NCS REUBEN AWARDS: As artists honor each other tonight, a keen memory about one ‘outstanding’ cartoonist

TONIGHT IN SAN DIEGO, scores of cartoonists will don cummerbund and gown to salute each other at the National Cartoonists Society‘s Reuben Awards — considered to be one of the tops honors in comics.

The Reubens — which date back to the World War II era and have strong roots in print media — have especially celebrated some of the greatest newspaper and magazine cartoonists ever to grace the American horizon-line. And attending this event for the first time as a pro cartoonist can be a bit awe-inducing, as stars of syndication and publishing roam the room in between the official dispensing of the divisional honors (ranging from webcomics to greeting cards) and the big “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year” Reuben Award.

On Saturday evening, the winner of the Reuben will be named from among four very deserving finalists: Wiley Miller, creator of “Non Sequitur”; “Pearls Before Swine” creator Stephan Pastis; Hilary Price, creator of “Rhymes With Orange”; and “Lio” creator Mark Tatulli.) And with the announcement just hours away, I’m reminded of one particularly special time I witnessed the Reuben presentation.

This month, reporter Nancy Gondo of Investor’s Business Daily asked me about “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams, and I encourage you to read her excellent profile right HERE. As her questions delved into what makes Adams special, I thought about the Reuben Awards in 1998, in Pasadena. Here is what I told Gondo about that event, and that memory, in full:

[2014 NCS REUBENS: This year’s finalists react to being nominated]

QUESTION: What do you think of “Dilbert” and/or Scott Adams?

ANSWER: An iconic strip by a brilliant and generous guy. But I can best illuminate this with a personal anecdote that your readers might enjoy, and which also might lend a true insight into Scott:

 In 1998, I was a newly signed syndicated cartoonist with United Media, and Scott had newly reached a certain rock-star status within newspaper comics. We were sitting one table apart at the National Cartoonists Society’s big, black-tie Reuben Awards dinner ceremony in Pasadena, and Scott was up for the year’s big award — sort of the newspaper cartoonist’s equivalent of an Oscar. Both our tables were hosted by our shared syndicate, but I was clearly at the “young turks” table, a syndicate rookie — while he was now royalty, sitting with the top execs and “Peanuts” creator Charles “Sparky” Schulz.

There was a short break right before the announcement of the big award, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Scott, who was kind, collegial — and curious to know more about me and my strip.

I proceeded to ask him questions about the “inside baseball” mechanics of syndicate sales, and he — with the deft analysis of an MBA — launched into an honest and brilliant soliloquy about how a new strip is always going up, or down, within the syndicate rep’s briefcase; a physical depiction of the actual trending fate of your feature, given that new sales are like fresh oxygen for a fledgling strip [and deprivation can be the death of your precious cartoon]. Scott was incisive, and thoughtful, and patient.

Just then, the ceremony reconvened, and moments later, Scott was standing on the stage, accepting the night’s big award as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year. As I clapped as  loud as anyone in the ballroom, I realized there are so many ways to be an “outstanding” cartoonist — and Scott has just demonstrated to me one of the most selfless ways.

 That is the mark of a true pro. That is Scott.

Good luck to all of tonight’s nominees — may you seize the weekend’s opportunities to be “outstanding” cartoonists.


Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.



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