ED. NOTE: For the holidays, Comic Riffs has decided to count down the comics-world elements and developments for which we’re most grateful. Because that lengthy list could carry us clear till the years-away debut of the next Spider-Man film — if not at least till the #SonyHack of the next Spider-Man film script — we’ve also decided to cull our list to “The 12 Days of Gratitude.” So consider this akin to the “12 Days of Christmas” song (though we vow in advance not to resort to “10 Star-Lords a-leaping” or “7 Curt Swans a-swimming,” lest we then stoop to “3 Renee French Hens”). So without further ado or to-do…
THE 12 DAYS OF GRATITUDE:
No. 9: The Nib’s impressive rookie year as a vibrant home for political cartoons and comics journalism. (Thanks, #Medium.)
THE DECADES-LONG decline has been well-documented. As newspapers cut back or shuttered, the staff political-cartooning perch began to go the way of the dodo. From a high mark in the hundreds, such jobs disappeared by the dozens. It became too easy. Some editors were content simply to run syndicated cartoons on their editorial pages (wire-service commentary may not cover local issues or add in-house personality to the paper, the thinking goes, but it also doesn’t seek pesky perks like, oh, health insurance or a 401[k].)
Into that regrettable ebb waded “the next generation”: Such gifted cartoonists as Jen Sorensen (who found a home with struggling alt-weeklies) or Nate Beeler, an American University grad who now excels at his hometown Columbus Dispatch — as well as comics journalist Susie Cagle, who, as the daughter of a political cartoonist, is a single-family symbol of this industry shift within one generation.
And then there is their colleague, Matt Bors, a Herblock Prize winner and Pulitzer finalist who grew up dreaming of a staff job. Stymied but realistic, he (like numerous peers) began to create his own opportunities. “There aren’t really full-time openings for cartoonist jobs,” Bors tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “You sort of have to apply for a job [that] an outlet doesn’t know they want yet.”
For more than a year, Bors has been both a creator and curator of topical comics and visual reporting at Medium’s recently launched offering, The Nib. And what a smart and provocative rookie season it’s been. Comic Riffs caught up with Bors to talk about Year One:
EVERY YEAR, Matt Bors seems to find smart and resourceful new ways to spotlight visual commentary on world events. Ever since he first took off for Afghanistan in 2010 (and later Haiti) to draw what he saw, what a whirlwind it’s been.
The Portland-based cartoonist has found syndication and viral audiences, has received national awards and publication crowd-funding, has won the praise of many of his peers and has emerged as one of the bright lights for the future of political cartooning.
Bors, though, is more than cartoonist; he is an advocate who assigned global comics at the site Cartoon Movement before being hired as editor of The Nib publication at Medium.com. As The Nib has grown as a “destination for all the types of comics I care about,” as Bors tells us, it also is pointing an inspiring way forward for the possible. From illustrated reportage to the recent Nib Calendar of Obscure Holidays, it is a period of innovation and experimentation — and a home for political satire so far free of North Korean reach.
To take a deeper look at The Nib’s first year, we asked Bors to reflect on 2014 — and peel back the curtain some on 2015:
MICHAEL CAVNA: Congrats on having recently marked your one-year anniversary since you launched The Nib, Matt. As you stop to take stock for a moment, is the site about where you’d thought it be – are you reaching your vision that had going in?
MATT BORS: I wanted to build a place that becomes a destination for all the types of comics I care about: political cartoons, comics journalism, humor, personal stories. It’s working out how I envisioned, but we’re still building up our voice. This is a publication I want to be around for a while, and there’s a lot to do.
MC: To back up to your pre-Nib life for a moment: You told me several years ago that your professional dream – or at least one professional dream – was to land a full-time staff position as a cartoonist for a news outlet. Instead of the old-school approach, you seemed very nimble at patching together comics journalism assignments and crowdfunding — and the occasional graphic novel — with your syndicated work, in order to make this all work. That all led you to your full-time paid cartooning gig. Could you reflect for a moment on whether this path all makes sense now – looking back on it – or whether it just felt like gravitating randomly toward wherever the work was – hoping that proverbial door might open?…
MB: I had been doing comics editing for years, first at Cartoon Movement and then for the now-defunct NSFWCorp magazine. Establishing a full-fledged comics publication has always been on my mind as something I’d like to do and I had the opportunity to pitch one when Medium started launching them on the platform in 2013. There aren’t really full-time openings for cartoonist jobs — you sort of have to apply for a job [that] an outlet doesn’t know they want yet.
MC: Do you think you’ve blazed a bit of a trail for other cartoonists to follow – as countless creators have tried to figure out how to make the diminishment-of-print-jobs era work for them?
MB: I don’t know if I blazed a path of any sort, but I do think there’s a lot of money floating around right now in media, and cartoonists can get paid work. It’s a very different situation than 2009, which was a dark time I thought we might never come out of — print publications were folding and websites weren’t paying much. Now there are new, well-funded media outlets popping up every week, it seems. There are opportunities out there for cartoonists with some skill and hustle. You don’t really see the old model of a five-day-a-week editorial cartoonist carrying over. That’s over and dead.
MC: You have built one whale of a lineup in a year – from great, adaptive “old media” stars like Liza Donnelly and Tom Tomorrow to, recently, British cartoonist Gemma Correll. … Sorensen! McFadden! Pequin, et al.! What has been your guiding principles as you’ve handpicked your roster of regular talent? How have you assembled this team?
MB: I’m looking to publish an array work from people doing really solid, cutting, funny comics week after week. One thing I like is getting really creative cartoonists and letting them do something outside of their normal weekly strip or whatever it is they’re locked into. We have an infinite canvas. For the weekly lineup, it’s mostly established print and web cartoonists, but we’re also publishing things by people who don’t have a huge following and aren’t well-known. On Medium, they’ve built this thing so you can do a lot of interesting things with comics, like panels that scroll over background images and having panels rearrange to be vertical on a phone.
We’re trying to work with more people who make good use of the platform and want to break out of the typical mold of an A4 page and do more vertically scrolling comics, or things designed for mobile first.
MC: In 2013, you went into this with high hopes. Do you feel that the Medium is as supportive as ever of what you’re doing, journalistically and financially?
MB: Absolutely. The Nib is one of the most-read publications on Medium, and they’ve been incredibly supportive about giving me the resources I need to make it work.
MC: Share with us, if you will, some of the most important, or surprising, things you’ve learned one-plus-year into the gig?
MB: It was a lot of work and needed to pull some other people in to help me run something of this size or I was going to burn out. I’ve now got Eleri Harris as associate editor and more recently Matt Lubchansky as editorial assistant. They both work part time for me in addition to providing comics for the section, and I couldn’t wrangle this many cartoonists without them.
MC: What have been some of the Nib’s most viral comics over the past  months?
MB: Some of our most popular pieces have been very personal pieces dealing with pretty dark subject matter. Erika Moen’s comic on suicidal depression resonated with a lot of people, as did “Trigger Warning: Breakfast,” an anonymously authored piece about rape. J.J.’s McCullough’s takedown of Boomer icons was one of our first long pieces that still gets around. Susie Cagle did a piece on the tech boom in San Francisco that really took off and earned her an ONA award.
MC: What are your personal metrics for measuring the Nib’s success?
MB: Building a readership and publishing work that is vital and relevant and interesting and hilarious that people take notice of. I think we’re doing all right so far.
THE 12 DAYS OF GRATITUDE: