'Bizarro' creator Dan Piraro named Cartoonist of the Year at Reuben Awards

By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 31, 2010

JERSEY CITY -- History was on parade Saturday at the cartooning world's version of the Oscars. And like any respectable parade, balloons -- in this case, "word balloons" -- were constant 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 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 Reuben Awards are: an opportunity for several hundred professional cartoonists and 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 cartoonist whose persona is to be cartooning's resident Bob Uecker.

"Twelve," Gammill snapped back onstage.

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 syndicated cartoonists know that call of emotional and economic rejection, the kind that drives creators "a little nuts."

Filling the Hyatt Regency ballroom on the Hudson is 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 draw for their supper. And as newspaper funny pages shrink or go online, as magazines fold or are sold, as business models for cartooning morph, the Reubens are a forum of group moral support.

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 gave only a two-word acceptance speech: "Thank you.")

Mort Walker was among us. His "Beetle Bailey" marks Memorial Day as its 60th anniversary. (Walker said in an interview 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.

The coveted 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.

The best comic strip award went to Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, who co-create "Zits"; 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.

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