Opus 89:

Opus 89: Reuben Winners (May 28). One of cartooning's heaviest awards, the Reuben statuette, was awarded on May 25 as the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) named its annual cartoonist of the year-Jerry Scott, who "writes" the syndicated newspaper comic strips, Zits and Baby Blues.

            Meeting over the Memorial Day weekend in Cancun, Mexico, NCS also conferred the Society's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award upon Jerry Robinson and gave its Silver T-Square to Bil Keane (Family Circus) as reported at www.reuben.org.

            In addition to these awards, NCS names winners in thirteen "divisions" or "categories" of professional cartooning, everything from syndicated strips and comic books to advertising and animation. In a weekend of unusual (not to say unprecedented) recognitions, Frank Cho took both the comic book and book illustration divisions. The novelty here is that Cho's comic book, Liberty Meadows, consists chiefly of reprints of his newspaper comic strip of that name, a strip the syndication of which Cho terminated at the end of 2001. The strip won no NCS awards while in its native habitat, but now, having moved permanently out of newspapers, it gets the nod.

            But the award that set a new precedent (and was therefore unprecedented) was Scott's. Never before has a "writer" won the Reuben. In fact, those who just write comics are not even eligible for full membership in the Society. But Scott is not a "writer" in the traditional sense.

            Scott's presence as a finalist in the Reuben competition marks the surfacing of a new policy at NCS, aimed at dealing adequately with the issue of co-creators. Some years ago, the Society changed its rules in this regard: now, any cartoonist who qualifies for full membership can receive the group's highest award. And Scott is a cartoonist as well as a "writer": he drew and wrote Nancy for about ten years (c. 1984-1994) and is therefore fully qualified for membership in the club.

            Moreover, although Scott is credited as "writing" Zits, his writing consists of rendering the strip in rough drawings. His partner, Jim Borgman, then produces his drawing of the strip, following (but not tracing or inking) Scott's pencil sketches. Presumably Scott works the same way in writing Baby Blues for Rick Kirkman to draw.

            It was Scott's status as co-creator of Zits that, if I have my recollections in order, prompted NCS to think about revising its rules. Zits won the newspaper comic strip division award for 1998, its first full year of syndication, and at first, only Borgman's name went on the plaque. Given the unique relationship between Borgman and Scott in the production of the strip, Borgman was understandably upset. Subsequently, Scott's name was added; and both names appeared on the plaque when Zits won the division again the next year. And now, with the Reuben rules re-written and Scott a Reuben winner, NCS has, presumably, made it all right everywhere from sea to shining sea.

            Although I suppose Scott might be upset because neither Borgman's name nor Kirkman's appear on his Reuben trophy....

            The trophy itself is named after Rube Goldberg, one of the founders of NCS whose last name crept into dictionaries to signify outlandish mechanical contraptions that were more complicated than the action they were designed to perform. The statuette was one of his inventions: he thought he was sculpting a lampstand. (For more about Goldberg and his paternity of NCS, click here for Harv's Hindsights.)

            The Cancun weekend marked one other unprecedented occurrence: this is the first time NCS has met in another country. It has conducted its Reuben Weekend on board a cruise ship, but apart from being at sea the whole time for that event, the NATIONAL Cartoonists Society has never been so confused about its national role as to put in at a foreign port until this year.

            The other Reuben finalists were Pat Brady (Rose Is Rose) and Greg Evans (Luann), both of whom have been finalists before-Brady for an unprecedented four consecutive times (this is the fifth in the unbroken chain); Evans, I believe, for at least three previous years (maybe, like Brady, four-but not in a row).

            Robinson, who began his cartooning life working on Bill Finger's Batman (creating the Joker), is the only person to have served as president of both NCS and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC). Founder of the Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate, Robinson was largely instrumental in securing recognition and compensation for Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the creators of Superman.

            And Keane, NCS's tart-tongued long-suffering Reuben banquet emcee, was recognized for outstanding service to the Society and his contributions to the profession.

            Nominees and winners of the "division awards" follow herewith. Because being nominated alone is a signal honor, indicating the esteem of one's colleagues, I'm listing all the categories and the nominees in each, indicating this year's winner with an asterisk (*) before his/her name (which, just to make doubly sure, is in boldface).

            comic strips-Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse), *Brian Crane (Pickles), Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott (Zits); editorial cartoons-Jeff Koterba (Omaha World Herald), *Mike Luckovich (Atlanta Constitution), Glenn McCoy (Belleville News-Democrat); book illustration-Guy Gilchrist, Bob Staake, *Frank Cho; greeting cards-Bill Brewer, *Oliver Christianson, Barbara Dale; magazine gag cartoons-Benita Epstein, *Jerry King, Gary McCoy Comic;

            comic books-*Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows), Stan Goldberg (Archie Comics), Charles Burns (Black Hole and other titles); new media (like computers, Internet antics, etc.)-*Mark Fiore (who does editorial cartoons online), Rich Moyer, Werner Wejp Olsen; advertising and illustration-Steve McGarry, Guy Gilchrist, *Pat Byrnes; newspaper panel cartoons-Dave Coverly (Speed Bump), Hilary Price (Rhymes with Orange), *Dan Piraro (Bizarro); magazine illustration-*Mark Brewer, Kevin Kallaugher, Jack Pittman;

            tv animation-Steve Hillenburg (Spongebob Squarepants), Craig Kellman (Flinstones on the Rocks), *Lynne Naylor and *Chris Reccardi (Samurai Jack); feature animation-*Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.), Doug Sweetland (Monsters, Inc.), Piet Kroon and Tom Sito (Osmosis Jones); newspaper illustration-Paul Fell, *Miel Prudencio Ma, Bob Staake.

MORE SAMURAI JACK. Speaking of the new sensation at Cartoon Network (it just won NCS's division award for tv animation, remember?), the May 27 issue of The New Yorker has a 6-page article on Genndy Tartakovsky and his creations--Jack, of course, and "Dexter's Laboratory." "Jack," according to writer Alec Wilkinson, is "the sleekest, subtlest, and most subversive animated series on television." Well, you doubtless read it here first when I raved about this series upon its introduction many moons past. The article describes "Jack" and "Dexter's," noting the origins of each in Tartakovsky's mind, recites Tartakovsky's biography, and supplies insight into his working methods. He is a workaholic, putting in over 70 hours a week. With his successes, he could doubtless afford to leave the labors to others, but he prefers not to. Samurai Jack is going to star in a live-action movie, and Tartakovsky is writing the screenplay, not wanting to leave his brain child to others. About his work schedule, he says: "At some point, I just had to learn to work beyond my exhaustion. You have to take the opportunities when they're there because sometimes they don't come again."

            Stay 'tooned.

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