Towards the end of 2022, following a crowdfunding campaign that nearly doubled its target and saw backing from actor Michael Sheen, an unwieldly bit of paper “from the smallest county in England” somehow managed to squeeze through my letterbox.
It’s named the Paper, or Y Papur, despite calling itself a magazine, and was born out of “a desire to alienate ourselves further from the ones we love”, explain its founders, Erin Mathias, Oliver Gabe and Owen Davies. A second, more earnest reason behind the publication was to “reflect the people we know as they are, and as we’re all Welsh, what we ended up with was a portrait of Wales, as we see it, looking out from the inside, in pictures and words.” Yet they also see it as a fairly universal mirror to experiences all over the world, where life can be boring and draining, and where humour is often the only balm for it all.
The first issue, which has just launched in magazine stores, is named The Brain. It offers a deep dive into brain drain, and “the idea that everyone worth listening to has fucked off to England, leaving this magazine as the crude handiwork of the unambitious mutants still cutting about here”. Surrounding the tear-stained face on the cover are eccentric, shouty coverlines that knowingly reference gossip magazines, and perhaps unwittingly, the more obscure end of Wales Online.
There wasn’t a gap in the market so much as a “deep, dark void with the exact dimensions (280mm x 410mm) of our stupidly oversized magazine”, the founders explain. The editorial agenda is dictated by a simple ethos – ‘nothing is too stupid and everything is possible’ – but among the features that are seemingly just for laughs are many which are genuinely insightful or charming.
“The magazine is almost entirely constructed from billions and billions of dumb messages over WhatsApp. Most of it is lost to the sands of time. Then, some of it is retraced, mined (Welsh people are historically notoriously good at that), excavated, and digitally placed onto paper,” the founders tell us.
“We guess this sense of urgency and rattling ideas off probably does sort of make itself known in the tone of the mag, though we’d never be able to say it was on purpose.” That goes for the design as much as anything else. The photography pages, which “stop the magazine being an entirely nauseous experience”, have been led by Math Roberts, a photographer from Swansea. “In terms of the photos themselves, we feel like he perfectly captures the sort of strangeness and random flux to everyday life in Wales. His photos feel like Mike Leigh and David Lynch having a scrap together.”
Other visuals in the magazine are the product of constraints. The feature on a chip shop is accompanied by images of bags of chips, which the team then spruced up with some glitter on Photoshop. The piece about bare-knuckle boxer James Lilley used childhood photos sent over by his mum, who laid them out and photographed them on her couch at “fairly drastic angles”. Either too scared or too polite to ask her to take the photos again, the team made do with what she sent.
Those all important fonts are ones that people apparently turn their noses up at: “Times New Roman? Arial? Maybe some Garamond?” the founders offer uncertainly. But the real star is Impact. “Certain font-leaning people like to endlessly squirm about how Franklin Gothic or something is the ultimate protest font when actually we think Impact is the default pissed-off message on a bit of A4 paper,” they explain. “It is the most beautiful and proletarian of all fonts, and people need to start accepting that. It’s sort of our house font now though so hands off.”
If it all feels like part of the ‘anti design’ wave, you’ve probably read too much into it. “Most of this approach is now post-rationalised, when in actual fact we took like six months to design 3% of it and then rushed the last 97% in three weeks,” according to the founders.
The team is currently toiling away on the second issue, based on the theme of terror, and they assure us that the WhatsApp group is “popping off”.