There is an honesty and uniqueness to The Isis Nicole magazine.
Even though they’ve featured some insanely cool artists—like Babeo Baggins of non-binary rap group Barf Troop whose resume includes a song with Drake—the magazine feels personal and inclusive.
It’s especially personal because it’s named after its founder and editor-in-chief, Ohio native Isis Nicole who has been championing artists on Tumblr even before she started the print magazine in 2013. And then there’s the magazine’s other half, creative director and stylist Hannah Black who joined the team in 2015 and added her own taste to the mix.
We caught up with Isis and Hannah while they were finishing their 5th issue and talked about the ins and outs of DIY zine culture, how hard it is to find a good work partner, and drinking wine during interviews. 🍷✨
Read below for lots of secrets, giggling and general nerdiness.
We were really excited to talk to you guys because I feel like we have so many similarities in what we do. There’s so few people that are successfully able to make publications that I think our knowledge is valuable.
Yeah, it’s great to feel recognized.
Yeah, thank you so much.
How did y’all get started with Isis Nicole magazine?
I started it back in 2013; I basically just wrote the first issue. I studied journalism at Columbia College Chicago and after that I worked on a beauty-type of zine. From there, I started the Isis Nicole magazine, which was like an extension of my Tumblr blog. I would mail [disposable] cameras out to the artists I would feature and give them an assignment of what to capture and then they would send it back. Then fast forward to issue, what was that 3?
When I ended up meeting Hannah, who happened to be a graphic designer and I didn’t have to keep switching out designers and it became consistent. The work came first, and the friendship came second, after we got a lot more comfortable with each other. We’ve just been together ever since. Now, it’s a the point where we do things together.
When I started with Isis was January 2015, She sent me, all the content for that issue already. In three weeks I had the print ready for her. From there, we started working on Issue 4 we started collaborating on the content and having conversations that dictated what would go in the magazine, rather than just an editor and graphic designer situation. Our roles are very intertwined.
I like how y’all mentioned that y’all were working partners first. That’s exactly what happened to me and Vicky working on our magazine together.
Yeah, we learned how to work together first, and then we became friends.
One of my favorite stories about me and Vicky is once when we were just bullshitting around and she was like, “I wish I could just have a minion and train them to do everything I want.” And I was like, yo, dude, you did have a minion, it was me, and I’ve graduated.
Graduated to full-fledged minion-dom. Now you’re both minions.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people lately where they’ll see us working together and also want to find working companionships, and I always tell people, you just have to try out a lot of different people.
Yeah, that’s definitely true. It just sort of happens. We did not plan on this.
Trust, you know, comes with time. You have to initially trust if you get the vibe that this is someone [you] wanna work with. And a lot of the creative industry is you know, for free.
Yeah, when you’re doing DIY, not only do you have to find someone you like working with, but someone who is also willing to take the dive into all the crazy shit you have to do for free to get it done.
Someone who can rise to the level of professionalism and responsibility, and grow at the same pace. It’s hard to find and. lucky. We’re all lucky.
We’re both lucky, yeah I’m very lucky.
We also wanted to know how y’all got started with printing. Sustaining that was a huge struggle of ours when we first started.
It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, so I just knew it had to be in print. I think the key is to find a printer that has an understanding of editorials and is open to communicating. I guess I got lucky because it only took three tries before I landed on a printer that I was really cool with. Are printers, I don’t know, do they seem like they are inaccessible?
We buy a lot of print magazines because we’re nerds. We actually don’t have one of y’alls, but we need to get it for our ~collection~. We were able to print affordably because we tried a lot of places and were able to get a good deal by basically being nice.
Yeah, that’s the key.
What is your process for divvying up the work? For example, Vicky and I will both write concepts for things, write the stories and design them. What is your work process like together?
Yeah, I design it, but I can send it to Isis at any point and be like, what do you think? I also have my friend Hannah Siegfried who is a photographer for us. She’s my best friend and neighbor. She’s my ya’ll two, so she can come over anytime. So with Isis being far away it’s nice cause we talk all the time. There’s so much to do, we just have to do it.
It’s almost not a choice. Like if something has to get done you’re not like, I guess I’ll just assign it to this person or this person, it’s like oh shit, I guess I will do it, Vicky and I started as designers, we never wrote anything. Then, we realized our writing did not match up to what our magazine looked like at all, so we were like oh, I guess we have to write the way we want it to sound. So really the past two years we we had to start learning to write.
Y’all are pretty deep right now into Issue 5, right?
We’re in the um… freakish week. We’re um, I just don’t wanna cry about it you know.
You gotta have a good cry in the craziest week. You gotta let it out.
Yeah, I need a bath.
Vicky and I have definitely sacrificed our mental health to get things done.
Yeah, it’s the finals month type of rep.
The last magazine that we made, the one we made before it, we made in 4 months, and it had 12 stories. And the one we made after that, we made in a month and a half and it had 25 stories. That feeling you have when you have to finish it. You have to have all this shit that’s going to be awesome and you gotta get it done.
Yeah, I’ve been there.
The process of learning how to do your creative projects is so valuable. I think when you’re making a publication, it’s one of the most challenging things you can do, but it seems so simple.
Yeah, [as if it’s] like it’s just you do this and this and you cross off your list.
It’s really one of the hardest things you can make. Not only do you have to write and visualize it, but you also have to market, promote and sell it.
You have to be a business woman and accountant and CEO and editor, a PR person, a designer, a tech person. But it teaches you all those things incrementally, [more] than assisting at any type of publication could.
It’s not all just getting photoshoots in your inbox. There’s so much strategy and just making sure everything comes together. The daily communication with all different types of creative people. It teaches you a lot about yourself and how you want to interact with the world.
Speaking of which, when you are looking for people to work with, what do you think makes for great collaborators?
What makes for a great collaborator, a great model, or photographer, is someone who brings a really positive energy. People that are open to the weirdness that a photo shoot can be, but just down to have fun and be goofy with us. I just like it when people like to have fun.
Mine would be, definitely fun. But also someone who gets stuff done. I don’t like to micromanage, so I like to trust that the person that wants to contribute that, they can trust themselves and they have a vision.
We can kind of turn people lose at this point and be like yeah, I trust you.
And we also know that we can turn something back in and be like, “how about trying this” instead and it not being a big deal. And they’ll get an end result that everyone is proud of.
I’ve found my favorite people so far that I’ve worked on it with, I’ll text them and be like okay, what’s your idea? Dream big and we’ll make it. And my favorite people will be like okay.. What IF….
And they’ll just dive into it head first with hope. Excited about the potential. I mean obviously I like to work with people who are realistic but I really love it when people are like okay, I’m going to take this leap with you and into some crazy idea we have.
And then we’ll mold it, yeah.
I think that’s exactly what it takes to run a magazine.
It’s always a risk. It’s great to have, I mean not risky content, but stuff that is exciting for you to do.
It pushes you too. Even if something’s working for us, I feel like we still challenge ourselves and it’s not we are just gonna rely on a certain look or what not to carry over.
Why do you think, considering all the work it takes for you to make your magazine, why do you think it’s important for DIY print journalism to exist?
Why do you keep doing it essentially?
It’s a creative skill set just like painting or designing clothes. If it’s in you, it’s in you and have to do it. At least that’s how I feel about it and I feel passionate about creating content that isn’t redundant and repetitive and introduces new ideas, new artists, new faces and new types of beauty.
I feel the same. Hannah and I, and you guys probably did too, grew up reading magazines and catalogues. We come from a time where it was important and it’s still important to me. And I know it’s gotta be important to an audience out there. I feel like I’ve just been led up to this moment. I’ve just been continuing to grow within it. I can’t thank Hannah enough for just being a part of it, because it is scary and there are a lot of risks involved and a lot of sacrifice. You’re investing all of who you are into it, but it’s worth it. We can tell by opportunities like this and other types of opportunities that we’ve gotten. We’ve created a path or ventured into a path that is working for us. It’s true to us and what we want. If we can envision it, than I’m sure someone else can too. It’s just important, that’s why I did it.
As long as it can resonate with, not just kids on the internet, but random people that go to random shops across the globe and pick it up and be inspired by something colorful and beautiful.
Considering all of that, what do you want people who inspired by your work and what do you hope they can take from your work?
That it’s possible and that nobody is going to tell you yes or no. You just have to go for it. If you want it, you put in the time and the effort and your vision and you find like minded people and they do it too. And not just to necessarily have a magazine, but working with people to create is an really almost sacred experience. I just want people to create with other people.
Yeah, it spans so many things. The experiences you have making a print magazine can connect to the experience people have making music or anything else. The process of being a storyteller.
I like that you called it sacred. It’s definitely a special bond.
Yeah, it’s like jumping into the holy water pool or whatever with a bunch of people and you’re all going towards the same goal.
The last thing I wanted to talk to you about is how you work towards intersectionality and diversity in your work? For us that was when we realized that oh, this isn’t just about having a cool magazine. It’s about a lot more.
I would say that it goes back to what I said about being from a well-rounded place. I wouldn’t say that I intentionally say I need “x” amount of black people, “x” amount of white blah blah. But naturally just coming from where i come from, I know all type of people. I’ll be in the hood one day, and then I’ll be in somebody’s penthouse in Chicago. It’s random. So for me, it just comes with it. So I’m very grateful that I don’t have to look back on old issues like that. But, as far as like LGBTQ communities, that is something I have to seek out, and I’ve learned that through Hannah, and it’s cool that she is able to provide her well rounded-ness and movements and issues that interest her. I’m getting more comfortable talking about certain issues in representation. I felt like it’s a little bit natural, but at the same time you do have to seek that out. It’s important.
The internet is full of diverse voices and we’re both from the Tumblr-sphere so it’s just kind of me being like, I really like the way this person introduced me to these issues and I’d like to uplift them in print. You find stuff that resonates with you whether or not you are a part of the community and you give a community to a whole diverse group of people.
I like that you mentioned using the internet and Tumblr to find those things, because I feel like that’s been so essential to the voice that Vicky and I have found together in working.
It was really about listening and learning.
We would find magazines that we like and we would read every single story and follow every single artist and photographer on Instagram. That ability to realize that you need something in your life and then immediately find it.
And that you need so many perspectives too.
One of the greatest things we realized is that if you email somebody, they’re probably going to answer you.
They can’t avoid you as easily.
Yeah, when I was creeping on y’all for this interview, I realized that I had read your interview on Broadly like way before I followed either of you on the internet.
Aw, that’s amazing.
When I realized I was like. oh shit, I thought that I couldn’t talk to these girls and then I just organically met them on the internet.
That’s definitely a touchstone of who we are as a publication. Welcoming. We like people.
It’s so important to be that way, in our place on the internet. There are people who so desperately need to be heard. We’ve really built this new project on being a really inviting community. I really think a lot of indie publications are some of the people providing that the most.
Yeah, I’ve had really great experiences with all the indie print I’ve worked with. I feel like the indie print community is generally a supportive one.
Well I keep losing my track of thought. It’s probably all that wine.
It’s okay I had a bottle of wine from 2 pm to 5 pm today.
Vicky and I usually have a bottle of wine because we both are-
Yeah me too, I have a glass of wine when I do my interviews.
Yeah, we just drank like the whole bottle.
IsisNicole Magazine Issue 5 is available for purchase now.