Behind the scenes: Recens Paper

by Steve Watson in May 2015
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I read Steven Heller’s brilliant Merz to Emigré and Beyond recently, and ever since I’ve been on the lookout for magazines that might claim to be creating their own 21st-century avant-garde.

So I was excited to receive a copy of Recens Paper a couple of weeks ago; headed up by 15-year-old editor-in-chief and creative director Elise By Olsen, and staffed almost entirely by contributors in their teens and early 20s, it’s an open rejection of the expectations placed on young people today. I contacted Elise at home in Oslo to find out more.


Let’s start at the beginning. How did you become a magazine maker at 15?
I started a blog network in 2013 called Archetype, which provided young bloggers with a platform here in Scandinavia. I wanted to take it to the next level so I asked the others if they’d make a magazine with me but they said no, because it was a big responsibility and we were all only 12 or 13 years old at the time.

But I decided to start my own thing anyway. We didn’t have any graphic designers or journalists, but we made something and and we printed it. People said it was charming but it was really only half done, so we started again, and we spent a year and a half rebranding and rethinking the whole thing.

I partnered up with a really amazing graphic designer – he’s 33, so there’s kind of an age difference, which is a lot of fun. We like to say it’s a collaboration between generations, which sounds a bit clichéd, but it’s nice too.


Back when you were running the blog network, what made you want to go into print?
I think it was the lack of similar magazines. I wanted to fill a hole in the magazine industry here in Scandinavia, because we have so many materialistic and superficial magazines that focus on the really minimal Scandinavian style, and I was tired of that. And I also wanted to make something that was by and for the youth.

You list the ages of your staff on the masthead, and they’re almost all in their teens and early 20s. Why is it important for you to be making a magazine with young people, and why is it important that the reader knows their ages?
I think it makes it easier to communicate our vision from young people and to young people. I’m more likely to listen to advice if it comes from somebody my own age, instead of my parents’ age. I guess teenagers have always been like that, not listening to their parents and doing the complete opposite of what they say, but young people can have such a big impact on each other.

And I also wanted to avoid the established journalists and photographers, because I want to experiment with the magazine, and communicate the fact that we’re really trying to do something different.


Would you mind me asking how you managed to pay for it?
The first issue was just my own pocket money – my own savings from my birthdays since I was small. I spent it all on making a magazine, which is unexpected, I guess.

We also had two ads in the first issue. I know now how hard it is to get advertising, but we managed to get a couple of thousand Norwegian kroner, I guess like £100, so not a lot at all.

We financed the second issue through Kickstarter and we also have four ads in there, but it’s not perfect – there are lots of costs and not that much money coming in at the moment, but I hope that will change. We launched in Norway last Thursday, and it’s already sold out in two places.


What do your friends think to all this? Do they think you’re crazy finishing school at the end of the day and then going and sitting in an office?
That’s a good question! Some of them think it’s exciting but some of them don’t get it. I don’t really talk that much about it at school, because I’m the kind of student who works really hard in class and then after class I just leave, so nobody sees me! I’ve made a lot of friends through the project, though, because the contributors are my age and we like to hang out. It’s a big friendship network.

So what’s the plan for you? Because you’re going to grow up – are you going to stop Recens when you hit 21?
Ha! I’ve been thinking about it a little but it feels kind of distant for me now. One thing that could be really fun is to have an even younger editor take over from me when I’m 21 or whatever. Maybe I’ll hire a 10-year-old editor!

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