Reporting from the NCS Reubens in Jersey City...
NCS Lifetime Achievement Award winner George Booth (photo by Michael Cavna)
History was on parade Saturday at the cartooning world's version of the Oscars. And like any swell parade, balloons -- in this case, "word balloon" gags -- were continuous and colorful.
"My wife says that when she met me, she thought I was rich and eccentric," said legendary New Yorker magazine cartoonist George Booth, 83, speaking in a Jimmy Stewart-esque drawl punctuated by an infectious, high-pitched laugh. "Then she said she learned I was just poor and strange.'
"To be a cartoonist," Booth explained, "it helps to be nuts."
At heart, that's what these National Cartoonist Society 64th annual Reubens Awards are: an opportunity for several hundred professional cartoonists and industry colleagues to gather and, within the safety of like species, to be a little nuts.
Fans might "get" cartoonists' jokes. But often, only cartoonists "get" other cartoonists
"How many papers are you in now?" "For Better or For Worse" creator Lynn Johnston razz-asked Reubens ceremony emcee Tom Gammill, a self-syndicated creator ("The Doozies") whose persona is to be cartooning's resident Bob Uecker.
"Twelve," Gammill snapped back while the two were on stage.
Then a "phone call" suddenly came for Gammill. Then a nod and a pause. Every gag cartoonist in the room knew what word was coming next out of Gammill's mouth: "Eleven."
The audience laughed because every syndicated cartoonist knows that call of emotional and economic rejection, the kind that drives creators "a little nuts."
Filling the Hyatt Regency ballroom on the Hudson was a camaraderie born of ink and fused by the realities of "Inc." In tuxes and gowns for this rich-in-tradition dinner were cartoonists who are used to drawing for their supper. And as newspaper funny pages shrink or go online, as magazines fold or are face being sold, as business models for cartooning break or morph, the Reubens are can be a form and forum of group moral support.
Chicken soup (and double martinis) for the cartoonist's soul. So it is that current and upcoming cartoonists draw a certain inspiration from industry history in the flesh:
Booth and art-school legend Joe Kubert were there, picking up the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. (Kubert, called the "kindest man" in cartooning, was hailed as extra kind after he gives gave only a two-word acceptance speech: "Thank you.")
Mort Walker was among us. His "Beetle Bailey" marks Memorial Day as part of its upcoming 60th anniversary. (Walker told Comic Riffs that he still had no problem coming up with gags: "I took my wife to the doctor the other day -- while I was waiting, I wrote 28 jokes.")
And Bill Gallo was inducted into the NCS Hall of Fame. The sports cartoonist has been with the New York Daily News for nearly 70 years, which the NCS called a record in American journalism. (Upon accepting the award, Gallo told a story about friend Pearl Bailey's accepting an NCS sports award years ago -- and wowing the crowd with the best rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" "you ever heard.")
Manhattan may sit across the Hudson, but much of its publishing history of yester decade -- a generation forged by World War II and Korea -- for the night was along the Jersey shore, passing the torch (and plaques) to the next generation or two.
Self-caricatures of Reuben nominees Stephan Pastis, winner Dan Piraro and Richard Thompson. (courtesy of NCS).
The coveted big Cartoonist of the Year Reuben went to "Bizarro" cartoonist Dan Piraro who was not present. The other Reuben nominees were "Pearls Before Swine's" Stephan Pastis and "Cul de Sac's" Richard Thompson, of the Washington Post.
Leading up to the Reubens, Piraro told Comic Riffs: "Pastis and Thompson are both great cartoonists and worthy adversaries. I'm proud to be among them."
Arguably the comedic highlight of the night was the opening movie, a "Godfather" spoof largely written by Gammill and starring NCS president Jeff Keane ("Family Circus") as Vito Corleone -- with the great Mell Lazarus eliciting some of the biggest laughs.
As the lights came up, you could see Gallo and Booth and Walker and Kubert and Lazarus and "Batman" cartoonist Jerry Robinson, among others, and you realized the room is full of some of the cartooning industry's spiritual godfathers. History on parade, indeed.
THE NCS DIVISION WINNERS
The best comic strip award went to Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, who co-create "Zits." (Borgman couldn't be in attendance, so Scott read Borgman's thank-you note, complete with the instruction: "except make me sound sincere.")
Hilary Price won best newspaper panel for "Rhymes With Orange."
John Sherffius won for editorial cartoon; Tom Richmond for newspaper illustration; Pixar/"Up" storyboard artist Ronnie del Carmen for feature animation; and "Family Guy's" Seth MacFarlane for TV Animation.
In other categories: Glenn McCoy won for Gag Cartoons; Debbie Tomassi won for Greeting Cards. and Steve Brodner won for Advertising Illustration.
Other winners: Ray Alma for Magazine Feature/Magazine Illustration. and Dave Whamond ("My Think-a-Ma-Jink") for Book Illustration; Paul Pope ("Strange Adventures") for Comic Books; and David Mazzucchelli ("Asterios Polyp") for Graphic Novel.
As previously announced, Mengxin Li, a film and animation major at the Rochester Institute of Technology. was awarded the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship.
The Reuben is named for the cartooning great Rube Goldberg, the first NCS president who also designed the award.