“Pickles” (from left), “Pearls Before Swine” and MAD take center stage. (NATIONAL CARTOONISTS SOCIETY )


Loquacious senior citizens and voracious gators will go up against Alfred E. Neuman for this year’s Reuben Award.

Brian Crane, Stephan Pastis and Tom Richmond have just been announced as the finalists for the “Cartoonist of the Year” award, as nominated by their peers of the National Cartoonists Society.

“I was honestly amazed and humbled,” Crane, creator of the strip “Pickles,” tells Comic Riffs.

“I think of myself as kind of an outsider in the cartoon world. I don’t have any really close cartoonist friends ... partly because I’m just basically pretty introverted,” continues Crane, who launched “Pickles” in 1990. “And so, to have my fellow cartoonists who don’t know me very well, if at all, nominate me for this honor is extremely gratifying.”

In 2001, “Pickles” — which features the true-to-life banter of the elderly couple Earl and Opal Pickles — won the NCS’s Best Newspaper Comic Strip Award. This is Crane’s second Reuben nomination.

“Really, just to be mentioned in the same breath as Stephan Pastis and Tom Richmond, both of whom I admire a lot, is a great thrill all by itself,” says Crane, whose strip, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, just picked up its 800th newspaper client.

This is the fourth Reuben nomination for Pastis, whose Universal Uclick comic “Pearls Before Swine” — which centers on the sharp-tongued wordplay of creatures both domestic and wild — won the Best Newspaper Comic Strip award in 2003 and 2006. Pastis’s most recent “Pearls” book topped the New York Times bestseller list last year, and he has recently pushed the creative envelope for immersive comic-strip apps.  

Of the news, Pastis quips to Comic Riffs: “I was pretty happy about it until I heard Musclehead Tom announce that the three of us would have to arm-wrestle for it. ... I thought that was inappropriate.”

“Tom" would be NCS President Tom Richmond, gifted caricaturist and illustrator for MAD magazine.

“My initial reaction was to make some jokes about being worried people would think I was stuffing the ballot box,” Richmond tells ‘Riffs of being both NCS nominee and office-holder, “but I was too stunned and humbled by the honor to go through with it.

“I am not being falsely gracious when I say to have my name included with Brian’s and Stephan’s as a Reuben nominee is honor enough,” continues Richmond, who last year released the ‘Riffs-recommended book “The MAD Art of Caricature!” “I am well and truly humbled to be in such company — and to be even considered for an honor bestowed on so many cartoonists I admire and [who] are my heroes.”

It was announced earlier that Steve McGarry will receive the Silver T-Square Award and Stan Goldberg will get the Gold Key Award.

The “Cartoonist of the Year” winner and NCS divisional recipients will be announced May 26 at the NCS Reuben Awards ceremony in Las Vegas.