CARTOONIST OF THE YEAR, ETC.
Bill Amend was named Cartoonist of the Year for selflessly creating hundreds opportunities for young cartoonists on the nation’s comics pages by retiring the daily edition of his comic strip, FoxTrot, last fall. No, I’m kidding: that’s not why Amend received the Reuben trophy for Cartoonist of the Year from the National Cartoonists Society at their 61st annual meeting, this year held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Orlando, Florida, May 25-27. He earned the esteem of the inky-fingered fraternity with the consistently high quality of his comic strip over its 19-year run. That’s why he got the Reuben. We don’t want to overlook, however, Amend’s having created more than 500 openings on comics pages nationwide when he stopped doing the daily FoxTrot (continuing only the Sunday version) -- an action enthusiastically applauded by scores of aspiring cartoonists who can’t get their foot over the funnies pages threshold unless someone already therein leaves, creating a vacancy. (FoxTrot’s circulation is usually cited as better than 1,000 newspapers, but that is a tally of sales, not newspapers, and since the strip is sold as a daily and, separately, as a Sunday; a newspaper that buys both is recorded as two “sales” which are then, erroneously, by reason of ancient tradition, reported as circulation.)
During the ceremonial presentation banquet on Saturday, May 26, Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker received the Gold Key Award, the Society’s equivalent of a Hall of Fame. Others in the Hall of Fame are Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Edwina Dumm (Capt Stubbs and Tippie), Raeburn Van Buren (Abbie ’n’ Slats), Herbert Block (Herblock, editorial cartoonist), Rube Goldberg (Boob McNutt and editorial cartoons), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), and Arnold Roth (freelance). Walker, a past president of NCS and previous winner (in 1953) of the Reuben, has won just about every award the Society bestows, except the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award; and he’ll doubtless get that ere long.
In accepting the Reuben, Amend, a slender wraith of a man with a prison pallor and an enviable mop of fluff-dried and therefore unruly hair, marveled at the trophy’s considerable weight, asking, midway through his acceptance remarks, if someone else could hold it for him. He said he was afraid he might fall and impale himself on it, alluding to the pointy stopper of the ink bottle that surmounts the statuette’s pile of goofy naked humanoids. In an online interview held earlier in the month, Amend remarked about his decision to discontinue the daily FoxTrot instead of turning it over to another cartoonist to perpetuate: “I’ve always viewed my strip as a personal form of expression/observation more than a business, and the thought of continuing it with others at the helm just seems wrong to me.” Commenting on so-called “legacy strips” and the occasional crusade to expunge them from the funnies, Amend said: “I won’t say older strips should be dumped, but I wish that when newspapers did surveys or otherwise gauged reader opinion, they gave younger readers more clout than they currently seem to. It does sometimes seem as though the comics section is aimed to please the over-60 crowd way more than the under-30 one. Which doesn’t help newer cartoonists get a toehold in papers, and it doesn’t encourage younger readers to develop the habit of reading the paper.”
Amend doesn’t think comics are a dying art form: “While newspaper cartooning is certainly feeling a squeeze these days,” he remarked, “the rising popularity of webcomics makes it pretty clear that people still like to draw cartoons and people still like to read them. The challenge is to figure out how to earn a living off of web content.” Answering a question about why he didn’t let his characters grow older, Amend said: “I created the FoxTrot characters such that they would play off of each other in interesting ways. Were I to age the kids even a couple of years, the changes in their interests/maturities would affect the whole structure of things, and I wasn’t interested in doing that in such an irreversible way.” More about Amend and his adventures creating FoxTrot can be found in the Hindsight department of my online magazine at www.RCHarvey.com.
Runners-up for the Reuben this year were both creators of single-panel cartoons: Dave Coverly, who does Speed Bump, and Dan Piraro with Bizarro. All three have been nominees in previous years. In March, members of NCS voted by mail on the slate of candidates. Earlier in the winter, NCS chapters juried submissions in twelve categories, or “divisions,” of cartooning, picking three finalists in each. Herewith, I list the finalists in all divisions (being a finalist, given the competition, is a distinction itself), prefixing the winner’s name with an asterisk (*):
Comic Strip -- Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead; *Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine; and Mark Tatulli’s Lio. In accepting, Pastis paid tribute to the late King Features editor, Jay Kennedy, who responded to Pastis’ submission by personal letter, without which encouragement, Pastis said, he may not have continued to develop his strip. (Pastis was eventually syndicated by United Media, not King.)
Newspaper Single Panel Cartoon -- Tony Carrillo’s F-Minus; *Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange; and Kieran Meehan’s Meehan. (According to E&P's syndicate directories, Meehan formerly created Meehan Streak for Tribune Media Services and now does A Lawyer, A Doctor & A Cop for King.)
Newspaper Illustration -- Sean Kelly, Robert Sanchuk, and *Laurie Triefeldt.
Gag Cartooning -- *Drew Dernavich, Mick Stevens, P.C. Vey. All are New Yorker ’tooners, a circumstance that vividly reflects the shrunken state of today’s market for magazine cartooning, but it also makes me wonder why no Playboy cartoonists were among the finalists, Hefner’s magazine being the only other gold-standard outlet for gag cartooning.
Editorial Cartooning -- Mike Lester of the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune; Glenn McCoy of the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat; and *Mike Ramirez of Investor's Business Daily. Interestingly, as E&P’s David Astor observed when the nominees’ names were first published, all three finalists are conservatives in a cartooning profession consisting mostly of liberal and centrist creators. (Makes me wonder which chapter did the editorial cartoonist selection this year.) Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau announced the winner in this category, and his tongue-in-cheek recitation of the names of the finalists acknowledged the oddity: Lester “on the right,” McCoy “on the far right,” and Ramirez “on the knuckle-dragging right.”
Comic Book -- This category once again reflects NCS’s historically abysmal appreciation of this genre. All three nominees are for the creators of graphic novels, not comic books: Acocella Marchetto (Cancer Vixen), *Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Marjane Satrapi (Chicken with Plums). NCS will fix this gross ineptitude in future, I’m told, creating a new category for Graphic Novel.
Book Illustration -- *Mike Lester (93 in My Family); Wiley Miller (The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil); and Adrian Sinnott (Caveman Manners).
Greeting Card -- *Carla Ventresca, Pat Byrnes, and Kevin Ahern.
Feature Animation -- "Over the Hedge” (based on the comic strip of the same name by Michael Fry and T Lewis; directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick); *"Open Season" (character design, Carter Goodrich); and“Ice Age 2: the Meltdown” (character design, Peter De Seve).
Television Animation -- David Hulin (“Geico Gecko”), Steve Loter (“Kim Possible”), and *Craig McCracken (“Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”).
Advertising Illustration -- Craig McCay, Jack Pittman, and *Tom Richmond.
Magazine Illustration -- *Steve Brodner, Tom Richmond, and Jean-Jacques Sempe.
The NCS Silver T-Square, given occasionally to “persons who have shown outstanding service
or contributions to the Society or the profession,” was presented to the sons of NCS’s past president,
Steve McGarry, Joe and Luke, whose contribution to the profession consists of orchestrating sound and
computer imaging for several of the last annual meetings and conjuring up the NCS website. While it may
seem unprecedented to add the names of these two youthful non-cartoonists to a roster that includes such
luminaries as England’s David Low as well as James Thurber, Herblock, Walt Kelly, and Arnie Roth (not to
mention Cliff Sterrett and Russell Patterson), the boys join several non-tooners -- Harry S. Truman, Dwight
Eisenhower, King’s Joe D’Angelo, and Universal Press’s John McMeel among them.
Dan Piraro again applied his acerbic wit to mastering the evening’s ceremonies, but he cast a pall of gloom over the proceedings almost at once by announcing that this year would be his last at the podium. Several of us speculated that Steve McGarry will be Piraro’s successor. This year’s pre-registered attendance stood at 145 cartoonists, plus their wives, children and miscellaneous hangers-on, a grand total of perhaps 300 souls, a somewhat smaller crowd that at other recent Reubens festivities, which usually attract over 400 people. This report, augmented by several more paragraphs, re-appears in Rants & Raves at www.RCHarvey.com.