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The NCS Announces the Launch of The National Cartoonist Magazine!

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The NCS Foundation has really been firing on all cylinders lately, starting several initiatives that are going to be terrific resources fro pro an aspiring cartoonists alike. They and the NCS just announced one of those new initiatives today, the free digital magazine, The National Cartoonist!:

From the NCS Website and NCSF President Steve McGarry:

The NCS is delighted to announce the launch of our new digital magazine, The National Cartoonist! We’re really excited about this new publication and hope you will be, too!


Published by the National Cartoonists Society Foundation, it is a free magazine celebrating the best in cartooning, past and present, with extensive interviews, in-depth features and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the world of cartooning and comics, as well as beautiful reproductions of rare and, in many cases, previously unseen original art from some of our greatest luminaries! We hope it is a publication that will be enjoyed by all cartooning fans, from the casual reader to the seasoned professional.


To celebrate the launch we are giving away thousands of print copies of the debut issue of The National Cartoonist this coming weekend at San Diego Comic-Con. It’s a souvenir that collectors will want to treasure, so if you are attending SDCC, make sure to stop by The National Cartoonists Society booth, #1307, and grab a copy!

issue1Click to download the first issue!

Meanwhile, enjoy the digital version and be sure to subscribe. It’s FREE and it’s fantastic!


Steve McGarry (NCSF President)

NCS 2014 Comic-Con Shirt Unveiled!

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

NCS T-shirt 2014Clicky to embiggen!

Holy 50/50 cotton polyester blend, Batman! This year’s official NCS Comic-Con T-shirt is in honor of the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of the Caped Crusader! With artwork by Bill Amend, Sergio Aragonés, Jim Borgman, Jack Davis (!!), Jeff Keane, Rick Kirkman, Patrick McDonnell, Bill Morrison, Mike Peters, myself, Stan Sakai, Jerry Scott and Garry Trudeau, this is going to be a hot seller! The NCS will have them in both white and yellow, with a long sleeve option that has the illustrations also going down each sleeve! Visit the NCS booth #1307 at the San Diego Comic-Con and get this one before they are sold out!

… and all you blog readers thought my Adam West Batman sketch from the last week or two ago was for a Batman print I was doing! Incidentally, here’s a close up of my contribution:


NCS Salute to the Troops

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

2014 Reubens

This weekend is the big National Cartoonists Society Reuben Award Weekend in San Diego, where between 200-300 cartoonists will get together and eat, drink, be merry, and honor their fellow cartoonists with various awards. This year, we’ll be honoring some other folks as well… those that have served our country in the military.

Those who follow this blog will know I have been privileged to have been a part of several USO cartoonist tours to visit both wounded warriors and serving active military personnel in places like Germany, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations both in and out of war zones. Our groups meet and draw for the troops, trying to bring some smiles to some folks who could use them. The NCS has been very active in supporting our soldiers over the years, dating back to the very beginning of the organization in World War II.

This weekend the NCS will be spending our Sunday doing a little domestic-side troop support. Thanks to sponsorship from the USO, IDW Publishing and members Micheal Rameriez and Jeff Keane (both of whom have been on several of those fore mentioned tours), we will be doing several events with U.S. military service men and women.

Naval Medical Center Visit- About 70 cartoonists will get bussed up to the Balboa area to visit the naval hospital there to draw for wounded warriors, staff and their families. This will be very similar to what we do on the USO tours, especially the ones we take to places like the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, and Walter Reed, Bathesda Naval Hopsital or Brooke Medical Center here in the states. Many of the cartoonists will set up in a large commons area near the dining facilities, and others will be formed into small groups to visit patients who are not ambulatory.

USS Midway Museum Event- From 1:00 pm to 4:00 over 100 cartoonists will be set up and drawing on the aircraft carrier/museum the USS Midway in support of Legacy Week, a Memorial Day Weekend celebration honoring those who serve and have severed our country. Sketches and autographs are free but donations are encouraged in support of a charity TBA. This is open to the public and is our annual National Cartoonist Society Foundation outreach event, so come by and see us!

NCS Salutes the Troops Reception- That evening our traditional Sunday farewell gala will be on the deck of the USS Midway, where we will host a number of wounded warriors and their families, folks from the USO and enjoy the music of the DeLuz Band featuring Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist and terrific musician Michael Ramirez.

I’m looking forward to the entire weekend, but Sunday is going to be particularly special.

NCS Announces 2013 Reuben Award Nominees!

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

From the NCS Website:

NCS membership nomination voting has been tabulated, and the nominees for the 2013 Reuben Award for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year” are:

  • Wiley Miller

  • Stephan Pastis

  • Hilary Price

  • Mark Tatulli


Wiley Miller is the creator of Non Sequitur, a daily comic strip syndicated by Universal UClick. Started in 1992, Non Sequitur has been honored with four National Cartoonists Society Divisional Awards, including Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 1992, and Best Newspaper Panel in 1995, 1996 and 1998. It was the first comic strip to win in its first year of syndication and the only title to ever win both the best comic strip and best comic panel categories. Wiley also worked as an editorial cartoonist for newspapers including the San Fransisco Examiner. This is Wiley’s first nomination for the Reuben award. You can visit Non Sequitur online here.

Stephan Pastis is the creator of the daily comic strip Pearls Before Swine, syndicated by Universal Uclick. Stephan practiced law in the San Fransisco Bay area before following his love of cartooning and eventually seeing syndication with Pearls, which was launched in newspapers beginning December 31, 2001. The National Cartoonists Society awarded Pearls Before Swine the Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2003 and in 2006. Stephan is also the author of the children’s book series Timmy Failure. Stephan lives in northern California with his wife Staci and their two children. This is his sixth nomination for the Reuben award. Visit Stephan’s blog and the Pearls Before Swine website.

Hilary Price is the creator of Rhymes With Orange, a daily newspaper comic strip syndicated by King Features Syndicate. Created in 1995, Rhymes With Orange has thrice won the NCS Best Newspaper Panel Division (2007, 2009 and 2012). Her work has also appeared in Parade Magazine, The Funny Times, People and Glamour. When she began drawing Rhymes With Orange, she was the youngest woman to ever have a syndicated strip. Hilary draws the strip in an old toothbrush factory that has since been converted to studio space for artists. She lives in western Massachusetts. This is Hilary’s first nomination for the Reuben award. You can visit Rhymes With Orange online here.

Mark Tatulli is the creator of Heart of the City and Lio, both daily newspaper comic strip syndicated by Universal Uclick. Heart of the City debuted in 1998. Lio, one of the few fully pantomime strips in major syndication, began running in 2006 and earned Mark an NCS divisional award for Best Newspaper Strip in 2008. In addition to his comic strip work, Mark is also an animator and television producer, known for his work on the cable reality television series Trading Spaces and A Wedding Story, and the winner of three Emmy awards. Mark lives and works in New Jersey with his wife Donna ans their three children. This is Mark’s first nomination for the Reuben award. You can visit Heart of the City online here and Lio here.

The official ballots have been issued to all full members of the National Cartoonists Society for voting to determine the winner. Congratulations to the nominees!

The winner of the 2013 “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year” will be announced on May 24th at the annual NCS Reuben Awards dinner in San Diego, CA.

Congratulations to the nominees!

NCS Reuben Awards Speakers Announced

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

2014 Reubens

Clicky to Embiggen… Roughly left to right: Tom Gammill, “Weird Al” Yankovic,
Greg Evans, Eddie Pittman, Sandra Bell-Lundy, Russ Heath,
Bunny Hoest Carpenter, John Reiner, Suzy Spafford, Chris Houghton.

The lineup for the speakers for the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards Weekend was just released:

From the NCS Website

Also on the agenda for the Reuben Awards Show:

  • Tom Gammill- TV writer, producer on The Simpsons and the host of the Reuben Awards show
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic- Grammy winning musician, humorist, winner of the 2014 NCS A.C.E. Award (Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinaire)

That’s my art for the official brochure above.

Just a quick word on the A.C.E. award. This was an award that used to be given out pretty regularly back in the day. It was awarded to a famous person who wanted to be a cartoonist when they were young but ended up becoming famous for something else. Some past winners include Carol Burnett, Jonathan Winters, Jackie Gleason, Orson Bean, Ginger Rogers, Al Roker, Denis Leary and Morely Safer, among many others. Weird Al wanted to be a writer for MAD Magazine growing up, and for some silly reason became a Grammy award-winning musician instead.

Looks like another fun NCS Reuben Awards, at it all happens Memorial Day weekend in San Diego, CA!

NCS Online Divison Awards Submissions

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

First, a reminder to all that the submissions for consideration for the National Cartoonists Society’s divisional awards are due on Saturday, Feb 15th! Here’s a list of all the divisions, the requirements for eligibility, and where to send the submissions.

I’m pleased to say that the online divisions have been receiving a good number of submissions, which is terrific. Even better, we expanded the Online Comics Committee to include several other very knowledgeable and “plugged in” webcomics folks to help with the process. In addition to our committee members from last year:

  • Bill Amend- Creator of Foxtrot
  • David Allan Duncan- Professor of Sequential Art Graduate Coordinator, Savannah College of Art and Design
  • Andrew Farago-  Curator, Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco
  • Rick Marshall- Freelance Writer, Editor, and Producer, Time Inc., MTV News, IFC, Movies.com, Digital Trends, CBR
  • Gary Tyrrell- Writer/Editor, Fleen.com

This year we are pleased to have added:

So what does the Online Comics Committee do? You can read a detailed post about the process, along with the debunking of several misconceptions, here. but this is the short version:

  1. The vet the submissions for eligibility including publication dates, frequency of publication, eligibility for NCS membership and other requirements
  2. They recommend webcomics they feel reflect the best work of the last year, and also meet eligibility requirements
  3. They recommend ways to make this process better next year

The web is so vast and there are so many comics out there that the input and expertise of a group of knowledgeable individuals like those above are an invaluable part of the process. Like all the other NCS divisions, we try and look outside the submitted work for cartooning that represents the best in the industry, not just among NCS members. The Online Comics Committee is very generously giving the NCS their time and expertise to help meet that goal with the online divisions.

Another move with these divisions this year is that, rather than the NCS board doing the jurying, they are being given to local chapters like the other divisions are judged. Overseen by a board advisor, the selection of the nominees and winner will be done by a chapter (which will change each year), with the field having been vetted for eligibility first. That puts the field in front of fresh eyes every year.

For those online comics creators who are still procrastinating on their submissions, you can email them as a PDF to the relevant recipient up until Saturday night… so you still have time!

Russ Heath Honored by NCS

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Comic book super-legend Russ Heath will receive the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement award from the National Cartoonists Society at their annual Reuben Award Weekend this May in San Diego. It is a great honor going to one of the most influential and versatile comic artists of all time… a true giant of our industry. Congratulations, Russ!

From the NCS Website:

The National Cartoonists Society is very pleased to announce that legendary comic book artist Russ Heath will receive The Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual NCS Reuben Awards banquet in San Diego, California on May 24th, 2014.

The award, named for Terry and the Pirates creator and former NCS President and co-founder Milton Caniff, is awarded by unanimous vote of the NCS Board of Directors. It is given for a lifetime of outstanding and accomplished work to a cartoonist who has not previously won the organization’s highest honor, the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Russ Heath may be best known for his stunningly authentic work in DC Comics’ war titles such as G.I. Combat, Our Army at War, and Star Spangled War Stories, but the versatile artist has worked in an amazingly wide range of genres over the past seven decades.

Heath began his career in comics at age sixteen when he inked a story entitled Hammerhead Hawley for the April 1944 issue of Captain Aero Comics. In 1946 he joined Timely Comics (now known as Marvel), mostly illustrating western characters such as “Two-Gun Kid” and “Kid Colt.”

As the tastes of comic book readers changed, so did Heath’s assignments. Throughout the 1950’s he continued to draw westerns, but also added Horror (Strange Tales), War (Frontline Combat) Super Hero (The Human Torch), Humor (MAD), Science Fiction (Unknown Worlds), Crime (Justice), and even Romance to his repertoire.

In the early 1960’s Heath’s work began appearing in several of DC Comics’ war and adventure books. While at DC he co-created two popular features, The “Haunted Tank,” and “Sea Devils,” both with writer-editor Robert Kanigher. In 1962, artist Roy Lichtenstein appropriated one of Heath’s panels from All American Men of War that depicted a fighter jet exploding. It became the iconic pop art painting, Blam.

Russ Heath also spent time in the swingin’ ‘60’s working with Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder on Playboy’s Little Annie Fanny strip. He even took up residence at the famous Chicago Playboy Mansion in order to help meet a tight deadline on one installment. He then stayed for a number of months after the job was finished until somebody noticed he didn’t belong there any more and kicked him out.

Comic book readers of the 1960’s and 1970’s should be very familiar with two Russ Heath drawings that graced the back covers of hundreds of comic titles for many years. The elaborate illustrations depicted Roman and Revolutionary War battle scenes to entice kids to stuff their allowance money into envelopes and send away for plastic toy soldier sets. Though Heath was only paid $50 for the two drawings, they were probably seen by more readers than any of his regular comic book work.

In addition to working in comics, Heath has lent his talents to the animation industry, providing layouts and design for such memorable shows as Godzilla, The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour, Robocop, Pryde of the X-Men, and G.I. Joe.

Heath also worked in the realm of syndicated newspaper strips in the early 1980’s, reviving The Lone Ranger with writer Cary Bates for the New York Times Syndicate.

In recent years Heath has been extremely busy accepting commissions from his legion of fans to recreate some of his greatest comic book covers.

Russ Heath was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2004 and was awarded the Sergio Award by the Comic Art Professional Society in 2010.

2013 NCS Divisional Awards Call for Entries

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

The National Cartoonists Society is starting it’s annual call for entries for consideration for their NCS Divisional Awards recognizing excellence in professional cartooning. As always, you DO NOT have to be a member of the NCS to have your work considered for a divisional award… all that is required is that the work be eligible as detailed below.

Below you will find a list of the juries which will judge the categories, the jury chair and the address to which you will send your entry. As always, NO EMAIL SUBMISSIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED, with the exception of the Online Comics divisions, which allows emailed PDF submissions. Below is a short recap of several rules and guidelines, which govern the awards:

Please remember only recent work can be considered. This means work published between the dates of December 1, 2012 and December 31, 2013. Submitted work must be accompanied by verification of the date of first publication.

Please submit published tear sheets when possible and document when and where the work was published. Online Comics should provide links for verification of first publication date.

If your syndicated cartoon runs in both strip and panel format you can submit to one of those divisions, not both (your choice).

Your submissions must be submitted to their respective locations by February 15th, 2013.

Cartoonists are invited to submit their work (or the work of another professional) no later than February 15th, 2014, for consideration for one or more of the following Division Awards:

  • NEWSPAPER ILLUSTRATION- Submit up to 6 samples of 2013 published work to: Sean Parkes, 16418 E. Desert Sage Drive, Unit #B, Fountain Hills, AZ 85268 (sean@seanparkes.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Pittsburgh Chapter.
  • GAG CARTOONS- Submit up to 12 samples of 2013 published work to: Hilary Price, 221 Pine Street Suite 414, Florence MA 01062-1267 (hilary@rhymeswithorange.com). Judging will be done by the NCS Manhattan Chapter.
  • GREETING CARDS- Submit up to 6 samples of 2013 published work to: Ed Steckley, 43-07 39th Place, #3F, Sunnyside, NY 11104 (ed@edsteckley.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Long Island Chapter.
  • NEWSPAPER COMIC STRIPS- Submit up to 12 samples of 2013 published work to: Hilary Price, 221 Pine Street Suite 414, Florence MA 01062-1267 (hilary@rhymeswithorange.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Southeastern US Chapter.
  • NEWSPAPER PANEL CARTOONS- Submit up to 12 samples of 2013 published work to: Darrin Bell, 1923 Scott Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90020 (candorville@gmail.com) Judging will be done by the NCS North Central US Chapter.
  • MAGAZINE FEATURE/MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION- Submit up to 6 samples of 2013 published work to: Tom Richmond, 3421 E. Burnsville Pkwy., Burnsville, MN 55337 (tom@tomrichmond.com) Judging will be done by the NCS New Jersey Chapter.
  • BOOK ILLUSTRATION- Send up to 6 samples of 2013 published work to: John Kovaleski, 42 South Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325 (john@kovaleski.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Connecticut Chapter.
  • EDITORIAL CARTOONS- Submit up to 20 samples of 2013 published work to: John Kovaleski, 42 South Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325 (john@kovaleski.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Upstate New York Chapter.
  • ADVERTISING and PRODUCT ILLUSTRATION- Submit up to 6 samples of 2013 published and marketed work to: John Hambrock, 7214 7th Avenue, Kenosha, WI 53143. (john@edisonlee.net) Judging will be done by the NCS Washington DC Chapter.
  • COMIC BOOKS- Submit up to 3 samples of 2013 published work to: Bill Morrison, 786 Twillin Ct., Simi Valley, CA 93065 (roswell2@earthlink.net) Judging will be done by a specialty jury.
  • GRAPHIC NOVELS- Submit book published in 2013 to: Bill Morrison, 786 Twillin Ct., Simi Valley, CA 93065 (roswell2@earthlink.net) Judging will be done by a specialty jury.


Both animation categories are accepting submissions of individual artists’ work for consideration. Submissions may be submitted by the artists themselves, or by the studios or other colleagues on the artists’ behalf. There is no charge for awards submissions.

Production designers, art directors, character designers, layout artists, background painters, character painters, and all other still art creators must submit five to ten samples of their work from a single production for each application. Samples may be physical prints or as JPEG files on a CD-R. If the samples contain work by anyone else, please include a detailed written breakdown of which art is attributed to the applicant.

Animators, storyboard artists, visual effects artists, and anyone else involved in creating moving or continuity art, please submit a reel of your work on a DVD or CD-R. (Storyboards will only be considered in animatic form.) If the samples contain work by anyone else, please include a detailed
written breakdown of which art is attributed to the applicant.

  • TELEVISION ANIMATION- All entries must be work created for episodes of a television series that aired for the first time during the 2013 calendar year. Submit one or more samples as explained above to: Chad Frye, 518 E. Cypress Ave. #C, Burbank, CA 91501 (chad@chadfrye.com)
  • FEATURE ANIMATION- All entries must be work created for a fully animated feature length movie released theatrically in the 2013 calendar year. Submit one or more samples as explained above to: David Folkman, NCS Los Angeles Chapter, 6171 W. Century Blvd. #160, Los Angeles, CA 90045 (folkmanart@aol.com)


All Online Comics submissions must adhere to the following:

– Must be web only publication (any syndication in print should submit to proper print division above)
– Must have shown consistent timely publication over the course of the 2013 calendar year (weekly, bi-weekly, multiple times a week, daily, etc.)
– Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from cartooning/comic art in order to meet the requirement that they be eligible for professional NCS membership

    • Additional specific requirements:
    • Can be strip, single panel, single or partial page format
    • Must be mainly self-contained gag, story, or narrative in each short comic, even if also part of ongoing narrative
    • Must document date of first posting/release

Submit 12 samples, submitted via mail or as PDF with bio/entry form to: Ed Steckley, 43-07 39th Place, #3F, Sunnyside, NY 11104 (ed@edsteckley.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Chicago Chapter.

    • Additional specific requirements:
    • Can be posted in single or multiple page format
    • Must be ongoing narrative in serial form i.e. continuing comic book/graphic novel storyline
    • Must document date of first posting/release of each episode/page/segment
    • Minimum monthly or twelve times per year release schedule

Submit 12 samples, submitted via mail or as PDF with bio/entry form to: Tom Richmond, 3421 E. Burnsville Pkwy., Burnsville, MN 55337 (tom@tomrichmond.com) Judging will be done by the NCS Northern California Chapter.

Submissions should include an entry form and bio sheet.

All winners will be announced at the 68th Annual Reuben Awards Dinner in San Diego, CA, on May 24th, 2014.

2013 NCS/USO Tour- Manas Transit Center, Kyrgyzstan

Friday, September 13th, 2013


When we do these USO cartoonist tours active war zones we fly commercial flights up to a point, but eventually we switch over to military flights.. On our way back home we planned on spending a full day there drawing prior to shipping out for the States.

Saturday, Sept 7th-

Our trip back was a real “red eye”. We were supposed to leave KAF on Saturday afternoon, spend the night, draw the next day and then leave for home early Monday morning. Instead, out flight was scheduled for midnight. Military flight times often get changed at the last minute, and our flight didn’t depart until about 0330, and we arrived about 0800 pretty exhausted from a busy day of drawing and touring in Kandahar.

Because of the change in flight times, we ended up with a full day in theater with nothing scheduled to do, and we were able (with the permission and escort of the base command) to go into Bishkek and do some sightseeing

Back at the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, we spend the evening hanging out at “Pete’s Place,” a large tent/hall structure with outdoor decking.

They had a fun show that night by a local entertainment/dance troupe that included a little magic and comedy as well. We hung out there with several of the officers who were our base liaisons.

Sunday, Sept 8th-

This was our business day at the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing. We started out with a briefing by a colonel assigned to the base that was really fascinating and event presented him a drawing from each of us on a single piece of paper.


Col briefs the crew

We had two drawing sessions planned, the first at 1400 on the outer deck of Pete’s Place. We drew for many base personnel as well as soldiers in transit—mostly thought coming back from in theater. I drew several pilots who were fresh from a deployment where they were training Afghan pilots and personnel for their air force. Since most of the people we drew were either stationed at the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing or on their way home, you can imagine the tension levels were significantly lower than in Afghanistan.

One of the artists drew a soldier who worked in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit on the base, and he got permission for us to visit the EOD shop that afternoon. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Hurt Locker”, you’ll know what kind of stuff we got to see. There were several robots that are used to approach and handle possible explosive devices, lots of cool gear and, or course, the “bomb suit”. Paul Combs got to try this 80-plus pound protective suit on!


The EOD center


A bomb-handling robot


The Hurt Locker suit

Another bomb-handling robot


Paul suits up…



That night we drew again, this time inside Pete’s Place starting at 1900. Prior to our session the Col. presented each of us with a very special keepsake… a flag that was flown onboard a KC-135R during an actual combat refueling mission. According to the certificate that was with the flag, that mission delivered 30,000 lbs of fuel to two A-10 Thunderbolts and two F-16 Fighting Falcons in the skies of Afghanistan on August 7th, 2013. I’ll be framing that and hanging it proudly in the studio.

Our last drawing session went long, and while we were pretty tired after a week on the go throughout Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, I don’t think any of us wanted it to end. It really is a great and genuine honor to meet with and bring a few smiles to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who are sacrificing much to defend our freedom overseas. I’m very fortunate to be able to take part in these USO trips. I have some friends who disagree with much of what the US government is doing in the Middle East, and a few of them don’t understand how I can support these efforts like this. Most understand that there is a clear difference between the policies that have us involved in these wars and military actions, and the people who are send there to do their jobs. All politics are put aside when it comes to showing support for our troops, and once you meet these folks that becomes very easy to do. These people really are heroes, and it’s my honor to be able to meet with them and tell them so… and to make fun of their faces, of course!

Monday Sept 9th-

We had a bag call at 0430, and after 30 hours of travel I get back home by 10 PM Minneapolis time. A long but great trip. I’m hoping soon we won’t have to do these anymore because all our soldiers will be home safe and sound. However, anytime the USO wants me to do a tour, I will always be willing.

2013 NCS/USO Tour- Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Mason Mastrionni (B.C.) heading into the terminal at KAF

Our last stop in Afghansitan was at Kandahar Air Field near Kandahar City in the south eastern region of the country. I had visited this base in 2010 as part of a previous USO cartoonists tour, so it was very interesting to return and see how things have changed. In our last visit to Afghanistan, we went directly to KAF from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and spent our entire time billeted there while we flew helicopters to outlying FOBs each day. This time we only spend a day there, not even staying the night.

Things had changed there quite a bit, with the presence of many international forces that used to share the base either greatly diminished or gone entirely. There seemed to be a lot more bunkers about as well, especially in their famous boardwalk area, which in addition to the amazing ice rink now sported a field turf soccer/football field and a half basketball court.

Friday, Sept 6th-

We had another early bag call at 0545 and were wheels up at 0715 from Camp Leatherneck on the same type of STOL aircraft on the way to Kandahar. Once we arrived we were met by a Major, who was our main military liaison at the base. We got to dump our bags in a couple of rooms and take a short time to catch our breath, but we were basically on the go from the minute we hit the tarmac. This would be a long day.

We had three drawing sessions at KAF, but first we got to meet some of the command of the Combined Joint Task Force 101 in their operations center. Missing was the Commanding Major General, who was away that morning attending the memorial of a fallen soldier somewhere off base, and returning sometime later that day. We were told by numerous officers that the Commanding Major General was really looking forward to meeting us as he is a big fan of cartooning, particularity daily comic strips and MAD magazine. In fact, all day long we kept hearing that from different folks and getting updates from the Major that the General was trying to get free after his duties to come and see us. Unfortunately that never happened… we where only at KAF for about 20 hours and the Commanding General has many demands on his time (apparently there is a war going on there or something). Fellow caricaturist Ed Steckley did a caricature of him from us, no doubt sealing our future banning from ?ever visiting Afghanistan again. We did draw plenty of soldiers, though.

We had three major drawing sessions, in fact. The first was at the USO center, a place Jeff Keane and I had drawn at with the previous group in 2010. We were swamped from beginning to end, and several public affairs personnel were on hand to do some video and a print story on our visit… I’ll let
that describe our time at the USO center:

YouTube Preview Image

Some pics courtesy of staff Sgt. Scott Tynes:

Me drawing away

Bruce Higdon (Punderstatements)

Micheal Ramirez (editorial cartoonist)

Ed Steckley (MAD magazine/ Humorous Illustrator)

Mike again

Mason with a happy soldier holding an original B.C. drawing

Our next stop was kind of a surprise. We were just supposed to drop by an area of the base that housed the 2nd Calvary Regiment aka the “Muleskinners” to say hello and maybe sign some autograph cards. What we found was a room they had prepared for us complete with signs of our appearance and walls decorated with cartoons! So, we grabbed our drawing stuff and had an impromptu drawing session in a kind of recreational room. There was a huge line… one of the only real drawbacks to doing what we do is that it involved 10-15 minutes with each soldier. While that is awesome for us and for the soldiers we see, it really limits how many we can get through in a few hours. I draw pretty fast but not nearly as fast as I could if I didn’t chat so much with the troops I draw. We always seem to leave some people in line we couldn’t get to. I always feel bad about that.

Ed and Mason atop an MWRAP on one of our stops about the base…

Just a bit about the famous KAF boardwalk… this is a crazy oasis in the middle of a base of rocks and dust. It’s a one kilometer square covered wooden boardwalk boasting over three dozen glass doored shops, coffee house, eateries, internet cafes and lounging areas—not to mention the ice rink, turf field and basketball court I mentioned before. This really is a unique area and it’s amazing it’s managed to stay open and operational through so many changes of command and missions. Here are some pictures:






We broke for dinner at an authentic local Afghan eatery on the boardwalk… T.G.I. Fridays. While the ambiance and menu looked like one you might find in your hometown… trust me… nothing tasted like it does here at home. Steady supplies are an issue in places like Kandahar, so places like this are often out of stuff or use weird substitutes. My mashed potatoes were actually some kind of yam. Anyway, it just goes to show you how different life is no matter how hard they try and bring a bit of home there.

Before dinner Jeff and I went on a mission to find this bunker that our original group all drew inside of in 2010. We knew where it was before, and while it was gone from that spot we did find some of it just a short distance away, and took some pictures of it. There had been quite a few more signatures and scrawls added, and the sun peeking in the sides has faded some of them, but it was still there:

Jeff and I find the wall of shame!

Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues)

I had done an Alfred

Mike Luchovich (Editorial cartoonist)

Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine)

Some other additions as you can see… the bird was there before we drew on it

Here’s a link to my post from 2010 about originally doing the drawing.

Our final drawing session took place right on the boardwalk in this open decking area. This was a really great time, and we drew late… almost up until our time to go to the PAX to catch our flight out of Afghanistan and back to Kyrgyzstan, which would be out last stop before home. It really never gets old, even though I feel like I am asking the same questions over and over, I never get tired of talking with these men and women. Each has their own story, and while the country back home thinks of the military as an abstract, single organism it is really made up of individuals with their own hopes, dreams, fears and plans for the future… all of whom are roughly 7,000 miles from the people they love and the places they call home, doing often mundane and sometimes very dangerous jobs to serve our country and our freedoms. It’s a genuine honor to bring a few smiles to their faces.

Check back for the final wrap up tomorrow!



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