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Paper Darts defies literary magazine logic

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Paper Darts Wolf
An example of the graphic design which is a hallmark of Paper Darts. Creative Director Meghan Suszynski drew this wolf, and then used it as a basis for the illustration of a John Jodzio story about house-training a wolf.
Image courtesy Paper Darts

Logic would suggest, with the magazine and publishing world in a tailspin, this would be the absolute worst time to start a literary magazine. 

But three recent University of Minnesota graduates disagree. The trio behind a new publication called "Paper Darts" has big plans -- and the support of the Twin Cities literary community.

Ask Regan Smith whether it's crazy to start a literary magazine in this day and Internet age, and she says, it's quite the opposite.

"To me,  it's like now is the perfect time to do this," she said.  

Smith is the editorial director of Paper Darts,  which launches its third issue this weekend. 

Smith says it's true other literary magazines are going under. But she says that's what makes it a good time to launch a new publication. 

Smith met creative director Meghan Suszynski and  managing editor Jamie Millard at the university. They were all working on Ivory Tower, a literary magazine on campus. They later reconnected while working at "Alive," a now defunct magazine.

Suszynski says they found they held common ideals.

"If we could introduce humor and design, we could get people reading literary magazines again."

"We have these old-fashioned values where we believe that literary magazines are important," she said. "They  help foster talent and allow people to develop skills of creating novels later on."

But the Paper Darts editors believe most literary magazines are stuck in a rut.  Regan Smith says there needs to be more irreverence, and eye-catching design. Maybe even a little sass.

"The thing we always say is, we are trying to take the stick out of the butt of the literary world, because it's clearly not working," she said.  

 A lot of their friends at Ivory Tower talked about starting something new, but Smith says no one actually took the leap.

"So one day the three of us just said, 'Let's do it!' And so we went to a coffee shop, and made the website and that's how everything got started," she said.

That was 18 months ago, and they still don't have an office. Up until now most of the activity has been online. The Paper Darts website is a breezy mix of short stories, poetry, reviews, and eye-popping graphics. This is the work of creative director Meghan Suszynski.  

"We thought if we could introduce humor and design, we could get people reading literary magazines again," she said. 

Taking her cue from children's books, Suszynski incorporates her own and other artists' hand-drawn designs, created to highlight the writing presented in the magazine. 

The latest issue features a story by Minneapolis writer John Jodzio about the challenges of house-training a wolf. Suszynski tried different combinations of wolves, clothing and color.  Some of the early designs didn't quite catch the needed mixture of menace and mirth. 

The Editors
The co-founders and editors of Paper Darts. From left to right: Managing Editor Jamie Millard, Editorial Director Regan Smith, and Creative Director Meghan Suszinski. The three met while students at the University of Minnesota.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"So we went back and put the wolf in a tux, gave him a goofy smile and amped up the colors, sea-foam green and hot pink," she said. "And tried to make it just as fun as the story was." 

The Paper Darts crew all have day jobs. They work on the magazine in their free time. They don't really expect to make any money on it. 

The trio hs been very astute in seeking advice. They've picked the brains and gained the support of many within the local literary scene, including several authors and publishers.  

For example, there's Jodzio. He recently published a short story collection called "If You Lived Here You'd Already Be Home."  Jodzio said having a vibrant literary magazine can only help local writers, particularly those seeking their first publication. And he agrees this could be a good time to get into print.

"It's really pretty cheap to produce a magazine now," he said. "So if you want to do something, the startup costs aren't really that great." 

The latest edition of Paper Darts will be a 44-page, glossy spectacular. It'll be released at a party at Honey in northeast Minneapolis on Saturday night, and then sold at select stores around the metro. 

Paper Darts will also be available on a print-on-demand basis through the website.  Issue No. 3 costs $10 a copy, but Regan Smith says she believes it's value for money.

"I know it's a lot, but for a cool literary magazine, it's worth it," she said.  

Sassy indeed.