The First Issue of The Nib’s Print Magazine Is a Beautifully Made Collection of Comics About Death

Since 2013, The Nib has been a leader in publishing political and non-fiction comics. Though aside from a 2015 print anthology, The Nib has stayed online — until now. October is the first month of The Nib‘s new print magazine, and, appropriately enough for the spoopiest of months, the theme of The Nib #1 is Death. But if you’re worrying that that might be an ironic harbinger of what’s to come for the magazine, if the quality is any indication, The Nib will be in print for a long time.

Physically, The Nib #1 is impressive. Even before you open the cover, the heavy paper, outstanding printing and die-cut cover lets you know that you’re in for something special. While perhaps not as innovative with the form as RAW was, The Nib #1 is perhaps more akin to the work coming from McSweeney‘s; not as ostentatious, no torn-and-retaped corners, but a professional clean design that’s still eye-catching.

But all that doesn’t matter if the content sucks. So, thankfully, the insides of The Nib #1 live up to the design. After the usual stuff, contents, masthead and a letter from the editor, the magazine opens with a few pages of fun infographics from Rachel Dukes, and an interview with Barbara Ehrenreich by Matt Bors about the Nickled and Dimed author about her approach to aging and death.

If there’s a place for (another) RAW comparison, it’s in “The Archive: Death in World War I,” from Warren Bernard. RAW was always as much about the cultural impact of comics and would often run early comics from the turn of the 20th century alongside cutting-edge new work. (Harvey Kurtzman often did this as well in his later magazines, Humbug and Trump.) In this piece, Bernard looks at two similar pieces from WWI, both depicting the inevitability of death in war, inspired by the attacks on Ypres and the Battle of Loos.

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A panel from “The Response: What Do You Want Done to Your Body When You Die,” illustrated by John Martz.

While “The Archive” feels a little short at just two pages, the opening section of the book is all short pieces.There’s “Letters to the Editor,” where Ally Shwed illustrated readers’ least-ideal ways to die, along with an illustrated version (by Dustin Harbin) of a letter the editors received from a man claiming to be a “Murder Agent,” in a strangely violent version of what appears to be a 419 email scam.

After these pieces, there’s the “Dispatches” section, featuring brief cultural and personal essays. Of these, the strongest is “It’s Our Funeral” by Whit Taylor, about a black-owned funeral home opened in 1947, and “Day of the Dead vs. Halloween” by Gerardo Alba, which — shockingly — compares the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead and the American Halloween tradition. (If only the title were clearer.) Though I kid, Alba’s piece is legitimately fascinating. It feels like it could have been a full feature rather than a simple two-pager. Unfortunately, the shortness of the works in “Dispatches” that hinders Eleri Harris’ “Death Through History,” which feels rushed and unfinished. The two pages we get are interesting and witty, but it’s a glimpse at the San Francisco Bay through coin-operated binoculars that snap shut after a minute.

the nib #1 it's our funeral
A panel from “It’s Our Funeral” by Whit Taylor

Thankfully, the five feature articles are given room to expand. All five articles are outstanding works of comics and journalism, but my favorites are Sarah Mirk’s “The First Time I Saw a Dead Body,” consisting of interviews with people like Stiff author Mary Roach, a hospice nurse and a veteran, and “Cruel and Usual: A History of Lethal Injection” by Liliana Segura and Jackie Roche, which puts the lie to the idea that lethal injection is a humane method of execution. Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty, the piece makes clear that lethal injection is anything but peaceful.

Finally, The Nib #1 ends with a light refreshment after all the heavy feature articles — a collection of one-page comic strips. All of them are humorous, and are a nice pick-me-up from great, known cartoonists. (I am always excited to see work from Joey Alison Sayers, one of my favorite cartoonists.) There’s also an installment of Brooke Barker’s “Sad Animal Facts,” and a great piece by Emily Flake, “Death, Rebranded.”

Overall, The Nib #1 is a triumph. Each of the pieces in the magazine works on its own as well as coming together to form the whole. Though many voices are involved, the issue feels cohesive. I’m also a big fan of how diverse the cartoonists are — more than half of the issue is by female cartoonists and many of the cartoonists are people of color.

If you’re interested in picking The Nib #1, good news — a print subscription comes with a $4 monthly membership to The Nib, and a PDF subscription for a $2 membership. And, as times are tough, if you can’t swing that, certain articles will be published online. The Nib is doing very important work, and I can’t wait to see what issue #2 looks like.

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