work because we’ve published him in our magazine and we published his book. We are always looking for more work like that of Maggie Ryan Sandford, Eric Vrooman, Matt Ryan, and Matt Rasmussen (some of our favorite local writers). Their work is really, really funny and extremely smart and it has a little bit of heart. But we are still finding our voice. Our website is like one giant experiment, where we get to see how our readers respond to different types of writing.

CA: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because we’ve been talking about our editorial direction. All I can think about is I just want things that are cool. And it sounds so open and general and that’s fine because I don’t like tying it down to we only want to “touching pieces” or we only want “funny pieces.” There is a certain idea of what is just awesome to read. And if you think about it, that narrows it down—awesome stuff.


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