There are some interview subjects you don’t want to edit. Not only because they express themselves so well, where every last pause and digression of theirs seems significant, but also because you, as interviewer and editor, don’t feel you should have the authority, and aren’t ready for the ethical responsibility of representing them (see Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer).
Tavi Gevinson is one of those subjects. Tavi Gevinson—T.G. as her publishers at Drawn and Quarterly refer to her, as in Tiny Genius—is the teenage wunderkind (and finally I get to use that word appropriately!) who in 2009, at a very diminutive thirteen-years-old, exploded like a bag of glitter onto the fashion world. Her sparkle was everywhere: blocking views at fashion week runways, on the covers of magazines, and working on major collaborations like Rodarte for Target. All of this because she started, at age eleven, from her dad’s computer at her home in Oak Park, Illinois, a fashion blog called Style Rookie.
Style Rookie was earnest, funny, and smart. Tavi’s writing was so good, it was met with accusations of ghost authorship. In 2011, after being consumed by the fashion world for a couple of years, which means embraced and celebrated but also derided (fashion can be a bitch, like a Regina George backstabbing bitch), Tavi wrote a post bemoaning how “high schooly” Fashion Week felt. That post marked the first time I’d ever commented on a blog or website, ever then and ever since. I wrote something like, “I love you, tiny genius.” The blogosphere was worried though: Was Tavi resigning from fashion?
Then Tavi started Rookie, a for-us-by-us online magazine for teens. Rookie is the internet equivalent of ’90s riot grrrl zine culture, and intentionally so; Tavi and her team know their history. The look is retro and DIY but Photoshopped, with influences in Bikini Kill, The Virgin Suicides, and Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel Ghost World. Rookie is more than a magazine: it’s a community and—I’m pronouncing it—a movement. An invigorating feminist-resurgence movement of “rah-rah, just be you, girl power!” for all ages and genders led by a group of wise, internet-connected teens and their older sister(hood) editorial support team (Tavi says it’s good “to have grown ups around”).
Rookie is also now a book. Rookie Yearbook One, published by the usually-comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly, assembles, in 352 dense pages, articles, interviews, photo editorials, and illustrations from the best of Rookie’s first year. Plus stickers! Plus a paper crown designed by Meadham Kirchoff! Plus a flexidisc with songs by Supercute! and Dum Dum Girls!
Rookie Yearbook One launched last week in the basement of McNally Jackson in Nolita, New York. It was the high school basement party to end all basement parties, hosted by the aptly named Amy Rose (old only with wisdom, fresh as a…) who lead us through the night’s readers including Ms. Tavi, several precocious Rookie-ites, and “grown ups” Dave Hill, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Emma Straub, and Lena Dunham. There was candy and soda pop and subsequent sugar highs, crowns of fake flowers, and a cacophony of brilliant youth style. There was a consciousness-raising q&a, a live band performance by Supercute!, and tears, so many tears.
A few nights later, Rookie hosted the alternative prom party to end all alternative prom parties at the Ace Hotel. Ira Glass, surrounded by teens in vintage dresses, got down to The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.” Enough said.
I caught up with Tavi right before the Rookie launch in the backroom at McNally Jackson. We talked about magazines, books, and what it means to put Rookie into print. So, here she is: Tavi’s words, straight from her pretty, purple goth lipsticked mouth, with little editorial intervention. But, yes, the interview really does start out with…
I love BULLETT magazine!
I love BULLETT because I feel like a lot of fashion magazines don’t get it. They don’t understand like… Like the Obsession issue of BULLETT—all of the irony and everything about it but also like the sincere enthusiasm, it’s just very rare in a fashion magazine. It makes me feel like the people making it and I all watch the same TV or something.
Do you have other fashion magazines that you like? Actually it doesn’t have to be fashion, any magazine.
I love Lula. I love Russh. I love Dazed and i-D and all those. When I was more obsessed with fashion—now it’s just part of everything I like—but when I was really obsessed I, for a while I had every i-D, every Dazed, but I gave up.
You like old magazines too right? Sassy was an inspiration behind Rookie…
Yeah, Sassy. I like old National Geographics. I like old Playboys. They’re so beautifully designed and not, like the photos don’t make you feel like a creep really.
Have you ever seen Viva?
It was a Penthouse spinoff that ran for about six or seven years in the ’70s that was designed for women, like Playgirl, but it was different. Like post-sexual revolution pornography for women, and it’s very… it looks a lot like Lula, the aesthetics are very Lula, romantic. [Ed. note: Anna Wintour was also the fashion editor!]
Wow, that’s so cool. My friend just gave me an issue of Tiger Beat from 1966 or 67. It’s really, really funny. The letters are really great and the advice questions and all of that. And one of the letters is like, “I am so upset with Mia Farrow. I heard she just chopped her hair off on a whim what other kind of sick thoughts run through her head? My friends and I are judging her.” It’s really great. And I even like reading Tiger things from now because they’re so funny. There was a thing about Cody Simpson and it was like “his favourite cereal right now is like… some very specific kind of Special K” and I’m like, this is amazing. His favourite cereal right now, as if it’s a trending topic.
Why make a print version of Rookie?
When we started it, the dream was sort of to be in print. But that’s not realistic, and I’m really happy we’re online because I do think it’s the best format for what we want to do, and it’s great for our community because girls can actually talk to people and it’s more accessible and everything.
The hardest part was definitely narrowing it down to meet the page count. Originally we were going to try for 200 pages but it became 350 and my dad was against that decision because I didn’t inform him of it when I made it. He was like, “that will make it too exclusive because it will have to be more expensive.” But then when he saw the book in print he was like, “you were absolutely right.”
Why publish with Drawn & Quarterly?
Drawn & Quarterly has published so many of my favourite books. So many… I lucked out because when I had to decide paper stock they were like, “we’ll send you a few options.” And I got like their catalogue, and I was like, “ha ha!”
They just publish books that like. We knew that we couldn’t just transfer the photos and illustrations and text of the Rookie website onto a page and do a really clean layout. We knew that it had to feel more personal, it had to feel like a scrapbook. Chris Ware recommended, like made our introduction to Drawn & Quarterly and his books are like crazy. They are so difficult to read, just in that they require like a lot of concentration and they’re very complicated and each page is kind of a maze.
What Drawn & Quarterly artists or authors in particular do you like?
Well, Dan Clowes.
Yeah he’s the best. I met him a few times and I was like dying. I’m such a nerd. I mean…
He’s such a nerd! Gossip. He, like… I will say, there are very few—like I’m pretty good at keeping my cool even around my heroes—and the few times I’ve been very, very lucky to meet someone I like… but I, like, oh my god, Dan Clowes. I interviewed him for the site.
That interview is also in the book.
It’s in the book. And I think what helped us get that interview was that I had stood in line for like two hours to get a book signed by him a month before. I absolutely love him. And then, um, Chris Ware, Leanne Shapton, Adrian Tomine, Vanessa Davis, and I love the Moomintroll books.
I wanted to talk to you just about print in general and what kind of books you would imagine on a shelf next to the Rookie book.
According to Amazon you can buy it with Ghost World for some kind of discount.
I was like, “Ahhhh.” Because I think Ghost World—for one, it changed the way I think about things a lot, but it shapes a lot of the Rookie attitude as well. When I first really loved Ghost World I just kind of felt, “Oh finally someone else is like expressing… is also walking around with rage at everything.” But you know, then I watched it and read it a few more times and understood that Enid is kind of an optimist in a way. And I think, with Rookie, we try to be honest and sometimes that also means being cynical and sarcastic, but we’re generally trying to make the best out of adolescence.