Back in 1997 I was introduced via an on-line mail list (sort of a first generation message forum) for caricaturists to an organization called the National Caricaturist Network (aka the NCN). The NCN in those days was a loose-knit trade association consisting of about 200-250 professional caricaturists from all around the United States. To become a member you had to demonstrate you were a professional caricaturist, either of the party/gig or theme park ilk, and of course pay your dues which I think were all of $40.00 a year. Members received their quarterly newsletter, “Exaggerated Features“, which was a tabloid sized, 20 plus page publication full of great articles and member artwork. You also received a list of all members and their contact info so you could “network”, meaning trade and get jobs and work from each other. Back in those days the NCN was primarily a live party caricaturist organization, and in fact I was one of the first purely theme park artists to join. The other enticing part of membership was their annual convention.
The convention was the deciding factor for me in joining, since I didn’t really care about the networking part. Previous conventions had featured guest speakers like Bruce Blitz (’96) and Jack Davis (’97). My first convention would be 1998, and the scheduled guest speaker was MAD legend Mort Drucker. I was very excited to get a chance to meet Mort, who has always been the pinnacle of caricature illustration for me. Sadly, just before I was to leave, it was announced that Mort was unable to attend due to some health issues in the family. He sent a videotaped address that included a tour of his studio which was interesting and informative, but not being able to meet him was really depressing. I almost canceled my trip, but since I had my tickets for Las Vegas already and was all set for the show, I went ahead with my plans.
I can honestly say the convention changed my life, and that is no overstatement. I met and competed with about 70 artists from every corner of the US, many with unbelievable talent and styles that were very different from my own. Up until then I had been a big fish in a small pond, working with a small group of artists, all of which I had taught and therefore had little in the way of challenges to push me in my art. Here was a group that humbled me and made me realize I’d been coasting for far too long. That four day convention both woke me up and got me excited again about caricature art, charging me up to challenge myself, seek out the weaknesses in my work and attack them. I also made good friends I still enjoy today. I was so taken by the organization that I eventually served two years as NCN president, helping to plan and run two conventions in 2000 and 2001.
Today the NCN is well over 450 members not only from all over the U.S., but the entire planet. It isn’t just live caricaturists anymore, but caricature illustrators, painters, animators and cartoonists, although most members have some background in live work. “Exaggerated Features” is now a full blown, slick magazine. Their website is terrific and they have a member’s only on-line forum that is a fantastic resource. Their annual convention boasts 100-150 competitors and has had fantastic guest speakers like Sebastian Kr?¬?ger, John Kascht, C.F. Payne, Roberto Parada, Jan Op de Beeck, Steve Brodner and David Cowles. This years convention will be in October, featuring caricature sculpturist and illustrator David O’Keefe. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend this year due to a conflict with another event and a planned family trip.
You still must be a pro caricaturist to be a member. If you are I heartily recommend you consider joining the NCN. Visit their website for more details and a look into the organization.
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