The Oral History of The Nib Magazine

Matt Lubchansky (Associate Editor): In early 2015, when The Nib was still funded by a certain Silicon Valley publisher and platform that I won’t name here, we had a weeklong meeting in New York. I remember Matt Bors showing up with this monstrous stack of fancy magazines and print quarterlies. He told me and Eleri Harris that we were going to make one.

Eleri Harris (Deputy Editor): I’ve been working with Matt Bors at The Nib since May 2014 and I’m 100% sure he’s been talking about a making a magazine that entire time.

Matt Bors (Editor-in-chief): I’ve always loved print, both for comics and writing, and wanted to run my own publication — and that’s what The Nib was. In recent years though I’d been subscribing to an inordinate number of magazines and snapping up the nicely designed ones wherever I saw them, really pouring over how they each approached things differently and turning it over in my head how it all could be applied to comics.

Matt Lubchansky: After we re-launched in 2016, things were looking brighter. In January of this year, Bors had us all out to his and Eleri’s office in Portland for our first Nib Summit. First order of business: The Nib magazine. Bors now had an even more ENORMOUS collection of print quarterlies to show off.

Eleri Harris: Over the week, we talked to a bunch of people who make magazines to pick their brains, the team at Anxy and In These Times, Kate Lesniak from Bitch Media. At the summit we landed on some of the specifics for the Inkwell membership program, but also we brainstormed 50 different theme ideas for the first four issues.

Sarah Mirk (Editor/Writer): I forget who first suggested “death” but once the word was in the room, “death” immediately brought up a lot of good, interesting, concrete ideas (goths! psychics! climate change! sky burial!). We were all a little nervous about launching a magazine with a death theme — it might be savvier, from a marketing perspective, to not try to win subscribers with the catchy reminder that we’re all going to die.

Mark Kaufman (Designer): I’ve been working with The Nib since 2013 on a wide range of projects. Five years of writing and drawing comics, doing illustration, churning out concepts and pitching ideas, live drawing during the Presidential debates, working on Nib animation projects, hand lettering and font design. Whether it was comics, illustration or design, I said yes.

When the idea of a magazine came up it was simply a natural progression of the growth of The Nib as a cultural force in a media landscape where there is rarely good news. Who wouldn’t say yes?

Eleri Harris: One of the benefits of making a magazine after publishing for years online is that we have A LOT of experience in dealing with changing lineups and thinking on our feet as a team to rework what we have.

Andy Warner (Editor/Cartoonist): Two features that I was really excited about ended up not working out. One was a visit to a body farm, where forensic pathologists study the decomposition of the bodies of people who donate their remains. The other was a gonzo take on a real-life vampire ball in Las Vegas, with our correspondent getting fangs put in by the best fang installer in Los Angeles. Both seemed promising, but fizzled out because of access.

Matt Bors: We were slotting feature stories in and out for a while. Ted Closson had pitched a moving piece about the death of his child, but then had doubts about wanting to revisit that event for a story. We felt uncomfortable pushing him to do it. We talked on and off about the piece for months, and he ultimately came to a place where he wanted to tell this story publicly.

Mark Kaufman: Once I was on board, I flew up to The Nib headquarters in Portland, Oregon, to meet with the editorial team. Here’s where I knew I made the right decision. We spent a couple of days just talking. Talking about design and comics and printing techniques, paper, typography and bindery options, how we would transition from digital to print and back again. We talked about how we would try to create something that doesn’t exist.

Matt Bors: Everyone was contributing the magazine with their own pieces, but I didn’t really feel the need to have my own comics in the first issue. With almost everything assigned, I was really trying to figure out how to get an interview into each issue and what that would look like as a recurring feature. When I saw an author I admire, Barbara Ehrenreich, released a book about death, it all clicked. I decided to do the interview myself without any time to spare before delivering the issue to the printer.

Andy Warner: My own piece was fun to report because life extension technology has always had a special fascination for me. Too much sci-fi, I guess. So it makes sense that the most utopian obsessed dystopia, Silicon Valley, would be going full tilt for it. I love reporting on ongoing science, too, since you can revisit the topic later, and see how the dreams, experiments and hubris all played out.

Kjerstin Johnson (Copyeditor): The magazine had been totally proofed. There was just one remaining page — Matt’s letter from the editor. Matt and I went back and forth for probably 45 minutes about whether it should lead with “I wanted to make a magazine before I died” or “I wanted to make a magazine before I die,” each offering up sample sentences that grew increasingly absurd as we each tried to argue our preference. It pains me to even bring the line to your attention now, but once again, I deferred to the editor’s wishes.

Matt Lubchansky: We (somewhat ambitiously!) said we’d have the first issue for the Small Press Expo in mid-September. Eight months to decide on a theme, get pitches, assign out stories, edit, design a whole new publication, plan and run a Kickstarter, and get the thing printed. We hit it by about a week and we’ve finally got something worthy of Bors’ big stack of fancy mags.

Matt Bors: People were commenting on the smell of the magazine a lot. It was fresh ink and binding glue, just sublime from my point of view. We set up at SPX with the table filled with 150 copies straight from the printer and the smell was just wafting off the piles. People would walk by and you’d see their faces say “wow” as they got hit with that fresh comics smell.

Eleri Harris: The Kickstarter showed how much support we have both from our contributors and our readers. Reaching out to artists we regularly publish for their involvement in setting up rewards was honestly incredibly heartwarming, so many people offered things above and beyond what we hoped. Then following that up with meeting the target in 12 hours?! Amazing. We never dreamed we’d see such enthusiasm for this project, it’s really reassuring! It’s like, oh this is definitely something our readers want to have, not just something we want to make.

Subscriptions to The Nib magazine are available through the site’s membership program, The Inkwell. The Death issue is available as a back issue here.