Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Entry 69: The Nib

Today’s post is pretty different than the kind of thing I usually do. Almost all Webcomics Worth Wreading entries fall into one of two categories:

  1. An entry about a specific, ongoing comic (most common)
  2. An entry about a specific cartoonist (very occasional)

Today I’m going to talk about neither of those things. Today I’m talking about the work of an editorial team, bringing together the skills of many individual cartoonists to create many individual comics, all collected together online to be perused at the reader’s leisure. Today is all about The Nib.

I first thought that The Nib would be something I might want to write about a while back. Shortly after I decided to put up a post about it, though, editor Matt Bors made an announcement that The Nib would be undergoing significant changes. A bunch of the people I’d come to know as regular contributors would no longer be, and I decided to wait and see what shape The Nib would settle into before writing about it.

And so now I’m writing about it, because I have a clear idea of how The Nib has settled into its new form and will continue major changes are happening and I have no idea how this is all going to turn out but I’m eager to spread the news about it right now.

It doesn’t make sense to discuss the current state of The Nib without providing some information on its origins and history, so here’s some background information:

The Nib began with Medium. Now, at present, I’m not at all certain that I know or understand what Medium is, but there was a time when I thought I understood it. At that time, I thought of Medium as a news website. I would occasionally read stories or op-eds on Medium regarding current events, like a newspaper, only online.

Above is an excerpt from Ronald Wimberly's "Lighten Up," a poignant microcosm of the erasure of non-white representation in media

That’s nothing new. There are tons of news websites out there. But one thing that set Medium apart was that it had its very own comics section, The Nib. Edited by Matt Bors, The Nib featured a variety of comics, some republished but many original. On the whole they tended toward the political, usually documenting or commenting on current events in some form, either through direct satire/observations, or discussion of a deeper and longer lasting social issue.

I started reading stuff on The Nib because cartoonists I already knew and liked were linking to their work there. If you poke around you’ll find there’s some definite overlap between people who’ve contributed to The Nib and people whose work I’ve featured on this blog. Outside of this post, I mean.

Matt Bors had a budget to pay contributors, and he used it to get some great talent into The Nib. There were names I recognized, from both the print and digital worlds, and many more names that I would never have known otherwise. I learned a lot from The Nib, encountered many nuanced and varied opinions, and had a whole lot of different emotional reactions to different comics.

I would never have expected to care about the Stanley Cup but this comic by Molly Brooks about its history is fascinating

The Nib kept its finger on the pulse of public discourse, through individual comics and artists but especially through their combined efforts. Some of my favorite things to appear on The Nib were collections of comics all pertaining to a relevant theme. The Response features some amazing insights into the nature of racial tensions in the US.

Less heart-wrenching than The Response, but still part of an important dialog, Whatever We Please brought together a variety of perspectives on femininity and womanhood, published on International Women’s Day. One of my favorite comics to come out of that collection is “Girl Talk” by Sophie Goldstein, which incorporates audio into its panels and which introduced me to the concept of vocal fry.

With short individual comics, with extended visual essays incorporated into larger stories, with familiar names and new ones, The Nib delighted me for about a year and a half before Matt Bors let it be known that things would not continue as they had been. He and the others on his editorial team, Eleri Harris and Matt Lubchansky (I wrote about Lubchansky’s comic Please Listen To Me recently), did some great work putting together a respectable Internet version of a newspaper comics section.

More recently, news came that Matt Bors is leaving Medium entirely. The Nib, he asserts, will continue, with the same editorial team who kept it going in its heyday, and I for one am excited to see what happens with it next.

For the moment, those who particularly enjoy the comics on The Nib, or who think they probably would enjoy those comics if they were printed on paper and bound together instead of presented in the form of colored lights on a screen, can contribute to this Kickstarter campaign to print a Nib collection. They’re not at goal yet, but it certainly looks achievable. You can support the work done on The Nib and preorder a cool book at the same time!

If you don’t have money to spend on books right now, or if you do have money to spend but choose not to spend it on this particular book, I’d still recommend you keep an eye on this Bors-Harris-Lubchansky trio to see what they do with The Nib in days to come. Whatever they come up with, I expect it to be insightful and engaging.

No pressure, guys.

In the meantime, feel free to poke around The Nib and read some great comics. Unfortunately, the archive navigability isn’t great. Some of the things I linked in this post I accessed by Googling for them because I wasn’t sure how to find them directly through The Nib. One way to get to comics is through this About page and clicking through to individual cartoonists’ profiles. That page seems to be incomplete, however. I couldn’t find Jon Rosenberg listed there, for instance.

So there’s a lot of cool stuff to read, but quite a lot of digging is necessary to find it all. If you’d rather just buy the book off Kickstarter, that’s totally an option too.

One more note I leave you: Many of Matt Bors’ own comics are featured on The Nib, and for the most part they’re great and I love them. However, he plays into one pet peeve of mine, and I’m going to take a moment to complain about it.

Several Matt Bors comics deal with Millennials, the challenges that we of my generation face and the stereotypes we’ve been saddled with. In a couple of places, this includes the old “everybody gets a trophy for everything” cliche, and, like everyone, Matt Bors seems to misunderstand the meaning that these ubiquitous trophies have for me and others my age. (Okay, for me. I can’t really speak to anyone else, and Bors isn’t even that much older than me so for all I know he got tons of trophies as a kid too.) A trophy for participation doesn’t teach a child “You deserve trophies all the time for everything.” It teaches a child “Trophies are meaningless and hold no value.”

So in the comic below, Panel 2 would better represent my attitude towards trophies if, instead of accepting his trophy with wide-eyed awe, the Millennial threw it over his shoulder with disinterest to where it would land on a pile of other trophies accumulating in his living space like so much junk.

I have opinions about participation trophies.

Barely-relevant tangent aside, The Nib did some great work and I hope to see more in the future. I’m not sure whether that thenib.com url will still be the best place to keep track of The Nib’s goings-on as things keep evolving, but you can always follow The Nib’s Twitter account if that’s a thing you do. Far too many people have contributed to The Nib for me to list them all, but the names to keep track of are still Matt Lubchansky, Eleri Harris, and Matt Bors. I don’t know what they’re up to, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Webcomics Worth Wreading Archive

1 comment:

  1. I jumped in on the Kickstarter early (one of the now-all-gone bonus levels) and was slightly worried when I saw it was $9,000 short of goal with 9 days left, but now it's $5,500 away from goal with 7 days left which is a pace that'll definitely send it over the top (I had also been concerned because most of the cool bonus levels were all-gone), And there's always a last-minute rush (since Kickstarter lets you get reminders 2 days before closing). Anyway, I intend to seriously cherish my Nib Book.

    I do remain worried about the likelihood Matt can find a place for this amazing resource that wouid be as good as Medium USED to be. (Another Ev Williams project going from awesome to awwwww. I'm friends with one of the people he laid off from Blogger right before he sold it to Google and I hold all the bitterness my friend doesn't toward that cheezy move)

    It's good to see a LOT of the Nib artists on GoComics, and Jen Sorenson heading up an 'op-ed cartoon' section at Fusion. And it is interesting to see Matt Lubchansky now writing some non-comic-stuff for The Toast (and a lot while Mallory Ortberg is on a mysterious vacation... I hope nothing awful happens to that great site - it would certainly mark Lub as a jinx if it did)

    I've seen a lot of great things on the Web that turned out to be too good for the Web. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and my Nibs up (does that sound dirty?).