At the age of 15, fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson noticed that there wasn’t a magazine that tapped into the real, honest, substantial, and oftentimes comedic, experiences that come with being a teenage girl. So, she set out to change that — creating the online publication Rookie Magazine. While it may have seemed like an overwhelming task for any teenager to tackle, Tavi already knew what it took to be on the frontline of a creative endeavor (she started her fashion blog at age 11 and was featured in Teen Vogue, French Vogue and The New York Times Magazine).
The result was an online magazine filled with interviews, photographs, illustrations and short stories by contributors such as Lena Dunham, David Sedaris and Jack Black. A year later, she compiled some of the website’s best content into a book -- “Rookie Yearbook One” -- that resembles an old-school zine, published by Montreal-based press Drawn & Quarterly, best known for independent comics and graphic novels.
This weekend Tavi is hitting L.A.: Friday she will be at Diesel in Brentwood for a reading and signing from 7-9 p.m. On Saturday, from 2-5 p.m., she’s scheduled to lead a zine-making workshop, reading and signing at the Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics. And from 7-10 p.m. Saturday, in true Tavi fashion, she invites readers to dance with her during a live performance by Best Coast at Space 15 Twenty.
She spoke to us by phone about translating Rookie into a book.
What was the inspiration behind Rookie initially?
I started Rookie because I felt like there wasn’t a magazine or a website for teenage girls that respected its readers’ intelligence. I first started it online because it seemed like the only option to me. I really like that we are online because it’s the strongest place to have community and to talk to our readers directly and for them to talk to each other. And it’s also great that we get to have new posts out in the world each day.
I think the “Yearbook” has been a good format for tying together the best of the best from our first year into something that is really special and might stay with someone for a long time. I felt like we had so many articles and photos and illustrations that really had to be tangible.
How do you think that making it into a book changes the way we read the content?
I think a lot of people are hesitant about content you can get for free online and paying money to have it in a book …. that’s why I was super-obsessive about the design of the book. Each month on Rookie is a different theme, so the whole style of the book changes every 20 pages or so.
One thing that sets us apart as a publication, not just for teenagers, but in general — that each month is such a different mix of references and interests and moods. That was the biggest thing about making sure it was a worthwhile transition from online to print — the experience of reading an article will feel different because the page was decorated and all of that. That was one of the most important things for me — ways I could justify creating a book that people would pay money for when you could read the same article online.
How did you go about determining what content you wanted to pull from the website for “Rookie Yearbook One”?
Oh my god, it was so hard. Our editorial director, Anaheed, said: ‘Tavi, you have to be ruthless. I know it’s hard, but you have to do it.’ One thing that makes the print version so special is that it is very stylized. With articles, it was about picking the best but also picking a bunch that really balanced out each other since this would be the first time they would all be together in a more visually edited form.
When you come to L.A., you’ll be doing a zine workshop. How did you originally get interested in zines?
Ironically, I got interested in zines because of the Internet. On fashion and art blogs, you see people making these little things and selling them. When I was younger, I made these little books, just for fun — just the idea of having this very self-made, compact, DIY little project was exciting to me.
There’s a growing dependency on social media and online forms of communication, especially among younger generations. What spurred you to step out of the digital world and explore print?
People say that but I think those forms of communication also become the homes for really intense fans of more real things, like a band or a book. Maybe the fact that we are so entrenched in this intangible culture just makes us want real things more. For example, vinyl in the past couple years has had more of a comeback. Maybe because we are so used to Facebook and other online forms of social media, the idea of an actual book or an actual record is extra exciting.
Who makes up Rookie’s staff?
My staff was initially comprised of people who wrote to me when I said on my blog that I wanted to start an online magazine. They emailed me their writing, I went through it with Anaheed and we put together a staff. We are continually adding new people, looking for new voices and taking submissions that our readers send in. One thing I think we actually need is more teenage writers. And I think it’s good to have both — people who are going through what you are right now and people who have lived through it. But there are only two people of all of our writers and photographers who are younger than me. Most everyone else is in their 20s, and then we have some in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
You have such a strong group of contributors, from Patton Oswalt to Zooey Deschanel to Paul Feig. How were you able to draw in such a dynamic group to contribute their stories to Rookie?
Anaheed used to do a monthly variety show in New York and from that, she has a lot of contacts in comedy. All of our contacts are basic friend-of-a-friend kinds of connections. But I think what is really special is that these people agreed to do something for a website for teenagers even if it’s not necessarily their audience.
What types of books do you enjoy reading?
Just now I’m reorganizing my room and I’m looking at a lot these books from the '60s or '70s that are about science. And I don’t know why they are interesting to me because they’re obviously outdated, but that’s almost even more interesting to me. It’s fascinating to read what people in the '60s thought about flying saucers….There’s this quality to the photos — the colors and graininess are really different….
If you live in L.A. and you have to drive in a car, you should listen to Radio Lab. I always thought I hated science and then I started listening to Radio Lab and I found out that I actually really love it because they make it about experiences and it relates to you.
I’ll check them out! How did you end up working with Drawn and Quarterly for the publication of your book?
A lot of my favorite books are published by them — so many of the people I admire are on their roster and a lot of books that have been important to me during the worst time of the school year are published by them. A lot of Chris Ware books or Lynda Barry or Leanne Shapton. Chris Ware is friends with Anaheed and he offered to put us in touch with Drawn and Quarterly — and by this time it was about May and we knew we wanted our book out by September. It was decided that we would work together and I could not be happier.
Did you consciously choose to work with an independent publisher?
Because they’re independent and because they’re used to working with these artists who have crazy foldouts and all of these strange features, I think Drawn and Quarterly had a lot of trust and confidence in us. So they didn’t really question it when we were like, “We want to include stickers and a flexi disc!”
“Yearbook Two” comes out next September. What will you be doing differently in the second issue?
We’ll have a lot more time to pull together content that isn’t on the site. For “Yearbook One,” we had a comic strip that hadn’t been published on Rookie, a fold-out crown and a couple other special things like that. But now, we’ll have more time to pull extra stuff together, so you will see more content that hasn’t already been on the site.
What is it like for a 16-year-old to go on a book tour and meet your fans across the country?
When I think about different components of Rookie, there’s the site and there’s the yearbook and now I think of the events. Over the summer, we had this road trip where we had events with our readers in 16 different cities. The events are really special for me because we actually meet these people in real life and they all get to meet each other. Our readers are always commenting and saying, ‘Where are the other Rookie readers where I live?’ Then they finally get to see each other and it’s really kind of special.
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