Saturday, December 9, 2023.
Home Entertainment An era ends: How the Nib lifted the art of political comics...

An era ends: How the Nib lifted the art of political comics journalism


Matt Bors was a creatively hungry 29-year-old cartoonist with energy to burn and a vision to fill a journalistic void. The popularity of nonfiction comics and graphic novels was soaring in 2013, yet many news outlets were cutting back on their topical cartoons.

Bors’s dream concept, a daily one-stop shop for socially engaged comics and illustrated reporting called the Nib, launched online 10 years ago next week. Ever since, the site has published an impressive blend of comics journalism and political cartoons, expanding into animated shorts and a print magazine. The Nib gained thousands of paying supporters and across its lifetime paid about $2 million total to contributors, according to Bors.

On Sept. 1, all that will end. The Nib will be no more.

The Nib’s decade as a leading voice in alternative media reflects the strengths and struggles of many such media outlets in the 2010s — a decade of high but volatile traffic and business turbulence. The pressures on the Nib involved “well, everything,” Bors wrote in May in announcing the outlet’s shuttering. “The rising costs of paper and postage, the changing landscape of social media, subscription exhaustion, inflation, and the simple difficulty of keeping a small independent publishing project alive with relatively few resources — though we did a lot with them. The math isn’t working anymore.”

Bors, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the outlet’s only remaining full-time staff member, said he wanted the Nib to exit in a manner that honors its history of aiming to get cartoonists paid well, while maintaining editorial quality online and in print. (As it closes, the Nib recently published its 15th and final magazine issue, during the same summer that the outlet won an Eisner Award for best anthology.)

“I just wanted to go out with some dignity,” Bors said.

Matt Bors becomes the first alt-cartoonist to win the Herblock Prize

So much has changed since 2013: The former Portland, Ore., alternative-comics artist is now a 39-year-old father of two based in Ontario who says he is “creatively fulfilled” with what the Nib accomplished.

“I feel lucky I kept it going this long,” Bors said by phone, noting that the Nib was on its “third life span” after its initial stint funded by Medium and a second phase partnering with First Look Media before going independent in 2019.

“We lost major funding twice and almost shut down amid layoffs,” Bors said. “Just keeping the thing going and navigating rapidly changing media companies and social media has been the major issue the whole time. The Nib has had a lot of success, but it has always been pretty close to not existing.”

Much of what motivated Bors was the Nib’s unique perch. No other news outlet commissioned such a daily array of nonfiction comics storytelling and editorial cartoons, including memoirs and essays. Pulitzer finalists who lacked full-time staff jobs were featured next to young talent seeking their first major platform.

“One of the reasons the Nib could even exist is because there weren’t enough outlets running comics” or hiring staff cartoonists, Bors said. “If there were, I wouldn’t have been able to get all these people — that was one of the reasons to organize things under the umbrella of a website.” (The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has estimated there are fewer than three-dozen full-time U.S. staff newspaper jobs for political cartoonists.)

The Nib published more than 6,000 comics, with its roster including such syndicated stars as Jen Sorensen, Ruben Bolling and Tom Tomorrow, all of whom are Herblock Prize winners.

Those comics “offered contemporary political perspectives that are not well represented elsewhere. I got the sense that many readers found my work there for the first time,” Sorensen told The Washington Post, adding: “The Nib’s loss will be felt all the more acutely since major outlets are increasingly eliminating political cartoons and limiting the scope of what they publish.”

And Bolling praised the commitment of its founder: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist I know work as relentlessly and sacrifice as much as Matt did, through at least three iterations of the Nib, to make a project work for the benefit of comics creators and readers.”

The outlet also published 2023 Pulitzer finalist Pia Guerra, the graphic novelist who turned to editorial cartooning in response to the political rise of Donald Trump. “I’ll always be grateful for the chance they gave a noob like myself to pivot into a whole new genre of illustration just because I was mad at what I was seeing on the news,” Guerra said.

The Nib was also able to send cartoonists on memorable reporting trips: Sophie Yanow headed to North Dakota to create the comic “Gathering of the Tribes: The Pipeline Protest at Standing Rock,” and Andrew Greenstone trekked to the California desert for “Welcome to the Wasteland,” a comic spotlighting a post-apocalyptic lifestyle festival.

Some of the Nib’s most politically potent work, Bors said, included an illustrated narrative about the separation of migrant families during the Trump administration, reported by Ryan Devereaux of the Intercept and drawn by Kate Wheeler. Working with investigative reporters, he said, showed that nonfiction comics could be on par with serious magazine writing.

The outlet’s work often commented on — and sometimes defined — larger conversations on social media. It published comics by Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie, including his 2017 piece “Rest in Peace, Pepe” that killed off his slacker amphibian after the character was “hijacked by the alt-right.”

Pepe the Frog’s creator kills his frog to try to fight a hate-filled meme

Bors pointed out that the Nib was born out of the high interest in the 2010s from tech and media companies backing such creative online ventures — which became an era of high traffic. “Back in the early days of the Nib, it would be pretty common to get at least 1 million readers on comics,” Bors said, including Ron Wimberly’s 2015 piece about subtle racism in comic books titled “Lighten Up,” or “Trigger Warning: Breakfast,” a 2014 comic in which an anonymous rape survivor describes their struggle to make sense of the assault.

“Those kinds of numbers dwindled by the end of the decade, as social media algorithms shifted majorly against news and outside links,” Bors said. “But when we were doing Nib animations from 2017 to 2018, we would get millions of views on that work online until, once again, social media pivoted away from video before pivoting back some time later.”

Bors said his focus on the magazine (each issue had print runs of about 8,000) and on the thousands of paying supporters — dubbed the Inkwell — is what kept the Nib going in recent years. He viewed those elements as more crucial than “fly-by viral traffic.”

The Nib’s final magazine issue, centered on the theme of “the future,” received a print run of more than 10,000 copies this summer “because everyone started buying it right when we announced we were closing,” he said.

Bors sounded at peace with his decade helming the Nib: “We’ve done more than I ever could’ve imagined, and — I won’t be modest — I had high ambitions for the Nib as a daily website and print magazine.” Someday, perhaps, he’ll consider dusting off the Nib’s name for a one-shot anthology. Yet he’s ready to move on to other projects.

He has his dystopian-satire comics, titled “Justice Warriors,” to create with collaborator Ben Clarkson. He is also interested in creating creator-owned genre comics, mainstream comics and perhaps a graphic novel down the road.

The Nib is folding up shop, but Bors makes it clear: “I will simply make comics until I die.”

POST AUTHOR: Michael Cavna

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here