Cagle’s piece about California’s Salton Sea is far more data-heavy. She provides dense captions to her illustrations, such as: “For much of the last millenium, the Salton Sea was more than 20 times larger than it was today” or “After many years of modest growth, Salton City’s population nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2010.” Her piece includes an annotated map of the region, a spread of the different species of birds found in California’s wetlands, and a line graph of Salton Sea’s salinity over time — the water will be inhospitable to sea life within the next five years. “The 2017 deadline doesn’t seem so close until you are seaside, breathing the thick, rotting air as a haze settles over hundreds of lunching pelicans,” Cagle writes in the final caption over a drawing of Salton’s shore. Cagle’s illustrations are subtler than a traditional cartoon. Her depiction of Salton is neither eerily utopic nor nightmarish. Her drawings capture what people of Salton City look like — their simple, colorful clothes have a low-pressure, vacation-community feel, but their worried expressions suggest otherwise. She relies on quotes to capture the superficial pleasures of affordable, seaside living and uses statistics to show that life there will not continue as is for much longer.

Cagle’s piece strikes an unusual balance of wonky and personal: the graphs are hand-drawn in black ink; the captions are informative but sincere. This aesthetic is common throughout the first issue. “Reading Symbolia digitally will already be a very technically novel experience, so we wanted to incorporate a more hand-crafted feel to make it more personal,” said Joyce Rice, Symbolia’s creative director. To create this handcrafted feel, Rice chose a background texture that mimicked newsprint, a blocky font for the headlines, and watercolor splashes.

Rice’s goals for Symbolia are larger than the publication. “I hope we’re able to raise visibility for this form of storytelling, increase the demand for illustration in publishing, and create jobs for the fantastic illustrators and journalists we’ve had the pleasure of working with,” Rice said. Symbolia offers a new form of visual storytelling. It’s stylish and engaging; its sensibility is vintage but tech-savvy. Symbolia seems timely and contemporary. But the economics of graphic journalism aren’t timely at all. Producing high quality, hand-drawn illustrations is time-consuming and expensive and most news organizations are working with fast deadlines and low budgets.

“How We Survive”; is free, but later issues will cost $2.99. (It’s $11.99 for a yearlong subscription.) Polgreen is working on Symbolia’s business model — she is appealing to advertisers and launching a KickStarter Campaign. She hopes, in time, to turn Symbolia into a monthly publication. “Starting as a bimonthly will give us time to respond to feedback,” she said.

Joyce Rice


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