Launched with $34,000 in grants, Symbolia: The Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism, a digital journal designed for the iPad that specializes in comics and illustrated nonfiction reports, debuts today in the app store. Founded by Erin Polgreen, former managing director of the Media Consortium and a longtime evangelist for comics journalism, Symbolia’s inaugural issue is free and the journal will publish six issues a year for $2.99 per issue or $11.99 for a yearly subscription.
Debuted at a panel on comics and journalism held at last year’s SXSW Interactive, Symbolia was founded by Polgreen and launched with a $20,000 grant from the International Women’s Media Fund and $14,000 from Chicago-based Robert McCormick Foundation and J-Lab. Symbolia is designed to show off the power and effectiveness of using comics and illustration, in addition to video, sound and interactive animation, as a vehicle to deliver news and serious nonfiction storytelling.
The debut issue of Symbolia is based on the theme, “How We Survive,” and looks at a combination of environmental and social issues, including “Sea Change” by Susie Cagle, the story of California’s Salton Sea, a man-made salt lake headed for an environmental disaster; “Secret Species in Congo” by Kat Fajardo, a look at discovery of new fish species in the Congo River; and “The Rollerbladers of Sulaymaniyah” by Sarah Glidden, an examination of social life in Iraqi Kurdistan. Other contributors include cartoonist Andy Warner and writer Laruen Sommer (“Live Long, Die Quick”) and artist Damien Scogin and writer Chris A. Smith (“Ask Me about Psych Rock in Zambia”). Stories include audio, with interviews and comments from subjects of the stories and animation.
Polgreen emphasized that Symbolia will showcase women cartoonists and each issue will focus on a theme of some kind, including the next issue’s theme, “We don’t belong Here,” which will look at issues around deportation and social ostracism. “Each issue will feature a mixture of visual storytelling with humor and stories with heart in an essayistic tone,” Polgreen said, who also said to look for themes on sports, government services and relationships in the future. Symbolia will launch on the iPad but Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet and Android versions will available, “shortly,” and a non-interactive PDF is available of each issue.
Symbolia is directed by Polgreen and its creative director Joyce Rice with support of associate editors Brian Cook and Willy Thorn; and audio editor Scott Leigh Nielsen. The issue is produced using Mag+, a multimedia/interactive authoring tool and platform, that “plugs into InDesign and makes it easy to build interactive comics,” Polgreen said. Polgreen is also interested in print, “every other month we’re going to use a creator to produce a 20 page project to show to publishers for possible book deals.” But she emphasized that, “print is expensive, so digital is our focus. We want to build an audience online and take a look at print later.”
Each issue of Symbolia will feature 3-5 stories and all contributors will be paid. Initial rates are $75 to $100 per page, “not the best rates,” Polgreen said, “but we’ll work to boost them once we get more exposure. Symbolia will be a vehicle that provides paid work to working cartoonists.” The journal will generate revenue initially from issue sales and annual subscriptions, but Polgreen said they are also looking to advertising and sponsored content from graphic publishers; memberships with added perks—Google Hangout interviews with contributors and workshops—as well as syndication, “we also collaborate with other organizations to share costs and further distribute the content.” Polgreen said she also intends to look at revenue share plan for contributors, “after we build a subscriber base.”
And while the stories in Symbolia are predominately in comics form, some stories, such as “Ask Me about Psych Rock in Zambia,” function more like classic magazine stories, using illustration supported by audio, both interviews and music. “That’s why its called a Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism,” Polgreen explained, during a phone interview, “comics work well but we want to play with reading styles. The Zamrock story is less comics but more interactivity and multimedia.” And look for lots of foreign reporting, she said. After putting out an open call for submission, Symbolia received about 80 submissions and “most were from a global perspective,” she said, “that’s how powerful visual storytelling can be in creating connections across cultures.”