Getting to Know Plasma Dolphin

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sonja Katanic, the co-founder of an online/print arts and culture literature magazine called Plasma Dolphin. She and her friend Emma Cohen started it here at WCI back in 2013. Their focus is, “going into people’s specificities and all the little, gritty details of their lives. We love each piece to kind of reveal a truth about one of the contributors and that way it’s this little collection of different people’s stories,” in her words. They try to prioritize personal and illustrated essays in hopes of getting authors published, but aim to be pretty equally spread between writing and photography. They receive, on average, fifty to sixty pitches per issue and narrow it down to around thirty pieces that get published. Sonja and Emma’s varied backgrounds make them a good team.

Sonja is a student at the University of Waterloo studying Global Business and Digital Art while Emma is at Concordia for Creative Writing. “The way that we do it is she does a lot of the editorial, editing, and writing while I focus a lot on visuals and design. It worked out really well,” Sonja says. When asked about their biggest challenge thus far, she said without hesitation that it was the jump from online to print.  “When you do stuff online it’s quite easy to just get stuff, edit it, put it up, and do publicity. With the print issue, suddenly you have to look at funding and run an Indiegogo and try to get publicity for that,” she comments. She says that sometimes the issue isn’t with the funding but with the artists doing the pitching. “People also treat the stuff that they submit to us really different when it’s in print. Fewer people are going to see it so they feel a little more open about it and then some people feel a lot more attached to their submissions,” she says.

They used to publish around three or four online issues a year but now the plan is to do a print issue and an online issue every year. The most current issue and the very first print issue, Participation Mystique, came out at the end of August. Sonja says that the next issue, which will be online, will most likely be coming out in February. “We’re just about to start the process of asking people for pitches and deciding the theme. It’s about to be hectic again!” she says. The theme of ‘Participation Mystique’ came about in a more unconventional way than for prior issues. Emma was listening to a Chloe Caldwell podcast, a writer, who talked about the term ‘participation mystique.’ Sonja says, “It’s this old French philosophy term for the feeling you get when you’re really attached to something to the point where you don’t really know where you end and something else begins. You have a shared identity with someone you just love so much.” In the past, they’ve had themes such as ‘The Moment Before’ which is the feeling you get before you do something big. “This one is a lot more introspective and it kind of feeds into itself,” Sonja adds.

When asked about her advice for high school students looking to start their own endeavors her message was clear. “Mostly, just do stuff,” she says. “Even if you don’t think you’re good at something, just do it. Do it until you are good at it. It’s fun to just make stuff.” I don’t think she could’ve given better advice for high school students trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Personally, I cannot wait to see Plasma Dolphin grow even bigger, gain even more success, and see where it takes Sonja and Emma.