The Art of Journalism

 In Culture, Interviews

A Webster University grad debuts a new illustrated journalism magazine for tablets.


In recent years, graphic novels and comics have grown both in popularity and legitimacy, moving beyond the realms of superheroes and editorial cartoons to illustrated journalism that tackles serious, newsworthy topics. Symbolia, a new publication founded by Webster University graduate Erin Polgreen, aims to capitalize on the trend and take the art form to a new level. Designed specifically for the iPad, Symbolia uses strip-style comics, but also incorporates artwork, watercolor style and digital illustrations supplemented by sound effects, animations and interactive components. It’s the first US publication dedicated exclusively to what Columbia Journalism Review calls “comics journalism.” “The tablet offers a great opportunity to do more with audio and video,” Polgreen says. “I like to think of it as building worlds for people to live in.”

Although Polgreen doesn’t draw the comics herself, she became an expert on the subject in her former position as managing director of the Media Consortium. She has also organized graphic journalism panels for South by Southwest and the Online News Association, and in 2011 founded the website Graphic Ladies. Polgreen knew for a long time that she wanted to do something with comics, but it wasn’t until she received her first iPad and saw how vibrantly it displayed artwork that she had her “light bulb moment” and saw an opportunity. “Readers respond to this stuff,” Polgreen says. “I knew there was a market.”‘


Each issue of Symbolia follows a theme. The first was “How We Survive,” which included stories on environmental devastation in California’s Salton Sea, rollerbladers in Northern Iraq, secret species in the Congo and other compelling tales of survival. The magazine focuses on stories that are relevant, impactful and have emotional resonance—what Polgreen describes as “incendiary journalism.” Journalists and artists pitch their ideas on the publication’s website and are selected by Polgreen and her co-founder, Creative Director Joyce Rice. In the inaugural issue, contributors Susie Cagle and Sarah Glidden both report and illustrate their own stories. The rest are teams consisting of a journalist partnered with an illustrator.


Chris Sagovac, a professor specializing in comics in the Electronic and Photographic Media department of Webster University, calls Symbolia groundbreaking and says it’s “pushing the medium.” Pointing out that illustrated journalism has roots dating back to the first editorial cartoons, Sagovac says that it’s a form of communication that adults are very familiar with from reading comics and graphic novels— another art form gaining increased respect as a serious medium. “‘The Watchmen,’ ‘Maus’—those are literature,” Sagovac says. Both Sagovac and Polgreen agree that illustrated journalism is gaining in popularity even as other forms of journalism are on the decline. “2010 through 2012 were banner years for comics journalism,” Polgreen says. “It’s one of the few areas in publishing that’s increasing.”

As Symbolia’s subscription base increases, Polgreen plans to offer versions for Android and Kindle devices; she also intends to launch a Kickstarter campaign to finance a “Studio Line,” which will contract a wellknown artist to illustrate an entire issue. Symbolia is published every other month, and the next issue releases the first week of April with the theme, “The Mating Ritual.” A year subscription—six issues—costs $11.99. Single issues are available at $2.99 each. To subscribe, visit





Symbolia, How We Survive, illustration by Susie Cagle


Photo credit: Symbolia illustration courtesy of Erin Polgreen.

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