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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!


2013 NCS/USO Tour- Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Camp Leatherneck sign

Wednesday, Sept 4th-

We had a VERY early bag call at 0315 that morning to head our to our next stop, Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion which is west and slightly north of Kandahar, We took a very different aircraft for this short flight, a “Short Take Off and Landing” (STOL) Dash 8-100 30 passenger, two-engine prop. This was nearly a commercial-type plane so it was very comfortable compared to a C-17 or a helicopter… but still no complementary peanuts.

Awaiting the unloading of our Dash 8-100 at Bastion Air Field, Camp Leatherneck

Aboard our STOL bird
Aboard our STOL bird

The Afghan Landscape...
The Afghan landscape… or maybe this is the moon?

Camp Leatherneck shares its space with a British base encompassing the airfield. We arrived about 0900… the flight itself was about an hour but it’s typical to have to spend 3-4 hours in “lockdown” inside a military passenger air terminal (PAX), which we did in Bagram awaiting our flight call. We were met by our MWR liaison and checked into our billets (which were some of the nicest I’d ever seen in the war zone) for a brief rest and PX visit prior to meeting with the base commander.

Our billets at FOB Leatherneck
Our billets at FOB Leatherneck

At 1130 we met base commander and his command group, where we were briefed on Camp Leatherneck’s current role. They provide support, missions, rescue and other operations.

FOB Leatherneck
The group with Col. Entwistle and base command. Photo courtesy Bruce Higdon

This stop we split up into two teams. The A team included Bruce Higdon, Mason Mastroianni, Michael Ramiez and myself—clearly the cream of the crop :P . The B Squad (aka the “also-rans “) were Ray Alma, Paul Combs, Jeff Keane and Ed Steckley.

At 1500 Team B went to the camp chapel and the adjacent area while our team drew at the USO center. Typically these drawing session last for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and consist of a steady stream of soldiers, support personnel and contractors. I am happy to draw everybody and anybody but I most like drawing the deployed soldiers who are there at the command of the military and not of their own choice. It’s not easy on anybody to be so far away from friends and family, and in the middle of a war zone to boot, but the enlisted men and women seem to need the most cheering up. We did get to draw a number of the USO volunteers and workers on this stop as well, and those folks really deserve a BIG thank you for choosing to be over there working hard to make the lives of the deployed soldiers easier. The USO does a great job with this, and they are all great people. (Photos below courtesy of the FOB Leatherneck Facebook page):


Michael Ramirez and Bruce Higdon ready to draw at the Camp Leatherneck USO


Mason Mastroianni does a “B.C.” drawing for a soldier


Bruce and Mike in action


Me drawing one of the USO workers


Another satisfied customer… I think.


A soldier with his Bruce Higdon drawing…


The four of us drawing away…


Gordon worked as an IT specialist at FOB Leatherneck


Proudly showing his Mason original


This guy fortunately was unarmed…


Bruce does his thing


This guy isn’t sure about his Mike Ramirez original


The A team draws at the FOB Leatherneck USO


Mason and I packing up


With the terrific USO staff!

After this session we all met up again. The troops had a barbeque that night we were invited to share in, and it was probably the best food we had on the entire trip. Team B stuck around to draw more folks, while my team went to a different part of the base. These guys are the paramedics of the war zone, and fly into firefights, adverse weather and very dangerous conditions to rescue soldiers who are hurt and need immediate help. We were given a tour of one of their converted Blackhawks, which contain amazing advances in emergency medicine including mobile blood supplies, stabilizing equipment for almost any kind of injury and other stuff that was invented to support of their needs and that of their patients. The troops seldom get out of their areas, having crews standby 24 hours a day, so we went to them and drew for several hours. I was told that in the Korean War, the survival rate of soldiers injured in the war zone was about 55%. In the Vietnam War, about 70%. Currently, thanks in part to the expertise, bravery and technology of our troops, survival of soldiers injured in battle today exceeds 95%. These are heroes among heroes, and it was a great honor to get to draw for them.

Our stay at Camp Leatherneck was short, as we would fly out early the next day headed to our final stop in Afghanistan: Kandahar Air Field. Check back tomorrow for more.

2013 NCS/USO Tour- Bagram, Afghanistan

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


The National Cartoonists Society has a long history of supporting our US Military, particularly during times of strife. In fact, the NCS was first formed in the 1940‘s as a result of chalk talks that cartoonists got together to do for the troops during World War II. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to go on several NCS Cartoonists/USO trips over the last five years to places like Germany, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan and others. This year I went with a terrific group of talented cartoonists on a trip back to Afghanistan with a stop in Kyrgyzstan. This week I’ll be posting about our adventures “down range” (click any photos to embiggen).

Tues. Sept. 3rd- Travel

IIt takes a LOOOOOONG time to get to that part of the world. In fact, out of a nine-day trip we spend 4 just getting to and from the war zone. I left Minneapolis on Sunday evening Sept.1st, en route to Istanbul, Turkey, where I met up with the rest of our merry band and our USO tour manager. This was mostly a different group than the ones I had usually traveled with on past trips because I was actually filling in for a cartoonist who was originally scheduled but had to bow out. It was quite a gathering of talents: Ray Alma (MAD Magazine), Paul Combs (illustrator, editorial cartoonist), Bruce Higdon (Punderstatements), Jeff Keane (The Family Circus), Mason Mastroianni (B.C.), Michael Ramirez (editorial cartoonist), Ed Steckley (MAD Magazine) and myself. We try and get a mix of different kinds of cartoonists (comic strip, editorial, etc) but the USO and the soldiers we draw like caricatures because they are universal, so those who can do that and have credits in the publishing world as well are especially applicable.

L to R: Bruce Higdon, Mason Mastroianni, Ed Steckley,
Michael Ramierez, Ray Alma, Jef Keane, myself, Paul Combs

From Istanbul we flew a commercial flight to Kyrgyzstan, where we were shortly transferred to a military flight out of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, headed into the “theater” of Afghanistan. First we had to be fitted with our IBAs (Individual Body Armor) which we had to either be wearing or carrying at all times when on military planes. These supposedly weighed about 25 lbs but felt like 50, especially after hauling them all over Afghanistan.


Me, Ed and Mason in full gear


Jeff and I are clearly very intimidating in our helmets


 We all drew on the desk of the Manas gear tent

We flew out in a C-17, which is always really interesting as it’s a serious, working military aircraft big enough to hold hundreds of troops, about 20 palettes of supplies or even an entire Chinook helecopter. Ed and I got to sit in the cockpit during takeoff, and other artists went up during the flight to see things from the flight deck. We landed at our first destination in Afghanistan just in time to get some late dinner and crash… it took over 30 hours of flying, layovers and prep time to get to Afghanistan, and having only gotten a few cat naps along the way we were all in need of some shut eye before we got started with our busy itinerary.


Jeff Keane getting some photos in the C-17


We snagged the side seats on this flight

Wed. Sept 4th: Bagram Airfield

Outside our billet “huts” on BAF

Our first stop in Afghanistan was at Bagram Air Field (BAF). This is a very large base in Afghanistan housing tens of thousands troops. We were met by our MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) liaison in Afghanistan and billeted in some funky plywood huts where many of the USO entertainers stay. Accommodations on the bases can run from a tent in the rocks to a fairly permanent trailer-like structure, but there are relatively few permanent structures on these bases… especially Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), and basically none of them are housing. Our billets are always comfortable, however, and we’d probably sleep in trash cans anyway as we are not there for a vacation but to draw for the troops. These huts were great, actually, and they even had wifi! Communications on bases around Afghanistan have really changed since my last visit in 2010. Then, you had to go to an internet cafe or the USO or MWR center and use hardwired computers to Skype or email back home. Now there seems to be wifi all over, usually in the Dining Facilities (DFACs), the USO/MWR complexes, the major shopping areas like the PXs, and even in some of the living quarters. You can probably imagine how much of a difference it makes to a soldier deployed in a war zone for between 6 months and a year to have instant communication with family back home readily available anytime they get a chance to use it.

A bunch of MWRAP vehicles not out on missions

We had two drawing sessions at BAF. The first took place in a part of the base called the Warrior Area. Despite the well-publicized drawback from the area by US Forces, Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place. The folks at Bagram are the ones that work to keep the major highway in the country safe for goods and people to travel on. No easy task with many insurgents still intent on planting IEDs (Improvised Exploding Devices) and ambushing caravans and trucks. Things are still pretty tense in Afghanistan, and that’s why it’s so important we do these trips. For a short time, we can make these brave men and women forget about their stressful and often monotonous days in the war zone, and bring a smile to faces that could definitely use them.

1237140_716472748378674_1699496959_nUs drawing at the Warrior USO center- Photos courtesy BAF Facebook Page

We went to the USO center and drew for a few hours in the late morning. Some people wonder what in the world a bunch of cartoonists would do on a tour like this… it’s not like we are rock stars or celebrities that sign autographs and pose for pictures. What we do is set up at a table with our drawing supplies, put a chair opposite us and invite soldiers to sit down while we draw them a cartoon. Some of use do caricatures of the soldiers, some of us will draw our characters for them with some personalized element to it. That might not sound like much, and in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t, but the other thing we do does mean a lot. We sit there for 10-15 minutes with each soldier and just talk to them. We find out what they do, how long they’ve been in the military, where home is, who’s back home waiting for them to return… we let them talk about what they want to talk about, and the drawing is almost a byproduct.

I know that sounds pretty mundane, but you have to understand what these soldier’s lives are like 10,000 miles from home. They basically just work, eat, and sleep, all day, every day, for usually 9 months to a year deployment. Even the slightest of distractions is a welcome breath of fresh air to these folks. They might not ever have read MAD before, or be familiar with the comic strips some of the artists on tour, nor have seen the cartoons of the other artists, but having someone who does something other than soldiering come visit from home is something they really like and appreciate. In fact often the first thing out of the mouths of those who sit down for us are words of gratitude for us coming so far and giving of our time to spend it with them. I find this funny simply because they have no idea how important it is to US to be there, and how many NCS members are ready and eager to volunteer for these trips. We are grateful for the opportunity to visit with them.

1233627_716472848378664_1397919763_nSome of the soldiers and drawings- Photos courtesy BAF Facebook Page

It always perplexed me a bit after the sincere thanks we get from all the soldiers we see, even if they aren’t fans of the specific cartoons we do. Our MWR liaison finally explained it to me in a way that makes sense—it really is the simple breaking of the monotony of a soldier’s time on deployment that is so important to these folks. Imagine you are away from your family and friends for up to a year, staying in a confined space and doing the exact same thing day in and day out. Your communications to your loved ones back home are the highlights of your day… but what do you have to tell them? The same things over and over? A visit like ours gives the soldiers something to talk about, to tell family back home “these nutty cartoonists visited the base today and I got a caricature done by some guy who works for MAD Magazine”, and they go on to talk about cartoons and the experience he/she had. It really is no more than that. They ask about what we do, and we get to know what they do. We make a brief connection.

After our drawing sessions at the USO, we got the chance to visit the JOC (Joint Operations Center), where the Brigadeer General Commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Bagram briefed us on what BAF is all about, their ongoing missions and lots of fascinating facts about the base.

That evening we did a really fun drawing session on the deck of an open shopping area.  Under most circumstances we set up in contained areas so no one can really watch us draw, but in this case there was an open area behind us that allowed crowds to watch the drawings happen as we do them. As a live caricaturist that is nothing new to me, but it’s unique on these trips and makes for a really fun session as we can entertain the soldiers behind us as well as do drawings for those sitting down. One of the only disadvantages of doing things as we do them is that we can only draw for so many soldiers in a typical two to three hour drawing session.

We had to hit the sack early as Thursday was going to be a seriously long day. We had a bag call at 0315 (that’s 3:15 AM for all you non-military types) to head out to our next stop: Camp Leatherneck.

Check back tomorrow for more!

Busy at the Reubens

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

As I expected, I have been so swamped running the NCS Reubens I’ve been unable to update the blog. My apologies. Expect a full report next week, and a list of the winners of the Divisional Awards and the Reuben for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year tomorrow.


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