How 'Noisemakers' Puts the Focus on Famous Women From History

Noisemakers Head - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Kazoo Magazine
Kazoo magazine editor Erin Bried explains why the new collection of comic biographies is important for young readers.

As the name might suggest, Noisemakers: 25 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World is a comic anthology unlike most others.

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, the hardcover collection was put together by Erin Bried, the editor behind Kazoo magazine, and features 25 short pieces about the lives of luminaries, including Mary Shelley, Hedy Lamarr, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bessie Coleman, Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, from a lineup of creators such as Emil Ferris, Rosemary Valero-O'Connelll, Lucy Knisley and Brittney Williams.

To accompany an exclusive excerpt from the book — Nellie Bly's story, as told by Jackie Roche — The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Bried about the origins and intentions of Noisemakers and the impact she hopes it can have on the world.

Noisemakers spins out of Kazoo, which you created in response to not being able to find a magazine to read with your daughter. Like the magazine, Noisemakers feels inspirational to its audience, not only in terms of the stories presented, but also the different people telling those stories. Is Noisemakers the obvious outgrowth of Kazoo, especially considering the comics content in the latter, or did it get its origins elsewhere?

Noisemakers definitely felt like a natural extension of the magazine. Kazoo’s mission — and what sets us apart from almost every other title on the newsstand — is to celebrate girls, [ages] 5 to 12, for being strong, smart, fierce and true to themselves. That’s why we develop all of our features with top women in their fields. We’ve worked with Ellen DeGeneres, Shonda Rhimes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Goodall, Misty Copeland, Elizabeth Warren, Margaret Atwood and so many others.

It’s why the original fiction we run in every issue features a girl protagonist in no need of rescue. Our short-story contributors are all major authors, including Kristen Arnett, Meg Wolitzer and Angela Flournoy. And it’s why we include a six-page True Tale comic in every issue about an amazing woman who’s made history in some way. I want kids to know that the world is what it is today because of the courage of all of these Noisemakers, who’ve come before them. It’s my hope that knowing about these women will give our young readers a little extra courage to follow their own paths, no matter where they lead.

Also, telling these stories through comics makes them not only accessible to readers of all ages, but also just super-fun to read! This is not a collection of dry Wikipedia-like biographies, and it’s not a dusty history book. It’s designed to be engaging. It makes the world feel big and full of possibility, and that’s a huge credit to the 25 incredibly talented women and non-binary comic artists who brought these stories to life.

There’s a real respect for the reader shown in the book; not only in the ways the stories are told, but also the selection of those telling the stories — Emil Ferris is the winner of multiple Eisners, for example, but might not be everyone’s choice for kid-friendly comics. How did you go about choosing the creators for the book? 

Kids are smart, and there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than adults talking down to them. And also, of course, there’s no age minimum for enjoying great art. That’s one of the things that makes it so powerful. Art makes you feel something.

I wanted kids to be able to read Noisemakers again and again and get something new out of it each time. It’s doubly inspirational. They can learn about not only the subjects of each comic, but also about the artist who created it.

As far as choosing the artists, I made a dream list of creators and just went for it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from making Kazoo, it’s that the hardest obstacles to overcome are the ones you place before yourself. In 2016, I could’ve said that launching an ad-free, indie, feminist print magazine would never work, especially when big titles, backed by major publishers, are folding every year. But I had an idea I believed in, and rather than give up on it before I started, I put it out to the world.

Within 30 days, Kazoo broke Kickstarter’s record as the highest-funded journalism campaign in history. Three years later, we made history again, becoming the first kids magazine ever to win a National Magazine Award. We now have readers in 44 countries worldwide. That our magazine has succeeded and continues to succeed has given me the confidence to always ask for what I want and hope people believe in what we’re doing enough to join us.

And usually they do. Emil Ferris, Alitha Martinez, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Lucy Knisley have all broken barriers themselves in the comics world, and I’ve found that powerful women and non-binary people who’ve had to break barriers to get where they are almost always hold the door open for those coming behind them. That’s exactly what each of these artists have done for our young readers.

Did the creators choose their subjects, or was that you? Was there a process?

Lots of pairings just made sense: Emil Ferris, who wrote the masterpiece My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, on Mary Shelley. She probably understands her story, and struggle, on a deeper level than anyone else. Lucy Knisley, who wrote Relish, on Julia Child; nobody makes such sweet, relatable, insightful comics about food (and life) like she does. Artist Lucy Bellwood sails on tall ships in real life (who even does that?), so she was the perfect choice to write about Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by tall ship. For other pairings, I chose whose work seemed to fit the feeling of the subject. Molly Brooks, author of Sanity and Tallulah, uses such energetic lines in her work that I thought she’d be perfect for Kate Warne, the daring detective who saved Abraham Lincoln’s life.

It was really fun to watch these artists discover new heroes as they worked too.

What were the guidelines you offered the cartoonists working on the stories? Are there factual marks they have to hit, or tonal requirements? What makes a good Noisemakers — or Kazoo — comic, for you?

I didn’t want girls who read this book to come away with the message that being a girl makes life harder. This is not a collection of how 25 women overcame sexism and other forms of oppression. I find those sorts of books so depressing. Instead, I wanted girls to take away from Noisemakers the notion that they are powerful beyond measure. That one person can indeed change the course of history. That their voices matter. And that there is a whole magnificent world out there, and if they don’t see a place it in for themselves, they can throw up their elbows and make new space.

Tonally, I told the artists to imagine they’re talking to a young girl with two missing front teeth and grass-stained knees. The idea of “writing for kids” can be so abstract, but if you can imagine that you’re talking to one particular kid — and you know who she is and what she likes to do — then it becomes easier to figure out how you’d tell her a story in a way that best captures her imagination. I also told them that if this girl, by the time she’s done reading this comic, wants to dress up as the Noisemaker for Halloween — basically the highest compliment a kid can pay any historical figure — then they’ll know they’ve told the story well.

I’m curious about the structure of the book. It’s divided into categories like “Grow,” ‘Tinker” and “Rally,” with each story receiving a two-page intro that asks the reader to find commonalities with the subject — it turns the book into much more of an immersive, interactive experience. Whose idea was this? Did separating everyone into categories come easily, or were there some that resisted that kind of treatment? Such characters could get folded into a second volume, of course…

In every issue of Kazoo, we cover certain subjects: art, engineering, science, cooking, critical thinking, etc. Those pillars formed our chapter categories, and so it just made perfect sense.

As far as the checklists, that was my idea, and I’m so proud of it. Everything we do is with our young reader in mind. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to do right by them and to make sure they’re taking away the message we want them to get. To a young girl, the idea of becoming a world-famous paleontologist, or a pilot, or an inventor, may feel like a distant — or even impossible — dream, but the checklist brings it very close.

By identifying similarities she may have with the Noisemaker — we both like to collect sea shells, neither of us are scared of heights, we both like to build stuff — then suddenly those dreams feel much more doable. The reader can discover that she already has the seeds of what it takes to achieve something great.

What’s the aim of the book, ultimately? What’s the feedback that you could get for Noisemakers that would make you think, “Oh, they got it entirely. That’s just what I want.”

The tagline to Kazoo is “a magazine for girls who aren’t afraid to make some noise,” and so our readers call themselves "noisemakers." That’s where the book’s title came from, too. I want every girl who reads this book to know that comes from a long line of noisemakers and if she continues to use her voice, then one day, she may change the worl,d too.

Noisemakers is set to be released Tuesday.