The Next Step Of Comics Journalism With ‘Symbolia’

By Danica Davidson

Comics journalism has been gaining ground in recent years, and Erin Polgreen is tapping this with the December 3 launch of her new magazine, Symbolia, which she cofounded with Joyce Rice. Available on the iPad, via PDF subscription, and in ebook form, Symbolia uses the graphic format to give people informative, interesting and thought-provoking nonfiction pieces. Polgreen is also using Symbolia as a new way to put the spotlight on talented graphic novelists, especially female ones, as the magazine works to have half of all its contributors be women. MTV Geek spoke with Polgreen to learn more about the launch, what types of stories people can expect, and what she hopes the future will hold for the magazine.

MTV Geek: What is Symbolia?

Erin Polgreen: Symbolia is a tablet-based magazine that merges the best of comics culture with the best of journalism and nonfiction storytelling from around the world. It is something I’m super passionate about. I’ve worked in journalism for a long time, and I’ve seen it can be a little stale. It’s still very text-heavy. I see a huge opportunity in bringing comics to the news market. Symbolia is a way to tell stories in a very fresh way that doesn’t talk down to readers.

Geek: What sort of stories are you going to be covering?

Polgreen: Our preview issue is double-sized and has five different stories. We cover everything from science to music to broad features on global issues. To hone in on that a little bit more, one of our articles is a feature on a Zambian rock band that was really big in the 1970s and is seeing a resurgence. Reporter Chris A. Smith was able to go to Zambia and speak with one of the frontmen from the band. Another piece by Susie Cagle looks at the ticking time bomb of the Salton Sea in Southern California. It’s a place that, in the next decade, is going to become uninhabitable unless major efforts are undertaken to desalinate the water and preserve the species that live there. It’s a really beautiful look at the kinds of people who live in a place like the Salton Sea and the kinds of species that are dependant on the Salton Sea, and what will happen if changes don’t take place.

Geek: What sort of audience are you shooting for?

Polgreen: I’m aiming for an intersection of comics nerds, people who love great stories, and technology folks. We’re gearing toward a younger audience. The stories are heartfelt and in-depth, but we aren’t trying to teach lessons here. Symbolia isn’t a new version of Goofus and Gallant.

Geek: How often are new issues coming out?

Polgreen: New issues come out every other month. So the next issue is set to go live in February. That’s the schedule for our first year, and we’re hoping to grow to be monthly or even more frequent than that, depending on subscription growth. Our preview issue will be free, and subscription for one year is $11.99. Single issues will go for $2.99 a piece.

Geek: You’re using this as a vehicle to support women in comics. How are you going to do that?

Polgreen: Absolutely. I’ve been running this Tumblr called Graphic Ladies for a long time, featuring women who are making comics. Part of my goal with Symbolia is to have 50% gender parity across the board with contributors. We’re a woman-led company. My cofounder, Joyce Rice, is the creative director and she’s very strongly involved with the comics community here in Chicago. We’re hitting our gender parity goal very easily. There’s so much talent out there, and we want to show other organizations that there are great women making comics out there, and all you have to do is give them a job.

Geek: Can graphic novelists submit their own work?

Polgreen: We have a pitching process in which both journalists and comics artists can pitch to Symbolia. Folks can send me works they’ve already completed, but it will go through an editorial and fact-checking process before we place it in the magazine. Four of the five stories in our first issue came from pitches folks gave to me. We will also partner comics artists with journalists.

Geek: What do you want to accomplish with Symbolia that hasn’t been done before?

Polgreen: I really want to create a new way for people to experience the world around them. Comics are so great for creating an immersive environment. When I read a nonfiction comic, or a comic book-style memoir like Alison Bechdel’s work, I feel like I’m in that person’s shoes and interacting with the environment they’re in. I really hope Symbolia provides that for a new generation of consumers. It’s very immediate and fresh, but something that also makes comics more relevant and brings fine art to the form.

We are going to be releasing ebook editions of it, and there’s the signature iPad app. We want to make sure people can access Symbolia on multiple devices. I would love to put it out in print. If we reach our first year goal of three thousand subscribers, we can definitely talk about print products. We’re also thinking about membership strategies or what sort of behind-the-scenes treats we can offer folks in exchange for being part of our community, for being subscribers. So that could be anything from Google hangouts with the creators to maybe one-on-one training sessions with comics folks, like getting a critique on your work or learning how to craft comics journalism. I can’t wait to see what we can do with it.

Download Symbolia from the App Store: itunes.apple.com/us/app/symbolia-magazine/id553786080?ls=1&mt=8
For Symbolia’s non-interactive PDF subscription: http://symboliamag.bigcartel.com/product/pdf-subscription

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