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Closing the Lid on the Inkwell

The Nib created space for comics journalism and satire that was radical and inventive.

By Entertainment, Featured, Literature

Pink hands hold a ink bottle and nib pen. The hands are closing the ink bottle. Yellow text overlays the image that says, "End of the the Nib" in all caps.

Illustration by Allen Ye.

After 10 years of publishing, comics-journalism publication The Nib has shut down.

The Nib’s comics ranged from personal essays, objective journalism, and explainer comics; to bitter, funny, angry, and sardonic editorials. Founded in 2013 by editorial cartoonist Matt Bors, The Nib was originally serialized on the online platform Medium. Then it jumped from home to home, leaving Medium, and joining a partnership with First Look Media in 2016.

In 2018, The Nib magazine launched, serializing the comics in a quarterly print edition. And in 2019, The Nib began forging their own path after First Look Media decided to stop funding publication. For the past few years, The Nib has been funded through the Inkwell, a subscription service to allow readers of The Nib to directly contribute to the publication.

In May 2023, Bors, Editor and Publisher at The Nib, issued a statement about the publication’s imminent closure. The forthcoming “Future Issue” would be the last issue of The Nib. They would continue daily web publication through August, and then they would shut down by September.

Bors further explained, “This was an incredibly hard decision to make and there’s no one factor involved. Rather it involves, well, everything. 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.”

I first learned about The Nib in September of 2020 during my sophomore year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from Anya Davidson (lecturer, painting and drawing), who teaches SAIC’s class on graphic journalism. She introduced us to the different forms comics and journalism could take, and she frequently used examples from The Nib as class readings. I became hooked almost instantly.

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve read The Nib religiously. I’ve cited them as a great example of “editorial” cartooning on all fronts. As a student, I’ve learned a lot from the comics made by a variety of Nib contributors. As an editor, I’ve sent my contributors to look at their work for reference. As a teacher, I’ve pulled them up in class. As a reader, I’ve enjoyed their content daily. As an artist, I respected the artists and the content they put out immensely.

I’m on the precipice of graduating college and stepping out into the “real” world, and things aren’t looking good for cartoonists. The Nib’s closure feels like an indicator of a larger problem for cartoonists, both in alternative and mainstream publishing spaces. In mainstream newspapers and newspaper syndicates, editorial cartoonists are being let go across the country. Staff cartoonist positions are not being refilled, rather slashed altogether. The mainstream newspaper landscape is finding less room for biting political comics. Meanwhile, the alternative press, in which The Nib existed in, is finding fewer resources to stay afloat. As student journalists, we’re told that journalism is important, that editorial cartoons are a necessary sass to keep those in power in check. But as the publishing industry’s margins get tighter and tighter, moving forward feels like crawling through a swamp you’re drowning in.

I spent four years studying a subject I have cared about for most of my life, and there’s no money in it. I have sunk copious amounts of freetime sharpening my comics skills, creating publications, printing them, organizing them, distributing them, and making them on every level. I know this work is worthwhile, but the closer I’ve gotten to leaving school, the more I feel like I’m about to jump off a cliff.

Thank you to The Nib for everything they brought us over ten years. I’m going to miss the emails in my inbox. I’m going to miss the snappy comics that made me feel less alone, the comics journalism that highlighted issues I hadn’t heard of before, and everything that made me laugh, cry, smile, and feel. I feel too young to be this tired. But, perhaps, it’s time to look to the future.

When looking to the future of comics journalism, Davidson shared, “We’re hungry for connection. Comics journalism provides that in a very tangible way. I hope the medium continues to get more institutional recognition and with it, more funding. I hope for more journalism nonprofits to embrace comics journalism, and I hope for a dozen more outlets to spring up in The Nib’s place. The Nib gave us 10 years of world-class comics journalism. That work will exist long after The Nib itself is gone. That’s a phenomenal achievement.”

The last issue of The Nib, “The Future Issue,” came out this summer. You can still purchase a copy of “The Future Issue,” download .pdfs of previous issues of The Nib for free, and read their past content on The Nib’s website: thenib.com

Teddie Bernard (BFA 2023) is a multimedia artist and cartoonist who has never had a Pepsi. Find more of their work at www.teddiebernard.net.
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