Behind the news

Give me a visual

Serious graphic novels, like Maus or Persepolis, have proven that comics aren’t always funny. But what about graphic journalism? This fall, Symbolia, a bimonthly publication that blends reporting with illustrations, will launch on the iPad. Symbolia defines graphic journalism broadly: The first issue, entitled “How We Survive,” includes several hand-drawn comics, infographics, and animation. Symbolia has a multisensory aspect, too, with music clips and snippets from interviews accompanying several of the longer pieces.

“How We Survive” includes a long comic about environmental devastation in California’s Salton Sea, a dispatch from Iraqi Kurdistan, a profile of a Chinese microbiologist, and a relatively text-heavy piece about a psychedelic rock band in Zambia. Some of the contributors are graphic journalists, like Susie Cagle, who gained a following for her spot illustrations documenting Occupy Oakland. Other pieces required a reporter and an artist to collaborate. Everything in Symbolia is factchecked.

Symbolia’s founding editor and publisher, Erin Polgreen, is the former managing director of the Media Consortium and a comics lover. “When I was 13 or 14, I used to keep quarters in a pinch jar to buy comics with,” Polgreen recalls. She was able to start Symbolia through grants from the McCormick Foundation New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative and the International Women’s Media Foundation. (She did not submit either application in comic form.) Polgreen has said that at least 50 percent of contributors for each issue will be women. “The lack of women is an ongoing issue in both the journo and comics worlds, and this is a way to address it,” says Polgreen, who also runs a Tumblr called Graphic Ladies!?, a showcase of women’s work.

“How We Survive” will be available for free. After the launch issue, Symbolia will cost $11.99 for a year’s subscription and $2.99 per issue. Polgreen hopes, in time, to turn Symbolia into a monthly publication accessible on all tablet devices. “Starting as a bimonthly will give us time to respond to feedback,” she says.

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Jessica Weisberg is a freelance writer and on the editorial staff of The New Yorker.