The Portland, Ore.-based Bors, a past Pulitzer finalist, not only creates comics reportage himself, but as the founder of the recently relaunched site the Nib, he also commissions visual assignments, such as Glidden’s recent longform comic on Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. And that work precedes next month’s publication of Glidden’s book of hot-zone comics, “Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches From Turkey, Syria and Iraq” (Drawn and Quarterly).
Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s SPX panel with Glidden (“How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less”) and Sacco (“Palestine,” “Footnotes in Gaza”), Comic Riffs caught up with Bors to talk about sociopolitical comics, cartooning in a social-media age — and the perils of satirizing candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
MICHAEL CAVNA: So what can we expect to hear, learn and appreciate from your panel with Sacco and Glidden?
MATT BORS: I want to talk to them about what they do best: They’re two of the top nonfiction cartoonists, and they both focus on large, book-length works. Doing this type of work requires a skill set on top of your average cartoonist: reporting, traveling, transcribing, fact-checking. I want to dig into their process a bit for people who might not understand what all goes into this kind of work.
MC: Could you talk about Sarah’s recent Jill Stein comic, “Spoiler“? What was your approach editorially to that … and what was the response like?
MB: We wanted to do something with comics on the level of a good magazine profile. You see short nonfiction comics and longform graphic novels, but you don’t really see this kind of piece very often. We wanted to make a statement that we don’t just do political cartoons — that we do ambitious journalism, as well, and it can stand next to work from “words people.” A profile of Jill Stein was one of the first ideas we had for a larger piece — this was four or five months ago at this point, and she had very little press coverage — and Sarah Glidden was our first choice of cartoonist to work with.
It was a months-long effort to pull something like this together, and Sarah traveled from Washington to Massachusetts to California in reporting this piece. The response was great. We followed this up with some illustrated feedback from readers — basically, letters to the editor that we draw — and we’re going to be experimenting with more things like that and larger journalistic pieces when it seems right.
MC: What’s the state of the Nib now? And are there fresh and creative revenue streams to support it?
MB: We left Medium last summer and officially relaunched under First Look Media in July, but we’ve been working with them since January — on the building of the site and commissioning work in anticipation of the relaunch. Comics and websites both take some time to create, it seems.
The Nibmoji we launched [this week] and the Calendar of Obscure Holidays we’re dropping at SPX are our first offerings that will generate revenue. Got to pay the bills, so we’re trying some nontraditional things and some pretty straightforward, old-school things. I put out a book in the period between Medium and First Look.
It’s kind of a weird time to be in media, or new media as it is inventively called. What with the advertising industry turned on its head, the shift to social platforms and rich scum actively trying to destroy news outlets with lawsuits. Believe it or not, I’m going to hit you with something deep here: Comics will survive all this. People actually want to read good stuff, and media outlets are becoming more and more similar and desperate in the content they churn out. I don’t know why most of them never figured out comics were a thing, but that’s on them now.
MC: As a political cartoonist yourself, has this been an exceptionally rich year for campaign satire? And is the absurdity and surrealism and sheer vitriol, with these two players, good or bad for business?
MB: Everyone says it’s great, and sometimes it is, but it’s also exhausting. I did a comic (“Material Boy“) about being a political cartoonist and everyone always saying, “Wow, lots of material this year, huh?” Sure, Trump’s been a gift to satirists, but it stops being funny the longer this goes on. Every day it’s something new — taco trucks, whatever lie or tweet he just made — I mean, you can barely keep up.
I think it’s all pretty exhausting and has had a corrosive effect on our politics. I don’t think Hillary wins in November and we all just go back to normal now. The new normal is sharing memes with lines and circles drawn on Hillary’s face proving she uses a body double. All this, the over-the-top hatred of Hillary, the constant focus on each new outrage of Trump, distracts from the very real problems with Hillary Clinton that seem to get pushed aside with the larger looming threat of Trump.
Note: Small Press Expo 2016 will be Saturday and Sunday at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.