Vision and Voice
Youth-led Voice Magazine looks to expand success in Chico
The Voice Magazine headquarters is part comic book nerd’s paradise, part hipster hangout and part secret clubhouse—which makes it a pretty cool place in this writer’s book. Inside, walls are hidden behind giant posters and framed art, while statuettes of Marvel Comic characters strike superhero poses on shelves and hip-hop beats thump from a towering speaker system.
In the midst of this pubescent utopia, located in a small space off The Skyway in Paradise, a group of teens and twenty-somethings work diligently. Some are gathered around a table discussing what still needs to be done on the upcoming issue, others are hunkered together in the production room clicking and pecking at computers, their faces paled by the glow of monitors.
Although it’s going to be a long week of sleepless nights and endless cans of Red Bull while the staff and volunteers finish production on the next issue (set to come out Sept. 1), it’s apparent that they want to be here. This is further evidenced by the numerous doodles and names—from Boschman to Zellers—scrawled on the wall by those who either already contribute or are willing to offer their services when needed.
This is how Voice Magazine has operated since it got its start in 2001—a small group of like-minded young people working together to create a publication in Paradise for young artists and writers in the area. And in its first four years Voice has quickly transformed from a crude high school newsletter to a full-color, glossy magazine that features work of local talent, as well as some of the biggest artists in fashion and comics.
Now with a dedicated staff in place and a new advertising plan in the works, the magazine is looking to expand its distribution from Paradise coffee shops down to Chico and beyond.
The concept of Voice Magazine began in 2001 with Youth on the Ridge, a nonprofit youth organization formed with the purpose of bringing adults and teens together through art. An eight-page Youth on the Ridge preview was released in June 2002. The first issue of Voice was published the following October and featured artwork, articles and poetry from local youth.
Sandwiched between colorful illustrations is poetry, interviews with artists and musicians and general musings from young writers in Paradise. Each issue—it comes out quarterly—touches on a different topic, such as drug use, popularity and war.
Putting the magazine together was difficult in the early days—with volunteers meeting at local coffee shops and doing all of the work on four laptops.
“Before, we were doing it guerrilla-style,” joked Dan Seward, who serves as Voice’s adviser and contributes his own comic Oggy’s Army to some of the issues.
Seward is definitely the most outspoken member of the staff, which also extends to a revolving “sub-staff” made up of local youth who contribute to each issue. The 30-year-old Paradise High School graduate attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco before moving back to Paradise to help out with the magazine’s layout.
Seward may have a few years on some of the other staffers, but he explains that the point of Voice is to use the medium of art and expression to bridge the gap between youth and adults.
“The whole idea is you take a 13-year-old and a 25-year-old, you set them down and they play Legos together.”
The philosophy seems to work. Major players in Paradise soon got behind the project, including Town Manager Chuck Rough and the Paradise Unified School District’s head of Prevention Services, Jacky Hoiland, who offered guidance and advice on writing grant proposals. The Paradise Town Council donated a space right next door to Town Hall to serve as a second home to the staff and the countless contributors who range in age from 12 to 30.
And even with a sizeable group of contributors, staff members continue to seek local artists and writers.
“Some of the best artists are just sitting in the corner of their room,” Seward says, but notes that it is also common now for kids to approach the staff looking to contribute.
Voice Magazine is a professional product—with stunning reproduction that rivals some of the best graphic novels in the comic book business. A grant from a San Francisco-based foundation allowed the magazine to go full-color in 2004.
The Voice has featured such big names as Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada and New York artist Celia Calle, who has worked for Calvin Klein and MTV. The artists were interviewed about their jobs and also contributed artwork to the magazine.
Art Director Daniel Vera said he believes that because of the purity of Voice’s mission—to give young people a creative voice on important topics—artists and musicians will naturally want to contribute to the magazine in the future.
“This is a new day where people realize that you have to help in your own community,” Vera said.
The Sept. 1 issue will concentrate on the topic of war and they’re already looking ahead to the next one due out in November called “dreams.”
The Voice staff is looking to expand distribution to Chico and Oroville and grow its stable of young artists and writers. Staff will also seek advertising for the first time, which should allow the magazine to double in size from its current 32 pages.
The staff is also planning a second Broken Strings concert in Paradise, which last year drew about 200 people and featured artists including MTV mainstream rockers Switchfoot and Chico export Marty James and his project One Block Radius.
The young writers and artists believe that if they just keep doing what comes natural, big things will happen.
“It’s got a really good feeling to it, man,” Seward said with a smile. “We’ll see what happens.”