I’m just getting caught up now a week after getting home from the action-packed whirlwind that is the National Cartoonists Society’s annual Reuben Award Weekend. . . actually almost a whole week for The Lovely Anna and I. It is three days of fun, parties, great speakers, great events, and lots of time to catch up with old friends as well as meet many new ones. It’s just a great time, and always cool to meet many of your heroes of cartooning and find them to be the nicest, most approachable people in the world.
Two things I have to mention off the bat is how fantastic both our hotel and the city of Pittsburgh was. The Omni William Penn is a gorgeous property full of old world ambiance and tradition, and they treated us like VIPs all weekend. This is a hotel that routinely hosts the leaders of nations, entertainment stars, sports teams and real celebrities, but they thought a group of cartoonists was about the coolest thing they’ve had there in some time. Pittsburgh itself welcomed us with open arms. The mayor officially declared Friday, May 24th, 2013 “Cartoonists Day”, although I quickly discovered a mayoral proclamation does not equate to even one free drink on the day in question. Several local organizations including ToonSeum, RK Mellon Foundation, Trib Total Media, and GeekPittsburgh sponsored the Reuben Exhibit Reception and the Cartoon Arts Festival, and local media gave us great coverage including the cover of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s weekend supplement, a big article in their free arts newspaper and a radio interview on “Essential Pittsburgh”. I had been telling members all year long to set aside any preconceptions they might have about Pittsburgh as some smokey, sooty, depressing town because they couldn’t be more wrong. I knew that everyone who did attend would leave having loved the city with it’s fantastic art, architecture, museums, and river-valley beauty, and I heard nothing but raving about how great Pittsburgh was.
Friday May 24th-
One of the bad things about being president is you are so busy running about you have no time to see any of the speakers . . . and we had a STELLAR speaker line-up again this year. In fact I heard people raving about all the speakers… A HUGE thank you to all of them for entertaining and informing us all weekend!
We kicked off Friday afternoon with a panel from the Andrews McMeel Publishing eBook Team, discussing the whys, wheres, hows and whatfors of taking comics into the worlds of eBooks. Then Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers regaled the audience with the many stories he has about his most controversial cartoons and the “toxic responses” he’s gotten from irate readers over the years (I did catch a part of Rob’s talk… he had the crowd laughing hard). Finally, creator of the daily comic “The Pajama Diaries” Terri Libenson talked about how she started her strip, her 20 years writing for American Greeting Cards and how motherhood influenced her cartooning career while she shared lots of cartoons and cards.
The weekend festivities got started in style with one of the main attractions of the whole event- the Rueben Exhibit at ToonSeum on Liberty Ave. About three blocks down the street from the William Penn debuted one of the most unique and awe-inspiring cartoon art shows ever. In the two gallery rooms of the ToonSeum was a piece of original artwork from every winner of the NCS’s highest honor, the Reuben for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year”. That goes back to Milton Caniff in 1946, and yes they had a Caniff… in fact here it is:
They had everyone, including some notoriously hard to come by originals. There was an original, hand-colored¬¨‚Ä† Bill Watterson “Calvin and Hobbes” courtesy of the private collection of Jean Schulz. There is a Gary Larson. Bill Amend. Ronald Searle. There is even an original Matt Groening “Life in Hell”, something even more rare than the Watterson as Matt has never sold any of those pieces and has given away precious few. The one in the show is from him personally via Bongo Comic’s Bill Morrison.
All but the Watterson will hang through early August (that one went back home with Jean after the weekend, a print hangs in its place for the rest of the show). They had a separate wall area dedicated to the five MAD artists who have won the Reuben, of which I am humbly one. My piece hung between a Jack Davis and a Mort Drucker…. no pressure!
One of the coolest parts of the show was the Rube Goldberg entray. Rube was the first president of the NCS, and the “Reuben” is named after him. He designed the original statuette, and won in 1967. Not only did we have an original piece of Rube Goldberg art, but we also had Rube’s personal 1967 Reuben award AND the prototype sculpture for the design:
Across the street at the August Wilson Center we had a private reception featuring Pittsburgh staples like perogies and the traditional “Cookie Table”. The reception was organized by the ToonSeum, and was a big hit.
After the reception was the traditional NCS karaoke night, this time back across the street at the Tilden Lounge, a private bar with a hip-club vibe where the hardcore karaoke crooners partied until the wee hours. Many people ended up at the fabulous lobby bar in the William Penn, where there was plenty of opportunity for conversation and laughs.
Saturday May 25th-
After the traditional NCS breakfast and the thoroughly boring NCS business meeting, we were treated to another round of terrific speakers that I didn;t get to enjoy because I was rehearsing the big show. After 6 emmys, 3 Caldecotts and 2 Giesel medals, author/illustrator/animator/cartoonist Mo Willems needed no introduction… but he got one anyway. He shared the story of his journey from school newspaper cartoonist to one of the best-known children’s book creators working today. Fantastic magazine and book illustrator Drew Friedman followed with tales of his misadventures in freelance illustration, and lots of incredible examples of his art and plenty of laughs (I’ve seen Drew speak before, and I mean PLENTY of laughs). Our last speaker was the 2013 recipient of the NCS Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, Brad Anderson. “Interviewed” by his son and fellow cartoonist Paul Anderson, the audience got to know there has been a LOT more to his long and storied career in cartooning than just being the creator of the mega-hit comic “Marmaduke” (as if that wouldn’t be enough).
The 67th Annual Reuben Awards followed that evening, this year hosted by Australian cartoonist, comedian, singer and performer Jason Chatfield. Jason did a phenomenal job…the show was great! Here’s a video of the opening (I posted this a few days ago, but in case you missed it…):
Cartoonist and TV writer/producer Tom Gammill stepped back as emcee this year, but contributed some of his usual great videos including this one to open the second half:
In the first half, we saw the NCS Silver T-Square, an award honoring someone for their outstanding contributions to either the NCS or the cartooning industry, presented to retiring Universal Uclick president and longtime comics editor Lee Salem. The presentation was done by Cathy Guisewite (“Cathy”), in loving and typically funny fashion. The Milton Caniff Award was presented to Brad Anderson by Jerry Scott (“Zits”, “Baby Blues”), in another moving and hilarious tribute.
The awards in the second half went briskly this year, with all but five of the winners present to accept. Of the five not in attendance one acquiesced to our request for an acceptance video (Roz Chast, who won for Best Gag Cartoon) and one was accepted by fellow divisional nominee and friend Amanda Connor (who accepted for Bernie Wrightson, winner for Best Comic Book), so there were actually only three no-shows. The no-shows have been a problem in recent years because the NCS has made it a point to look outside their membership for cartoonists whose work represents the best of whatever division is being considered and make them part of the field, which can result in winners and nominees who are not members and might not come to the Reubens. That makes the results of the awards more encompassing of the industry as a whole, but sometimes leaves a lot of awards unaccepted on the stage. The video Roz did we asked all nominees to do in case of a win, but her’s was the only one we needed. There were many first time winners up there, and some heartfelt words of acceptance. The complete list of winners is here.
The big surprise of the night was that there were TWO winners of the Reuben for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year. The voting this year resulted in a tie between Brian Crane (“Pickles”) and Rick Kirkman (“Baby Blues”). When I got the results from the accounting firm that does the tallying, I had to go back and see if there was a precedent for this. There was. In 1968, editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant and comic strip creator Johnny Hart (“The Wizard of Id”, “B.C.”) tied for the Rueben. In occurred to me that even though it was a tie at the time, the NCS does have members from overseas who may well still have had ballots in transit, so we sat on the results for a week to see if more votes would come in postmarked in time but delayed with long travel. Sure enough, we got a number of overseas ballots that were still valid shortly thereafter… but once they were all in and counted it was STILL a tie. That’s preordained, I would say. A big congratulations to both Brian and Rick, both deserving of the Reuben, and both honored!
Sunday, May 26th-
Sunday is a more relaxing day, as the speakers/awards are all done and it’s nothing but fun and festivities left.
Joe Wos and the Toonseum arranged an awesome Cartoon Art Festival in downtown Pittsburgh, which features rotating cartoonists doing sketches and signing autographs, a panel discussion on Women in Cartooning featuring Lynn Johnston (“For Better or For Worse”), Cathy Guisewite, Terri Libensen, and Jen Sorenson (“Slowpoke”), moderated by Hilary Price (“Rhymes with Orange”). The entire 900 block of Liberty Ave. was closed off for a cartooning street fair, complete with characters like Popeye, Olive Oyl, Earl from “Mutts” and many others about along with several caricaturists, comic book vendors, street artists, performers and other fun stuff. Proceeds from the festival went to a new ToonSeum/NCS Foundation fund to benefit at-risk youths in the Pittsburgh area through programs like art and cartooning workshops, books, art supplies, comics and more. There was a great crowd and I think the festival was a success.
That evening the traditional Farewell Gala took place in the lower level ballroom of the hotel and the nearby new “speakeasy”. Attendees enjoyed a sumptuous dinner and the rockin’ music of “Chalk Outlines”, a local band featuring NCS cartoonists Wayno and Dave Klug. Lots of people wore roaring 20’s costumes ala Gatsby, which is all the rage right now. Great time had by all.
At the speakeasy: From left: Melinda and Jeff Keane (“The Family Circus”), me, my daughter Gabrielle (seated, profile), Anne Hambrock (wife and assisitant for John Hambrock”The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee”)
Another one in the books. The bad news for the NCS is we couldn’t find anyone
dumb enough qualified to take over as president, so they are stuck with me for one more two-year term. Cue the Imperial Death March.
Next year’s Reuben Weekend will be in sunny San Diego, CA over Memorial Day weekend. If you are a professional cartoonist, then you qualify for NCS membership… join up and attend this terrific and unique event.
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