Basic Paper Airplane: A Brief History

I started Basic Paper Airplane in 2005. I’d been co-running a small poetry press for four years and, as the press and my life was beginning to shift and change, I thought a distraction might be nice. And prose felt like a distraction—something easy (ha), a break from compressing language into things I called poems. So I interviewed some very unlikely interview subjects, wrote some very short fiction pieces, a couple essays, reviewed some things, burned several hundred CDs of a weirdo DJ mix I’d made live on the pirate radio station, folded a few hundred paper airplanes to put inside, and somehow got them into the world.

Little did I know that this was the beginning of what came to be the basis of my “career”: writing personal essays, fiction, interviewing people, reviewing things. I stopped writing poetry at some point, but I’ll probably keep doing issues of Basic Paper Airplane for the rest of my life. It’s not as well known or loved as other zines I’ve worked on, but it’s the one I hold most dear. Since the third issue, each issue has been themed (themes and descriptions listed below). So I like to think that every issue of Basic Paper Airplane is a unique experience, different from the others that came before. And I still have the same idea behind the zine: launching something small and simple into the world and seeing where it lands.

Issue #1: Everyone is a genius, micro publishing, the case against cell phones, a mix CD, and a fully-functional paper airplane. (2005)

Issue #2: Living with and without a car, the significance of the American dollar, making films, and a scene report on the ghosts of Snohomish County. (2008)

Issue #3: The Future of Print. Paper media, simplicity, the zine community, a brief history of the U.S. Postal Service, and the only zinesters at the Utne Magazine Awards. (2009)

Issue #4: The Family Issue. From personal family history, to the history of the human family as a whole. Portraits of grandparents, great aunts and uncles mix with facts about Iceland and Icelandic immigration, examinations of individualism and community, biological family vs chosen family. (2010)

Issue #5: Odd Americana. The current state of the United States as seen from car windows. Place and home, historical oddities, tour stories, and the hula hoop in American history. (2011)

Issue #6: Beginnings and Turning Points. Swarms of bees, drinking cough syrup, kitchen dance parties, hopping trains, breaking out windows in the woods, taking over the streets in elementary school. Brief essays on Gertrude Stein, huayno music of Peru, Eadweard Muybridge, and the Wright Brothers. (2013)

Issue #7: Grown-Up. A series of thoughts about what it looks like to follow your dreams and have it look different than the people around you. Child artist, sports star, book obsession, the post office, falling in love at a D.A.R.E. graduation, a small tribute to children’s book author James Stevenson. (2014)

Issue #8: Collaboration. A split issue with Alexis Wolf's Ilse Content zine. Thoughts on the ways we collaborate. From ripping up paper with a grandmother to standing on chairs, yelling out words to the sky. (2014)

Issue #9: A Very Brief History of the Typewriter. A historical and personal exploration of how the typewriter changed the world, in a variety of (often contradictory) ways. Typewriter stories, early writing machines, gender and the typewriter, the commodification of nostalgia, typewriter quotes, old typewriter photos. (2015)

Issue #10: Freelance Stories. Short essays about trying to make a living from writing words. Comic nightmares from the world of freelance writing, night school, weekly papers, and cities of books. (2015)

Issue #11: Picking Stuff Apart. A split issue with Craven Rock’s Eaves of Ass zine and the culmination of a year-long project of assigning experiences for the other person to review. This collection of reviews of life and art includes an industrial music award ceremony, a Meetup group, books, films, and dated Christian television—all looked at deeply and discussed. (2017)

Issue #12: The Interview Issue. What it means to create the space of an interview and all the ways they can succeed or fail. Also: ten interviews with writers, artists, and musicians that delve into the creative process, identity, family, image, myth, and obsession. (2018)

Issue #13: The Cassette Issue. The art of the mixtape, the importance of the boombox, the intimacy of the Walkman. Plus tales of recording with cassettes, performing with cassettes, releasing cassettes, falling in love with cassettes. Nostalgia, subversion, frustration, possibility. (2020)

Issue #14: Book Tour. Going on an oddball, makeshift book tour. Road stories, being weird in front of people, the importance of a '90s poetry open mic, an ode to the state of Washington. (2023)

Reviews for Basic Paper Airplane:

“Joshua James Amberson is one of zinedom’s greats. He is the paradigmatic humble and wise zinester – reflective, careful and sensitive. Not shouting into the scene, but quietly epitomizing the literary DIY, like a master gardener among seed bombers.“ -Broken Pencil

“His zines have covered everything from genealogy to film to simplicity to cops to the media to the ghosts of Snohomish county to Kindles to the Postal System (deep breath)…and beyond. It’s amazing. It’s inspiring.” -We Love You So

“Every issue I’ve read of Basic Paper Airplane feels like a cause for celebration. Each has its unique thread, its own story to tell. Joshua is such a friendly guide into his thoughts and world, its like reading a letter from a far-away friend.” -One Minute Zine Reviews

Basic Paper Airplane #9 is a compelling sociological analysis that touches on gender and labour issues as well as art, design, history and politics. As he did in his excellent, Prince Zine, Joshua uses a seemingly straightforward subject as a fulcrum to examine broader and more complex anthropological issues.” -Zine Nation

Joshua James Amberson is one of zinedom’s greats. He is the paradigmatic humble and wise zinester – reflective, careful and sensitive. Not shouting into the scene, but quietly epitomizing the literary DIY, like a master gardener among seed bombers" -Broken Pencil

“Combining great personal writing with new journalism. The results are just fucking awesome.” -Razorcake

“I haven’t read this much sincerity and thought in a zine in a long time. He has a really great voice, and is able to express himself in natural, original way. It was such a pleasant read.” -Zine Thug

“It’s no easy feat in a cultural climate that constantly sells to us through every channel, to the point it’s easiest to disengage, to succeed in creating active engagement. Basic Paper Airplane does exactly this—through honesty, personality, and passion. I can’t recommend it enough.” -Syndicated Zine Reviews

“His prose is lucid and unpretentious; he thinks hard about things and cares about them lots.” -Ravenswing Zines

Basic Paper Airplane combines haunting poetic language and descriptive writing to share personal and everyday experiences, and sometimes historical facts that you might need when playing trivia games or find yourself in a debate.” -Mend My Dress Press

“Written as thoughtful snippets, Amberson circumnavigates this issue’s themes without forcing any hard morals or reaching any solid conclusions, allowing the stories to encapsulate the vital open-ness of life.” -Quimby’s Books

“This is a zine I will save and cherish because it hits the mark so closely regarding my own experiences of trying to make a go of the freelance life.” -Erin Dorney

“[Basic Paper Airplane #10] is required reading for those who are contemplating taking the dive into the world of freelance writing. Joshua’s assessment is both inspiring and realistic.” -Zine Nation

“Amberson’s recollection stands to encourage anyone who writes their own stories.” -Fiddler’s Green

“This is a work of art & literature to be revisited. Often.” -One Minute Zine Reviews

“Punk rock librarian.” -Maximum Rocknroll