On creating a fanzine for kids, by Cuistax’s Chloe Perarnau and Fanny Dreyer

Chloé (1983) and Fanny (1987) are Brussels-based illustrators who founded the capital’s first bilingual and micro-edition fanzine for children, Cuistax, in 2012. Their next issue will be coming out in the spring of 2018.

Photographer Thomas Ost (c).

We met at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Brussels, where we both studied illustration. After graduating in 2012, we continued drawing and working on projects together, supporting each other during the uneasy post-graduate phase of trying to set up our careers. We’d both had our fair share of commissioned work for several editors – usually French publishers of children’s books – but soon felt an itching to start something of our own. We noticed that asides from your mainstream, more corporate kids’ magazines published by large houses, there wasn’t anything undisputedly Bruxellois, something we could truly call our own. For one, there weren’t any bilingual publications for children, which we felt was a shame. So eventually, together with about a dozen fellow illustrators and friends, we decided to start the children’s fanzine Cuistax. We started off with a small budget, self-publishing a small print run of 100 copies. You could call this our dummy issue, which we presented during the month-long Colorama exhibition at Saint-Gilles’ Maison des Cultures.

We aim to go beyond stuffy pedagogics, stale stereotypes and condescending tones, and approach our little readers in a fun yet mature tone.

Right from the start, we wanted the practicality of small-scale publishing as well as the look and feel of an artisanal fanzine, without any of the limitations of monochromatic print. I mean, it is intended for children, after all. So, using a collection of illustrations we had already made, we opted for the technique of risograph printing which, thanks to the use of cartridges of block colour toners, allows for the production of bright and vivid booklets. Rather like silkscreen printing though, the machine can only print one colour at a time, which can be a bit of a challenge, since that means we constantly have to keep in mind the separation of colour layers. Additionally, more colours mean more costs, so we chose to stick to two or three distinctive colours, in relation to the issue’s specific theme. All in all, such a limited colour scheme allows us to aesthetically unify the diverse universes of our wide team of illustrators, all with their distinctive styles and backgrounds. We were pleasantly surprised by all the positive reactions we received at Colorama, which encouraged us to keep going. The magazine has since then evolved into a biannual, bilingual independent publication created by a mixed team of local illustrators and authors exclusively for Brussels’ youths. A collaborative effort between some absolutely fantastic artists, to whom we try to grant as much space and freedom to let their imaginations roam. In a weird way, Cuistax isn’t consciously intended for kids – it’s more a matter of us just doing what we like and staying true to our style. We aim to go beyond stuffy pedagogics, stale stereotypes and condescending tones, and approach our little readers in a fun yet mature tone. Of course, the content has to remain accessible and comprehensive to our young audience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to offer something “easy”. Some people think that publishing our stories in both French and Dutch is meant to be politically charged or educational, but that’s hardly the case. It’s just that bilingualism is an evident fact of life in Brussels, so why would we opt for one over the other? Perhaps, overall, there is an element of childhood nostalgia for us working on Cuistax.