NCS REUBEN AWARDS: Finalists talk of surprise as 4 nominees named for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year

The National Cartoonists Society has named its finalists for its esteemed Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year — and at least half the nominees say they were surprised.

“I was expecting that about as much as I was expecting to get called up to go play in the NHL,” Hilary Price, creator of “Rhymes With Orange,” tells Comic Riffs. “It was a really, really nice surprise.”

“The initial reactions were the obvious ones of surprise followed by delight,” says Wiley Miller, creator of “Non Sequitur.” “It really did seem to come out of the blue for me, completely unexpected.”

The other two finalists are “Pearls Before Swine” creator Stephan Pastis and “Lio” creator Mark Tatulli.

“A great field,” Tatulli tells us of the Reuben picks, “and I’m humbled to be sharing the nomination with cartoonists I respect and like.”

This is the sixth Reuben nomination for Pastis; the other three are first-time finalists.

“I am so pleased to be standing shoulder to shoulder with those three,” Price tells The Post. “Or, I guess, Stephan and Wiley are standing shoulder to shoulder, and Mark and I are standing at about nipple height to them.”

“The best part came when I learned who the other candidates are, four in all this year, which is unusual,” Miller tells The Post. “All the others … are very good friends of mine, and I honestly couldn’t be more pleased.

“I know this sounds like the usual “aw shucks” [baloney], but I’m genuinely happy to be a part of this group, and will be very happy regardless of who takes home the trophy,” Miller continues. “I really think that we’ve already won in being nominated. The trophy will just be icing on the cake.”

The winner will be announced May 24 at the NCS Reuben Awards dinner in San Diego.

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