Deciphering DIAGRAM with Ander Monson by Allison McLellan and Alexandra Cichon (2016)

Screenshot of DIAGRAM's website
Screenshot of DIAGRAM’s website

DIAGRAM is an online magazine that, as its name suggests, stands out in the unique use of obscure diagrams and schematics accompanying written works displayed in refreshing, innovative ways, including fiction, poetry, and comics. Although the magazine stands out by charging new ground, I find I cannot try to sum it up any better than the editor’s words themselves: “DIAGRAM is an electronic journal of text and art. As our name indicates, we’re interested in representations. In naming. In indicating. In schematics. In the labeling and taxonomy of things. In poems that masquerade as stories; in stories that disguise themselves as indices or obituaries.”

The editor is Ander Monson based out of Tucson, Arizona. When asked about the publication, his laid-back attitude in his responses (he describes himself in his editor bio simply as “a super-cheap date”) emulates the same tone that shapes DIAGRAM’s sardonic and light-hearted humor. Outside of DIAGRAM, Monson also edits for the website Essay Daily and the New Michigan Press and he has authored six books and the website . The Long River Review was fortunate enough to be given a few of his spare moments to look into how he has developed DIAGRAM over the years.

1. How did the magazine begin? Was it a tumultuous beginning or smooth sailing?

It started in 2000 after I came off a stint editing Black Warrior Review. It was kind of half-assed, as most things begin, but almost immediately it seemed to strike a chord. I’m still not sure why.

2. What inspires DIAGRAM’s unique layout?

I don’t think the layout’s all that unique, though maybe I’m understating what it is we do: I mean, it’s modeled after principles of classical typography and design, particularly as seen in print publications from, like, the 19th century. I suppose that does add up to a unique aesthetic, at least in terms of online magazines, which tend to be more forward-looking. We are in terms of the work we publish, but not in terms of the design. We’re not the only ones, though: Public Domain Review and McSweeney’s come to mind.

3. What have been your biggest challenges working with DIAGRAM?

Two come to mind: one is keeping on top of it, month after month, year after year. We’re in our sixteenth year at the moment, and have never missed a publication date. That takes some dedication. The other, maybe more concerning, is keeping track of the editors and magazine as it’s gotten bigger. Our stated goal is responding to submissions in two months, which we hit maybe only 60 percent of the time, I’d guess. It’s hard to keep all our editors on task when I don’t see most of them often, if at all. So finding and managing people is a big part of it.

4. How do you promote and distribute your publication?

As we are online, distribution is just putting the issues up on our website. As for promotion we don’t do a lot of that, honestly; we have a Facebook that one of our editors tends and a Twitter that one of our editors tends, and that’s about it aside from putting calls out for submission periodically for our contests, and running notices and doing interviews at times via Poets & Writers and so forth. Then there’s AWP, which is our only yearly real splash-out.

5. What are your do’s and don’t’s for submissions?

Read the magazine, and if you like it, submit work. That’s about it. There’s not a lot of mystery. I’d say 25 percent of our submissions are by people who have obviously never even read the magazine, which remains baffling, since it’s all online and free. I guess read the guidelines, too, which everyone says, but everyone says that for a reason. It takes us a lot of time to read and respond to submissions, so spending a couple minutes looking at what we’re asking for (and not) seems like the minimum price of admission (especially since we don’t charge a reading fee).

6. Which submissions are more difficult to choose, diagrams or text?

Text. Diagrams (we get many fewer since most of our diagrams are discovered and selected by our editors in Goodwills and garage sales and university libraries) are easy. It’s usually an obvious yes or an obvious no. Poems and essays and such are much more time-consuming and occasionally psychologically difficult.

7. Do you ever choose the schematics based on the written pieces you’ve chosen first, or vice versa, to reflect a certain mood?

Yup, though we don’t tend to do super-thematic issues, we usually have about 30 pieces and maybe 15 diagrams in the hopper in any given issue, and the issue gets assembled out of that. Occasionally there are exceptions for our sound issue (which had sound-themed diagrams), and for the erasure issue we’re going to do in late summer.

8. Is humor an important part of the magazine?

Yeah: I think it’s obvious that we’re more than occasionally interested in publishing things that are funny (humor’s one of the outcomes of divorcing diagrams from their contexts, oftentimes). But it’s also the case that we rarely publish things that are only funny.

9. Was there ever a moment where the magazine was close to not picking any diagrams for a specific issue/vice versa, not picking any written pieces?

No, mainly because we have about nine months worth of backlog for accepted work: the average time between acceptance and publication is six months, probably, which means we don’t read for individual issues: we just accept work, so there’s never a time when there’s not a mass of excellent work we’ve selected, awaiting an issue. Diagrams are a little trickier, since those come in more sporadically. I have a huge collection of my own (which about 60 percent of the diagrams we use come from), and the rest are found by editors and like-minded diagram lovers, but still there’s a pretty good backlog for those too (intentionally).

10. What is your take on online vs. print magazines?

I like them.

11. Do you think written art could exist without physical art (drawings, paintings, diagrams, etc.)?

Sure, but I think it would be lonely and impoverished.

Allison McLellan is an English major, Communication minor on the poetry panel of the Long River Review.

Alexandra Cichon is a senior studying English at the University of Connecticut. She is on the poetry panel at the Long River Review.

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