Joanne Chan is the founding publisher and editor-in-chief emeritus of Illustoria, a tri-annual arts and literature magazine for creative kids & their grownups. She was formerly a children’s book editor, and bookseller. We spoke to her just as she announced her magazine will now be published by the San Fransisco-based independent publisher McSweeney’s.
Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
I work from my home office/studio, so the journey is a short one. But being a mom of three, the journey to my desk doesn’t begin until the typical (sometimes frenzied) Monday-morning routine ends after the kids are at school. On Mondays I like to stop by one of my favorite cafes (Bartavelle) and bakery (Acme) for tea and bread – then it’s back home, the nanny arrives to care for the baby, and I finally get to work.
Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
My desk is in the home library and accurately reflects my home-work balance, usually fluctuating between serene and introspective and entirely frenetic and overflowing! At this moment it’s (mostly) the former. There’s an ever-morphing stack of books, mags, and paper goods – these are to-reads, have an inspiring design or illustration aspect to them, are recent event flyers and programs, or visuals I’m meaning to post on the mood board or tuck away in the flat files downstairs. I must admit I actually have two desks – the office desk downstairs is where incoming orders are fulfilled and I try to keep all mail and paperwork there. My library desk remains as minimal as possible so that I can stay in creative mode.
The desk window looks out to our succulent garden, a cozy Palapa perfect for reading (but mostly viewed from my desk while daydreaming about reading), and a funky tree with a crooked trunk that we call the “Dr. Seuss tree.”
Which magazines do you first remember?
Cricket was the magazine of my childhood and the first that I remember. As a kid, I would eagerly look for the hidden storylines and asides of Cricket and his crew of insect buddies. These miniature comics were brilliant – like illustrated and actually interesting footnotes for kids – and they and the margin comics in MAD magazine largely inspired the mini-comics that are tucked away in the first several issues of Illustoria.
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
There are an incredible amount of exceptional magazines in print today that contribute to a rich, global dialogue in beauty, art, ideas, innovation, creativity, and community. I’m moved and inspired by Offscreen, Define Magazine, The Discontent, Apartamento, The Gentlewoman, Casa Brutus, Little White Lies… And then there are the longstanding favorites: McSweeney’s Quarterly, The Paris Review, Lapham’s Quarterly, among many others. I’m constantly discovering new publications that speak to a different aspect of my curiosity and passions: MinChō, Dispensa, Creative Growth Magazine… How to choose just one? I can’t imagine not having an assortment of magazines to read and pore over, like a patchwork quilt or ornate tapestry full of endless new discoveries.
Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Art, Creativity, Storytelling
What was the inspiration behind Illustoria?
Illustoria was inspired by a desire to slooooow-things-down with my kids in our busy, digitally-driven age; and to carve out a space that celebrates creative expression, storytelling, art, and making.
The editorial focus is on visual storytelling and the creative process. My background is in children’s book editing and I have a bias for picture books and graphic novels which has no doubt shaped our contributors, from Caldecott and Newbery winners (Carson Ellis, Tony DiTerlizzi, Peter Brown, Cece Bell, to name a few) to up-and-coming talent in the children’s book world.
The magazine celebrates creativity and DIY culture in all forms though, so we are passionate about including contributions from chefs (Ramen Shop), musicians (Andrew Bird, Colin Meloy), dancers and choreographers (Marni Wood), fashion designers (Katherine Tsina Bird, Matt Dick), sculptors (Ruth Kneass), florists (Rito Ito), and more. We believe in taking down barriers that separate one genre of art from another, and bridging the work of established artists, newcomers, and kids to demonstrate that creativity truly is within everyone.
What are the biggest challenges in making a magazine for children?
Making a magazine for children demands the most authentic, pure approach to the writing and art we publish. Because our aim is to appeal to kids and grownups, we have the added challenge of creating visual storytelling, interviews, and essays that appeal to a wide range of ages, including adults.
Together, our team has many years of experience in publishing for children and teaching art in classrooms, but it’s still a challenge to always put aside our adult preconceptions and personal preferences to question, “This speaks to me, but how would this land with a six-year-old or a twelve-year-old kid? How do we streamline and modify our communication in a pure way that speaks across generations?”
Tell us about the changes ahead now Illustoria will be published by McSweeney’s?
Our editorial content and look and feel will largely remain the same. McSweeney’s has been the gold standard of publishing for us here at Illustoria—they are remarkably innovative and are true believers in the power of words and print—so it’s an honor that they will not only continue in Illustoria’s celebration of art and writing but also take the magazine to a whole new level of engagement with readers.
There are several very exciting changes ahead. Illustoria will have expanded circulation with a special focus on schools, libraries, and organizations who serve under-resourced communities. And the magazine will partner with The International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers to publish exceptional writing and illustration by young writers. There will also be a forum in the magazine for young delegates from The International Congress of Youth Voices, to shine a light on young activists who are making positive change all over the world. Our mission has always been to inspire all ages, and now there will be increased engagement and empowerment of youth voices.
What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
I just had a major highlight last week – going to Portland, Oregon to celebrate Illustoria with recent contributors including one of my all-time favorite picture book heroes, Carson Ellis. The highlight this week will be staying home and carving out some time to weave (I’ve become minorly obsessed with basket weaving since publishing a super-simple craft activity on this in The Home Issue).
What are you doing after this chat?
My baby is just about to wake up from her nap so likely a forest walk, flower-picking, bird-spotting, making sure the little one doesn’t get into the poison oak. When she goes down for a second nap I’ll get back to work!