Opus 28:

1. Record Reubens (6/2)

1. Record Reubens. Every spring at about this time, the National
Cartoonists Society throws a party at which they dispense awards to
outstanding cartoonists for the achievements of the year. The affair
is dubbed the Reubens Weekend because it takes most of a weekend and
because the trophy given to the "cartoonist of the year" is called
the Reuben.  

This year's award ceremony and a growing cluster of encumbrances
(panels, dinners, cocktail hours) took place at the Marriott World
Trade Center at the southern tip of Manhattan May 27-28. Many of the
festivities were marked by tributes to Charles Schulz, creator of
Peanuts, who died February 12. Over 600 persons attended--300
cartoonists, plus wives, families, syndicate officials, and editors.
It was the biggest Reubens Weekend ever.

Saturday began with a buffet breakfast and the annual NCS business
meeting, which, together, consumed the morning.  The afternoon was
devoted to a series of "seminars" or presentations by (1) Bonnie
Timmons, cartoonist from the TV series "Caroline in the City"; (2)
Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, and a panel of New
Yorker cartoonists; and (3) Nick Meglin and a panel of Mad magazine
cartoonists.  The day ended with the Reuben Award Banquet, about
which, more anon.

Sunday morning, United Media, the Peanuts syndicate, hosted a Sparky
Schulz Memorial Buffet Brunch in the Windows of the World, the
restaurant on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center.  It was, as
someone observed, "as close to Sparky as we could get."  

The hallways through which we filed to collect plates-full of food
were lined with easels displaying photostats of all the
Peanuts-tribute strips. Some of us--well-fed and teary-eyed over the
strips--were ungrateful enough to wish that United Media or someone
had produced a little memorial pamphlet of all these strips so we
could have taken away a more tangible reminder of the occasion. The
Los Angeles Times (doubtless prompted by Nancy Tew, its thoughtful
and attentive features editor, who was in attendance) had shipped
enough of its Saturday "Arts and Entertainment" section (which
included about 30 of the tribute strips) for distribution the
previous morning at the business meeting. And that was fine. But a
pamphlet of the tributes would have frosted the cake. (In lieu of
such a publication, try <www.snoopy.com>)

Sunday afternoon's program included a panel of newspaper editors and
syndicate officials who had courageously agreed to be grilled by a
roomful of cartoonists on such subjects as: morphing strips to make
them fit page layouts, colorizing daily strips, censorship, reader
surveys, and other evidences of the uncaring industry's cavalier
treatment of their most unique feature. After that, David Levine
presented slides of his best-loved caricatures, and Mike Peters
regaled us with a fresh crop of breathlessly enacted anecdotes about
his life and youth as a Superman clone.

The day--and the weekend--concluded with perhaps its most anticipated
event: the Bil Keane Roast, hosted by King Features. Since Keane
(creator of  Family Circus) has been firing off snide zingers and
cynical asides about his colleagues for several generations now as
emcee for the Reuben Banquet,  it seemed, at last, that he would get
his just desserts at the hands of those he had so callously abused
for years.

Saturday night's traditionally black-tie banquet was preceded by a
cocktail hour (or so), during which booze flowed. I don't mean to
suggest that cartoonists are a bunch of drunks. As Keane observed
later that evening: "It has been said that cartoonists drink too much
alcohol," he intoned in his gravelly voice. "Hogwash, I say. That's
what they drink--hogwash." See what I mean about his acerbic wit.

In any event, there was plenty of hogwash to go around.
Appropriately, most of the male attendees wore tuxedoes and black
ties. Some wore red ties. Most of the ties were bow ties. This
tradition stems from pre-historic times in the history of the Society
when the event was enthusiastically covered by the local press, and
the object of the formal attire was to present cartoonists in a
somewhat more dignified light than they usually radiated from the
funnies pages of the nation's newspapers. (And if anyone reading this
is inspired to respond, "Hogwash," so be it; cartoonists can be
undignified in any garb they chose, such is the breadth of their

The Ballroom was arranged for visual as well as audio presentation:
on either side of the podium was a huge projection screen upon which
were projected images of cartoonists and their creations as they were

A video about Charles Schulz and Peanuts preceded the posthumous
presentation of the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. Bil
Keane stepped aside from his customary role as gadfly to remark,
"This is a small tribute to an icon we all considered a dear friend
for decades."

Sparky's widow Jeannie accepted the award, which the cartoonist had
known before he died that he would receive.

"Sparky had hoped for all of his life that he would receive this
award," Jeannie said, "and had hoped he would be here for it.  And in
many ways, I think he is." The crowd stood to applaud.

After that came the presentations of annual awards.

The Reuben, a heavy statuette made in the image of a lamp that had
been manufactured for his own amusement by one of the Society's
founders, Rube Goldberg, is awarded to the "cartoonist of the year."
(The ink bottle that crowns the Reuben is where Rube put the light
bulb in his lamp.)  It must be emphasized that since the entire
membership votes in the Reuben balloting, each of the three finalists
is a winner, holder of a distinguished accolade conferred by his

All three of the Reuben contenders had been nominated at least twice
before, a signal achievement for each:  Patrick McDonnell (Mutts),
Pat Brady (Rose Is Rose), Greg Evans (Luann).  McDonnell, who's been
up three times before, was awarded the trophy this year.

NCS designates other notable accomplishments of the year by giving
"category awards" or "Reuben Division Awards" (metal plaques) in
assorted venues of cartooning as voted only by others in the same
venue. This year's winners (listed first in boldface) and the other

Newspaper Panel Cartoons
Dan Piraro (Bizarro), Ralph Dunagin (Dunagin's People), Wiley Miller
(Non Sequitur, which he produces in both strip and panel format)

Gag Cartoons
Rick Stromoski, Pat Byrnes, Benita Epstein, Glenn McCoy

Editorial Cartoons
Chip Bok, Mike Peters, Jeff Stahler

Newspaper Comic Strip
Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman (Zits), Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman
(Baby Blues), Mike Peters (Mother Goose and Grimm)

Newspaper Illustration
Pierre Bellocq, James E. Hummel, Steve McGarry

Advertising and Illustration
Craig McKay, Roy Doty, Bob Staake

Television Animation
Rick Moore, Steve Moore, Steven Dean Moore
I know: it looks like one guy to me, too, but it's really three.

Feature Animation
Brad Bird (Warner Bros.), John Lasseter (Pixar), Jeff Lynch (Warner

Comic Books
Chris Ware (who was not present to receive the award; Acme Novelty
Library), Daniel Clowes (Eightball), Stan Goldberg (Archie)

Greeting Cards
Anne Gibbons, Bill Brewer, Jill Wright

Magazine Illustration
Kevin Rechin, Hadi Farahani, Tom Richmond

Book Illustration
T. Lewis (who also does the panel, Committed, and the strip Over the
Hedge), Guy Gilchrist, Rick Stromoski

Most of the award recipients violated the Hollywood tradition of
thanking scores of relatives and hangers-on. Cartooning for most of
us is, after all, a solitary profession. But Patrick McDonnell spoke
for many when, in accepting the Reuben as "cartoonist of the year,"
he invoked a litany of cartooning's greats by way of expressing his
thanks and indebtedness to them--beginning with Winsor McCay and
George Herriman and ending with Sparky, whose encouragement and
dictum he quoted in conclusion: "Keep drawing those funny pictures."

And if you want to know more about the history of those funny
pictures, click here to read about one of my books on the subject,
The Art of the Funnies. Meanwhile, stay 'tooned.

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