THE NATIONAL CARTOONISTS SOCIETY promises something older and something entirely new as it hones its plans for May’s 2012 Reuben Awards.

The something older will be Garfield, the layabout lasagna-lover who is nearing his 35th anniversary on the comics pages. Creator Jim Davis will be a guest speaker at this year’s event just outside Las Vegas, says MAD artist and NCS President Tom Richmond.

Another top guest this year, from the world of TV animation, will be Nickelodeon’s Butch Hartmann.

And to acknowledge the massive surge in webcomic popularity over the past decade, NCS has announced the new: that it has just added a contest category for Online Comics Strips.

(Comic Riffs cannot urge enough that eligible online entrants submit their work; whoever wins will achieve an especially notable first. Full rules can be found on Richmond’s blog.)

The NCS has also just put out its call for entries for all its divisional awards. The submission deadline is Feb. 6.

The criteria for webcomics raised some questions in the comics community — so much so that Richmond tells Comic Riffs that the submission rule has swiftly been reworded.

As the NCS continues to plan the Reubens, Comic Riffs caught up with Richmond, who agreed to answer several questions about the changes and programming:

MICHAEL CAVNA: Can you speak a bit about what went into the decision-making to adding the webcomics category? What prompted the NCS to "pull the trigger" (as John Elway likes to say) this year to recognize webcomics — and do you see this as a "first step"?

TOM RICHMOND: This is definitely a “first step” in recognizing online cartooning in the NCS divisional awards. It’s been discussed and explored for several years, and there are a lot of challenges involved. I picked the brains of several big names in online comics, and worked with the board to try and come up with criteria for eligibility that were in keeping with the other divisions and the NCS rules. This is what we came up with.

MC: Immediately, the wording of the webcomics eligibility requirement came under some scrutiny among cartoonists. Some of that involved percentage-of-income that is consistent with NCS membership rules. What prompted you, exactly, to change the contest wording late Tuesday?

TR: After some review, we amended the criteria that define being a “professional,” which is one of the clearly written rules of the NCS awards. In order to qualify for an award, you must be eligible for professional membership in the NCS, which is written in the by-laws as having earned the “major part of your income from cartooning for the past three years.”

The initial language in the Online Comic Strip Division criteria incorrectly specified [that] online comics creators had to earn the majority of their income “directly from their strip/property”. This was badly worded, as no division in the NCS awards requires the submitter earn their majority income from work in that division. We corrected it to just require the majority of income come from cartooning in some form, as it should have been in the first place.


MC: Adding webcomics strikes me as a good move to broaden NCS's relevance as it strives to reflect the state of the industry. Are there any other changes you plan, or hope, to make as president to increase NCS' s prominence and professional relevance?

TR: We are reaching out to animators and comic book artists, who comprise a disproportionately low percentage of our membership, to become part of the NCS.

This year at the Reubens one of the guest speakers will be Butch Hartmann of Nickelodeon animation fame. We are continuing to try and welcome webcomics creators into the fold and educate current members on the growth of Internet cartooning. We are having another panel this year at the Reubens on 21st-century cartooning revenue streams, including webcomics and self-publishing with Dave Kellett, John Lotshaw and Michael Jantze.

MC: The recent NCS internships have seemed like a smart step to prevent the "greying" of the membership at large. Are there other plans to try to attract younger members?

TR: Younger members are attracted by when other younger members join, so it’s a snowball effect. Increasing the visibility of animation and Internet comics in the NCS will appeal to younger members.

MC: That said, part of the thrill of attending the Reubens is also getting to meet older legends like (in 2010) Bill Gallo and Jerry Robinson, may they Rest in Peace. Are there any legends you especially hope will attend NCS 2012 — perhaps even one you haven't met?

TR: I’m excited to have Jim Davis as one of our guest speakers at the Reubens this year. I’ve never met him, but my entire family were big Garfield fans from back when he had tiny, little eyes.

Garfield, not Jim.