Four years ago, Erin Bried made history with Kazoo Magazine, the highest-funded journalism campaign on Kickstarter ever. Envisioned as a way to “celebrate girls for being smart, strong, fierce and true to themselves,” the quarterly magazine went on to gain fans and win awards, including the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2019.
In creating Kazoo, Bried also became something else — a comics editor. Each issue of Kazoo features a comic strip by a different female creator, celebrating the life of a woman who has made history. Those comics helped jumpstart Bried’s latest project — an anthology collecting similar comics by a host of talented creators. Noisemakers: 25 Women Who Raised Their Voices & Changed the World arrived in stores today, featuring comics by, among others, Emil Ferris, Lucy Knisley, Lucy Bellwood, Maris Wicks and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, whose strip about Hallie Daggett, the first woman hired as a fire lookout by the United States Forest Service, can be seen below.
It’s an impressive line-up of talent, and Bried took some time to answer my questions about how it all came together.
You’ve had great success with Kazoo Magazine, but what prompted you to want to publish this anthology?
Thank you! We run a “True Tale” comic about a woman who’s made history in every issue of Kazoo, and the book felt like a natural extension. Kazoo is a quarterly magazine, which only gives us a chance to run four comics a year. We were bursting with story ideas, and we just couldn’t wait to share them. That’s why this collection made sense. Also, it felt like just the kind of book we need right now. The problems we’re facing in the world feel so big and overwhelming, and these stories remind us how one person has the power to effect real, meaningful change.
I was hoping you could talk about the process and thinking that went into pairing a cartoonist with a “noisemaker” to showcase. Did you have certain creators in mind for specific people, or did they pitch you on who they wanted to focus on?
First, I made the list of subjects I wanted to feature in the book. That was a real challenge. I wanted to be sure to include some Noisemakers who our young readers might already know, like Rosa Parks and Frida Kahlo, and other women who they’d have never heard of. No matter what, I wanted all the of stories to deliver a sense of not only discovery, but also wonder. I wanted these stories to show our young readers a world full of adventure and possibility.
Once that was settled, I went about approaching comics creators, whose work I admire, and the pairings came pretty naturally. Lucy Bellwood sails tall ships in real life, just like Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. I adore Lucy Knisley’s book, Relish, and I knew she could tell Julia Child’s story better than anyone else. (Side note: Her new Instagram account, @condimentraccoon, is full of amazing and hilarious food cartoons.) Maris Wicks, a comic artist and SCUBA diver, worked as an educator at the New England Aquarium for years, so I knew marine biologist Eugenie Clark would be in good hands with her. When an artist has a personal connection to and deep understanding of a subject, you can instantly see their passion on the page.
One thing I liked about this anthology is that everything in it gels so well together into a cohesive package, but the individual artists’ style still comes through on the page (like the signature spiral notebook look in Emil Ferris’ contribution, who pairs so naturally and brilliantly with Mary Shelley). What sorts of design challenges went into ensuring you were able to balance both of those elements?
Top notch art and solid story telling—that’s what I was after most. I really love the varied art styles from story to story. The kids who read this book will learn not only about the subject of the comic, but also the artist behind it, and that’s really powerful too. It’s important for kids to see, and know, that there’s no one “right way” to make art or tell a story. We all have something to offer, and as long as we stay true to who we are, then you really can’t go wrong.
One other common thread through the book comes from the introductions to each subject. There’s a checklist before each comic so the reader can identify what she has in common with the Noisemaker she’s about to meet. I wanted to create that space for the reader to make an explicit connection to these heroes throughout history, so she can more easily see herself as a Noisemaker too.
I know several of the comics in the collection have appeared in Kazoo, which I believe has been your first time to edit comics. What has that been like for you? What have you been learning about the medium in the process?
It’s been so so fun! I’ve spent my entire career as a magazine editor, so the idea of finding the story within a story, or telling it in a way that connects with the reader, was not new to me. Even though they’re biographical comics, I didn’t want them to read like a collection of Wikipedia pages. How utterly boring! I also really didn’t want it read like 25 tales of oppression, even though so many of the women faced so many obstacles as a result of their gender, class and race. I didn’t want the takeaway to be that it’s hard to be a girl.
Instead, I wanted them to take away the message that they are so powerful. Kazoo’s mission is to celebrate girls for being strong, smart, fierce and true to themselves, and I paid very careful attention to each script to make sure that those are the exact qualities every story highlights. I loved watching each artist bring the story to life. That was my favorite part. And I was in complete awe of their talent and attention to detail. I could spend all day looking at the ocean waves that Rebecca Mock drew for lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis’s comic, or the delicate crosshatching work in Emil Ferris’s Mary Shelley comic. The contributors to Noisemakers are some of the most talented artists out there, doing the most interesting things in the medium, and so they made my job pretty easy. The hardest part was for me personally was just trying to not allow myself to be so enamored with their art that I couldn’t look at it critically. A few deep breaths before diving into their pencils always helped.
Speaking of Kazoo, are there any upcoming contributions from comics creators you can tell us about — maybe some we can expect to see in Noisemakers Vol. 2?
We plan to remain a treasure trove for comics fans. In our past three issues, we’ve featured brand new comics by Alitha E. Martinez, Steenz and Kerstin LaCross. In our upcoming issue, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is back with another gorgeous feature, but we haven’t announced the issue yet, so you’ll have to wait for the big reveal. You can pick up any back issues at Amazon or through our site. To get our current issue, you’ll have to subscribe at www.kazoomagazine.com.
This anthology seems like a natural extension of the work you’re already doing on Kazoo, but do you have plans for other projects in this space in the future?
We have a two-book deal with Knopf, so one more book is already in the works. Beyond that, I have so many other ideas that I can’t wait to bring to life. The only issue is finding enough time in the day to do it all!