If you’re anything like me, the idea of a quarterly magazine aimed at young girls with the intent to empower them and show them that they have an important place in the world is…probably the best thing imaginable. Luckily, Editor-in-Chief and founder of Kazoo Erin Bried thought so, too. But that just wasn’t great enough. After an astronomically successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, as well as being the first kids magazine to win the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2019, Kazoo is getting to make an even bigger noise with the release of their spin-off debut title Noisemakers: 25 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World.
Curated by Bried, the book features an all-star group of creators using short, perfectly succinct comics to tell the life stories of some of the most important and inspiring women in history such as Maya Angelou, Mary Shelley, Madam CJ Walker, Emily Warren Roebling, Caroline Herschel, and many others.
I was lucky enough to speak with Bried herself about what it was like tackling such a vibrant and important book, and what she’s hoping it will achieve with its young audience.
Chloe Maveal: You’ve curated quite the diverse and inspiring group of women to make the subjects of this collection! How did you go about choosing which inspirational “noisemakers” were to be featured from each creator?
Erin Bried: Thank you! When I started putting the book together and assembling the creators, I already knew what the chapters of the book would be: Explore, Grow, Tinker, Play, Create and Rally. We cover each of those topics—science, engineering, sports, art and critical thinking—in every issue of the magazine. Knowing those parameters really helped me hone the list of Noisemakers I wanted to feature. Readers will probably be familiar with some of them, like Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo and Eleanor Roosevelt, but even so, we always tried to approach the subject in a fresh or surprising way. For example, Emily Flake, who cartoons for The New Yorker, is absolutely hilarious, and she managed to tell Eleanor Roosevelt’s story in a way that is both so funny and also so incredibly touching. Most of the Noisemakers we featured in the book, though, are women most people have probably never heard of—a daredevil pilot, an undercover spy, a star inventor. I wish these stories were taught in schools. I wish they were all part of our collective consciousness. Maybe if we were all able to more easily take for granted the fact that so many women have been advancing science, making art, fighting for justice, accomplishing feats of strength and endurance, and leading movements throughout history, then it’d be just a little easier for those who are doing it today—and for the kids who want to do it tomorrow.
Maveal: Since these stories are all about real people and very real, pivotal points in history, what guidelines — if any — did you decide to give the creators talking these stories? Or was this something more akin to “make it factual, but make it yours”?
Bried: Making it factual and true to each creator’s style were certainly both givens. As far as tone goes, when adults assume they’ve got to write down to kids, it can get real cringe-worthy real quick. So I asked each of the artists to picture who exactly they’re talking to. “Imagine a young girl with grass-stained knees, who likes science and climbing trees. Talk to her. She’s your audience. Tell this story in a way that will captivate her imagination.” I also told them, only half-jokingly, that they’ll know they’ve done it well if their reader wants to dress up as the subject of their comic for Halloween, since that’s one of the highest honors any kid can pay to a historical figure. I didn’t want this book to read like a collection of Wikipedia entries, because that would be totally boring. I also didn’t want the arc of every story to be about how a particular woman overcame oppression, because I didn’t want girls reading this book to take away the message that it’s hard to be a girl. I wanted every story to feel thrilling. I wanted kids to want to sneak a flashlight in their bedroom, just so they could keep reading this book under their covers after they were supposed to go to sleep.
Maveal: All of the creators in this collection of stories are astoundingly talented. There’s no denying that! But some of them — in their other works — can stray pretty far from what’s considered kid-friendly, which is the way this book seems to be aimed. Can you tell me how you went about choosing which creators you wanted on the book? Did you choose the subjects or were they given free range to let you know who they wanted to talk about?
Bried: I’ve followed the work of so many of these amazing artists for years. Like everyone else on the planet, I’ve absolutely loved My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris. I adore Relish and everything by Lucy Knisley (and also just Lucy Knisley as a person). So those pairings—Emil on Mary Shelley and Lucy on Julia Child—just made sense. Maris Wicks, who is a scuba diver, draws these incredible science comics in such glorious, tiny-but-true detail, so I knew I wanted her to tell the story of marine biologist Eugenie Clark. Every fish, sponge, shark and urchin you see in her panels are not only beautiful but completely accurate. Kat Leyh rides her bike around Chicago, so she was the perfect pick to tell Annie Londonderry’s story of cycling the world. Lucy Bellwood makes adventure comics about sailing on tall ships, so she was the perfect choice to tell botanist Jeanne Baret’s story of circumnavigating the world. One of the things I love most about Noisemakers is that each comic artist is as inspiring as the woman whose story they’ve told. I suppose that in that respect, it’s not a collection of 25 inspirational stories. If you look a little closer, there are really 50.
Maveal: One of the best parts about this collection is not only how inspiring it is to young women, but how intelligent and capable it makes the reader feel — particularly when engaging and asking the reader to identify with the specific sections that the stories are split into. What was it about splitting the book up into categories that felt right? How are you hoping young readers will engage with this sort of layout?
Bried: Thank you! I wanted to include the checklist of character traits before each comic, because I wanted to bring every story closer to the kid reading it. I wanted her to be able to easily see just how much she already has in common with each Noisemaker. I wanted her to know she too already has what it takes to change the world.
We do something similar in the magazine, too. We illustrate all of our experts as they were as girls (based on real childhood photos whenever possible), so our young readers can more easily see themselves in future positions of power. “What does a future senator/biologist/astronaut look like? Just like me!”
Maveal: This collection is primarily aimed at young girls to help stir up inspirations and aspirations of what they can do. But I have to ask, what do you feel that young male readers could gain from reading this as well?
Bried: So much! I hope as many boys as girls read Noisemakers, and not just because they’ll learn how powerful women can be and have always been. (I would hope they already know that anyway, but if they don’t, I’d be so happy to be a small part of that revelation.) But I also want boys to read it for the same other reasons I want girls to read it—because it’s just so fun to read! How could anyone not love a book, chock full of thrilling stories and adventures, told by some of the most talented comic artists working today?
Maveal: What are you ultimately hoping to accomplish with this book? Aside from being downright inspirational, what message or idea are you hoping to put into the minds of young readers?
Bried: Kazoo’s tagline is “a magazine for girls who aren’t afraid to make some noise.” Our young readers all over the world call themselves Noisemakers, just like the women in our book. It’s my hope that knowing about all these amazing Noisemakers who’ve come before them will give our readers a little extra courage to follow their own paths, wherever they may lead.
Below you can find a preview of one of the stories, “Spark in the Sky” by Chan Chau about astronomer Caroline Herschel!
Noisemakers will be available at all good retailers as of February 4th, 2020. (And to read more about Erin Bried’s Kazoo Magazine, you can find them right here!)