Erin, Oliver and Owen, The Paper
The debut issue of The Paper arrived unannounced a couple of weeks back and immediately caught our attention for its absurd wit, cheeky demeanour—the note accompanying it said simply, ‘Do you like us? 😟 xxx’—and brilliantly chaotic design.
Published by a trio of ‘normal people’ from Wales, the first issue of this large-format annual magazine is titled ‘The Brain’ and plays on the brain drain—the idea that ‘everyone with talent/skill/charm has fucked off, leaving the left-behinds to present, in pictures and words, the confusing, hopeless but hilarious state of life in contemporary Wales.’
Here, those three normal people, Erin Mathias, Oliver Gabe and Owen Davies—that might be them in the image above—discuss their working week, reveal their inspirations, and share the launch party shenanigans.
What are you up to this morning?
EM: The same thing I do at the start of every week: stare in horror at my to-do list and panic about the swift passing of time. I normally do this with around six cups of strong, milky Dougwe Egberts and the same number of cigarettes. I find this is a really good way to get the energy up.
Where are you?
OG: I’m home today but I usually work at the Cardiff University hospital library. It’s got a good, studious atmosphere, as I’m surrounded by lots of extremely stressed medical students drinking Monster energy and reading about bones.
What can you see from your desk/ through the window?
EM: I don’t have a fixed desk space at home—sometimes I sit by the front window, but it can be quite distracting. Like the other morning I ended up charging a scaffolder’s tools cos the guy he was working for on the street wouldn’t open the door to him, then I ended up chatting for ages with a different guy who used to live in this house, who made his presence known by shouting, ‘Is the pond still out the back?!’ at me repeatedly through the window.
OG: I’m upstairs at the desk which looks out at my neighbour’s roof, the sun is shining and all the animals are coming out to play. 🥰
Which magazine do you first remember?
OD: As a youth I was an avid reader of children’s football periodical Match, and hero-worshipped its mascot, ‘Matchman.’ He had spiky hair, a monobrow, and, in one cartoon that is seared into my brain, was implied to be shagging Katie Price. A vital role model for a generation of pre-pubescent boys in the twilight years of the Blair premiership.
EM: When I was little, I’d go over to my mamgu’s house every Tuesday after school. She’d get magazines like Take a Break and Chat weekly, and every week we’d do the puzzles together. I can still picture her careful curly capital letters in the crossword squares now. Sometimes, I’d secretly read the horrific stories between the puzzle pages, despite Mamgu telling me not to when she caught me.
The thing is, even though they dealt with big serious themes like betrayal or jealousy, and I knew the things described happened IRL, they somehow didn’t feel real to me; there was a sense of unreality about them—same tropes, same structures, same pacing in every story; they felt more like genre fiction than events reporting. That people’s miserable lives could be packaged as entertainment fascinated and confused me, even then.
OG: Me and my mate Dan growing up had a magazine called the Daily Droid where we would watch Star Wars movies then as soon as a droid came up on screen we’d repeatedly rewind and play those couple of seconds (which must’ve absolutely fucked his VHS player come to think of it), and we’d sit there and draw parts for that particular droid. It was a bit like the Screwfix catalogue but for people who lived in Mos Eisley and owned a droid. We’d supply to both the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire. I’ve still got all the copies.
Like Erin, I also loved (and still love) gossip magazines; the stories in them aren’t found anywhere else—My Husband Ate Our Dog, Killer Sex With Sex Killer, Two-timing Rat Took All My Teeth, etc. Our Issue one cover is kind of our homage to them.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
OG: I still think Buffalo Zine is the best mag around—I’m biased because I work for them but they just are. Apart from that there’s this new horror anthology comic I’ve been buying called Vacuum Decay which is great.
OD: I enjoy anything that mixes the rigorous with the wilfully stupid, as our humble publication aspires towards—so I will recommend Bombast, Nick Pinkerton’s ‘Journal of Film and Funnies’. Come for the juvenile cartoons, stay for the interview with director of nine-hour documentaries about industrial China Wang Bing!
EM: I don’t read magazines.
Describe The Paper in three words.
EM: Great Shelf Decor
OD: A Muscular Tome
OG: Big Ugly Baby
It’s a big, bold first issue. Tell us how you made it happen.
EM: Creating a print magazine over digital was a no-brainer for us—after all, part of our ““modus operandi”” was to make something so big to hold in your hands that it would make reading it awkward and annoying and almost unpleasant.
OG: We have this strange extended group of friends around us, and we wanted to bring it all together into something solid. A magazine seemed like the only option. We're known as a ‘Welsh’ magazine, but we feel like the subject matter is pretty universal to anywhere really. It’s all quite everyday stuff, but you don’t really get to read about it in magazines much.
OD: It was an enormous job to make such a big magazine, and we’re all really busy, so it was a matter of working on The Paper whenever we had spare time between jobs and studies and other projects.
We arrange basically everything we do over WhatsApp. We spend months and months and months dumping ideas in the group, then we scroll back through and excavate any golden nuggets we had (yes, this is an extremely laborious and not-very-efficient way of creating the mag, but it's the only way we know), then we'll plonk the good ideas in a spreadsheet, try to get some sort of balance between them, content and form-wise, then we roughly share out the editorial tasks.
OG: There was also a fun three-odd week period of being told by almost every printer in the UK that no single machine on planet earth would be able to staple such a stupid amount of pages—but luckily Park Communications are both incredibly experienced and slightly mad so decided to take on the challenge. Apparently it pushed their largest machine ‘to the limit’—which we like.
The launch party sounded fun…
EM: We wanted to do something that reflected the feeling of the magazine, but we’re dead against those launch parties where people just fucking read out bits of the magazine to a half-dead audience. We don’t do read-outs—they’re boring! Just buy the damn thing!!! So we settled on a variety show at a working men’s club. People just texted us whatever they wanted to perform.
OD: Within half an hour of starting, before anyone had even really arrived, we managed to accidentally tear down part of the ceiling because we didn't realise the projector screen was remote controlled. This trend of chaos continued all night really.
OG: The acts included a hot dog eating race, which somehow turned the entire room into an angry mob thirsty for two of our editors’ blood (it’s hard to eat hot dogs fast OK!! They expand in your mouth and we didn’t have any sauce on them!!!).
We had Welsh hymns on a tin whistle from Lowri, Wales v England on football manager from Stan (Wales won 23-0), Erin's infamous Cerys Matthews impression, a nose trumpet symphony, a manifestation/motivational talk from Verity, a compilation of Merthyr Town chants from our compere Ross, and a special celebrity appearance from middle-class Cuban exile Ricardo Bullion singing his hit single 'Sucking My Own Penis'.
OD: Contributor Sei also ate an entire copy of The Paper.
What do you hope people will learn from the first issue?
OD: Our mission has always been to save Wales, so ideally we’ll achieve that soon, thus sparing us the effort of putting together a second issue.
EM: Learn feels like a weird word. We guess we hope that people within and without Wales feel energised by it. We just love stories and hope reading the magazine feels like being part of a loud conversation with your mates.
Quite a few people have said it’s too expensive, actually, which we kinda get—but as we learnt a little too late, printing a magazine in a weird custom size is kinda (very) expensive!!!
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
OD: Rolling around in the giant pile of money we made from all the chumps who bought our overpriced magazine. (Please buy the magazine.)