A few months ago, around the time when my friend Hannah deBree contributed a suggested reading list (formerly at Chronicle, hers is a most-trusted opinion), she mentioned that she was joining a small team to help launch an exciting new print magazine… for kids! ILLUSTORIA would be a quarterly print magazine for creative kids and their grownups, packed with stories, art, comics, interviews, and activities. (As soon as she mentioned they were interviewing Andrew Bird about playing violin as a kid for the first one, I knew I wanted a copy for myself.)
But besides being excited to dive in to Issue 1 with my kids, I was inspired to learn more about what it takes to realize a creative vision like this. How does one actually make it happen? So we got in touch with Joanne Chan, the Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of ILLUSTORIA to find out more about what it’s like to take such a bold leap and create something special.
You came from book publishing… Did you always want to start a magazine?
Strangely, no! I’ve always loved visual storytelling and I was very happy working as a children’s book editor. What motivated me to start ILLUSTORIA is having two kids of my own (at ages 7 and 10, they are avid readers of picture books and graphic novels) and not finding a quality magazine that reflected our interests and tastes. In particular, I wanted a magazine that we could slow down with and enjoy together—one that celebrated artists, writers and makers and that would inspire creative expression in the form of drawing, writing and making. I was inspired by the proliferation of really great children’s books out there and I was eager to see a well-produced, beautiful magazine that would have lasting value and be on par with some of the children’s books I admired and collected.
It’s amazing to hear about people who take that inspiration and make it happen. What gave you the confidence to take the leap?
A lot of passion and not a small amount of discontent! The passion comes from a lifetime love of stories and art and knowing that, like everyone, I had something unique to offer if I just pushed myself to share it. That passion and inner voice combined with the fact that I live in a very creative household—with two curious, imaginative kids who aren’t afraid to just go for it and get their hands into everything, and a partner who is a designer and builder—spurred me to strike out on my own and commit to something that would bring meaning and joy. The discontent I must admit stemmed from working for large corporations where I didn’t have the best work-life balance nor the means and the time to have a daily practice around creative expression that was deeply satisfying. I think that discontent is actually a healthy and necessary thing, and something to learn from.
What has surprised you most?
How long it has taken to launch and how much ILLUSTORIA has changed since day 1! The first iteration I created was a horribly boring slide presentation with lots of bullet points and lists about vision, content, audience, etc….all those heady ideas I needed to get down as I conceptualized this new endeavor. Over the course of many months (actually, almost two years!) of development, going back to square one, asking lots of questions, finding key people to collaborate with, and more conversations and reiterations, ILLUSTORIA has grown from a cold concept to a living reality more substantial than I even imagined. Not just the staff but every contributor, kid, parent and educator whom I’ve talked to along the way has made it possible for ILLUSTORIA to grow into itself. I realize now that being patient and open to new ideas have been key to getting us to launch. Knowing that there are more surprises, learning and developing to come keeps every day interesting.
But also very challenging, I imagine. What is the most challenging thing about publishing an indie magazine?
Realizing that the old publishing models and rules don’t apply to us because we’re too small, too new, and what we’re creating is quite specialized—but needing to find our place in a market that is largely steeped in the old model where low price points, high quantities and mass placement are the foundation of a viable business. It’s like running a custom tailoring shop in the midst of mall stores. It’s a huge challenge and can be very disheartening at times, but it’s also incredibly exciting and liberating. I’ve been able to connect with contributors, shop owners, readers and other presses who share the same values and passion, and who are willing to go the extra mile to support our vision. We’re finding our niche in a larger movement made up of creatives who are willing and eager to break from the mold.
Why this magazine, and why now?
As a parent raising kids in a hyper-digital age, where so much media is at our fingertips at all times, I find it incredibly necessary and nourishing to slow down with my kids. Part of that means doing art projects together, cooking together, reading and sharing stories. This offers kids and grownups a shared experience that they can dip into and enjoy in those wonderful, quiet moments that we all love best.
I would be thrilled if the magazine got kids and parents to embrace a DIY attitude and prompted them to make, doodle, color, or write. That’s at the heart of our magazine: to inspire creative expression in all ages.
What can readers expect to find?
Our premiere issue showcases original stories, art, comics, interviews, DIY crafts, a recipe, book review, playlist, maze, coloring pages and activities. This is the model for every issue of ILLUSTORIA—basically sixty-four pages full of engaging stories, art and activities. Issue 1’s theme is “Beginnings” and features an interview with author/illustrator Cece Bell on the making of her first graphic novel, El Deafo; an essay by celebrated musician Andrew Bird about learning to play the violin at age four alongside his mom; an interview with and original art by the author of Journey, Aaron Becker; a 4-page comic by beloved cartoonist Lark Pien; a recipe for fried rice by celebrated chef Rayneil DeGuzman of Ramen Shop; a story on the beginning of time; a super-sweet coloring spread, a DIY accordion book activity, and so much more….
Sounds awesome! How do you find the artists and illustrators you work with?
Between myself, Marc (our editor-at-large) and Beth (our creative director), we find artists and creators to work with in various ways—sometimes by pitching ideas to artist friends of ours whom we admire, other times it means reaching out to people on our “creator crush” list and hoping they’d like to be a part of what we’re up to! As we begin to spread the word about ILLUSTORIA, it’s thrilling to discover up-and-coming writers and artists and have a chance to collaborate with wonderful people from all over the world.
Fun fact: There are some tiny little comics to be found in the margins which is great fun for kids and will be appreciated by grownups who grew up reading Mad Magazine.
Finally, what advice would you share with others who want to start something of their own?
My advice to others who want to start something of their own is to listen to that feeling of discontent. Most likely it’s your inner voice guiding you to discover your own outlet for creativity and personal expression. Acknowledge the feeling of discontent, listen to your passions, go for it, surround yourself with a supportive community, make mistakes, be flexible, grow, and keep going!
Thank you Joanne! Congratulations! And thank you to Hannah for the introduction—can’t wait to see Issue 1.
Joanne Chan is the publisher/founder and editor-in-chief for ILLUSTORIA, which launches next month. She has kindly offered to give readers a 10% discount on their orders with the code HITHER.
Photos by Melissa Kaseman