“It would be very hard to find a person who does not do any type of drug”
The Nib is a politics magazine that uses comics to tell stories. This issue, the magazine’s eighth, is all about drugs. While there are many stories about narcotics inside — including the fact that, in the early 1900s, prominent women of the day could visit the finest silversmiths to buy sterling-silver syringe sets to inject their opium with — the most intriguing features widen your definition of what being “on drugs” even means. Like Eleri Harris’s 12-page exploration of IVF treatment. Or Rachel Quast’s investigation into the psychedelic quality of catnip (if you give your cat catnip, it will literally feel high).
Editor and founder Matt Bors told me why drugs and comics are such a good match.
Why did you choose to make an issue about drugs?
It would be very hard to find a person who does not do any type of drug whatsoever. If you rely on medicine of any kind, you take drugs. At The Nib we’re interested in politics and the way a topic can touch your life politically — we wanted to discuss the pot-to-prison pipeline, and the opioid crisis, and covid vaccines — and we also knew that every reader would have a vested interest in this subject.
It’s a topic that provokes very strong responses.
Yes, we have to solicit our ‘Letters to the editor’ in advance of each issue, so they’re not actually reactions to what has already been published, more thoughts on the topic from subscribers. The letters were so personal. You had people sharing the story of the drug that saved their life, but also mundane experiences that we would all recognise; needing coffee in the morning, or needing an edible to chill out after a day in lockdown trying to work with kids.
One person wrote, “My favourite drug is Zoloft because it helped me literally survive postpartum depression during the pandemic.”
While I didn’t have postpartum depression, I did have my second child born in January of 2020, and it was not fun or easy to have a baby and a toddler and work the entire time. I definitely relied on a lot of legal drugs to cope.
I find the way the magazine is organised very satisfying: you have short ‘dispatches’ (two-page comics, almost opinion pieces, really) at the front, and then you print more extended ‘Features’ in the middle. Why do you choose to organise the magazine in this way?
Instead of having gigantic features eat up the entire magazine, we wanted to include much shorter dispatches at the front as a way of addressing multiple angles. With drugs, there are a lot of urgent topics that are important to tackle, but there are funny angles too. We like to try and keep that balance; between seriousness and humour. Printing a comic requires a lot of space; you can convey information a lot more densely via text, so it’s good to have shorter comics-forms to play with. I’m also trying to replicate the structure of a magazine as opposed to a comics anthology.
You’re trying to fit comics into the form of a traditional magazine?
Yes. We always run editorial features; an interview; an archive section that includes older comics; and then dispatches upfront. I have been a print fanatic and a magazine fanatic since I was pretty young, but my medium is comics. So I wanted to combine the two. There are magazines for literary fiction, and nonfiction writing, and right wing thought, and left wing thought, but I wanted to create a magazine for political cartooning. A publication that would be a home for political cartooning.
What is it that you love so much about nonfiction cartooning? Why is it important to you to make a political magazine made out of comics?
I used to answer this question and say things like, “Well, comics are good for telling stories”. Which I think is true, but I’ve said it so much I’m not sure how much weight it carries anymore. Perhaps it’s more that I’ve been reading comics my whole life, so when I think about approaching a topic it’s just the medium I think in.
It’s the same way that a writer is going to ‘write’ about a subject. They might not necessarily think writing is the best format for their idea. If another person was approaching it they might make a video or a documentary. It’s the same for me: it’s just that I’m a cartoonist and I like comics.