The Nib Sends Off 2017 with a Yawn

The Nib Sends Off 2017 with a Yawn

The Nib's farewell to 2017 is bad, just like 2017. Get it? Because 2017 was bad, everyone!

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The above is a pretty apt snapshot of The Nib's series of cartoons by cartoonists "saying goodbye to 2017."

Funny, right?

Yeah, I didn't think so either.

And yet this kind of plodding finish is typical of this entire set of strips. One of the comics, by Mark Kaufman, is literally just a bunch of drawings of things that were popular on the internet this year.

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These comics are preloaded to be up their own asses. When it says "saying goodbye to 2017," given the tone and fairly constant POV of the majority of things on the site this year (nevermind the title of the column itself), I know when it says "goodbye to 2017" it doesn't mean qua calendar year. It means a personified 2017. 2017 the meme, the villain, that "took" from us and "gave" us Trump and what-have-you. As a thesis, this is immature, fit-for-twitter grandstanding that only serves to ensconce the material itself in meme-dom. It wears its irrelevancy on its sleeve and hardly makes for lasting or interesting art.

Can we really sum up a year in an interesting way if we have our mind made up about what the year was? Of the strips that engaged directly with 2017, only Anna Sellheim managed to treat the year like it was anything but a rigid caricature. The more specific strips had separate execution problems that signaled broader problems I had with a handful of the material at The Nib this year.

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Steve Treare draws a mean Nixon, but this comic is an archetypal example of something that plagues other strips on this site: they're entirely prose driven. This thing reads like a paragraph that got hacked up and had illustrations associated with the broken chunks.

I don't understand why it's a comic.

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Sophie Yanow's contribution reads like a political cartoon that was split up to be told over four beats rather than a single one. Yet it combines several different kinds of elements that really don't belong together. You have a factual panel, a panel showing her literal response to the facts, and a more satirical, allegorical panel, that resolves in the kind of plodding, emotional fourth panel characteristic of the rest.

But do satire, autobio, and fact-centered, almost journalistic elements belong in such close proximity? One of the problems with The Nib is that it seems to think so.

We run political cartoons, journalism, essays and memoir about what is going down in the world, all in comics form, the best medium.

To flesh things out some more, here are the types of submissions it asks for.

We’re looking to publish the best political satire, journalism and non-fiction comics.

Consider, for a moment, the overlap--or rather, the lack of overlap--between these things, unless a particularly deft touch is used. Many things can be political, but generally speaking, there is a distinction between our public and our private, personal lives that offers important perspective and context. The personal can be political, of course! Yet, it's how the material is angled that matters, and when you combine the political and the personal it's damn hard to walk that tightrope. Even if you manage to do it, it's worth noting that the there's very little room for the satirical in that balancing act.

And journalism is a completely different thing entirely, so much so that it's, by definition, antithetical to personal work and satire.

"But Austin," you're thinking, "surely these things can coexist at a single publication. Nobody said they had to be combined in any way!"

Right! But the "goodbye to 2017" comics almost all skirt or have an outright head-on-collision with an imperfect fusion of personal, political, and factual. And by jamming them all together in four panels under the auspices of "wow 2017 was the worst you guys," they all get turned into these bland, one-note, cream-of-wheat, left-of-center memoirs.

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Even when the site manages straight satire with folks like Tom Tomorrow (who is very hit or miss for me to begin with), he penned a "year in review" that took all of 5 minutes to write and compose, where the punchline is the same tired "2017 sucked" that drove the entire narrative of the aforementioned strips.

It warrants a much broader analysis, but anecdotally, the things I clicked on from The Nib this year all had this sort of * elbow nudge * quality wherein they're smuggling in a premise that's already been chewed up and spit out infinite times in the now ultimate feedback loop of social media. While I appreciate that this is, in an important sense, unavoidable for comics dealing with social issues in the social media age, if this kind of commentary is going to exist--if we're going to do serial, socially conscious comics, and have an intentional editorial approach towards that enterprise--it needs to add something new, something vital to a conversation that's already well underway.

The zeitgeist is built so rapidly in so many parallel channels now that it is as substantial as the kind of things most people can manage to say given only four panels of space to draw. I think that The Nib editors are of the opinion that adding the personal element will make these strips stand out from the white noise, but in most cases, it either confuses the category of the work itself, or makes for something that's just... boring.

Austin Lanari

About Austin Lanari

Hacker, writer, critic; Democratize Everything

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