ON SATURDAY NIGHT in San Diego, “Non Sequitur” creator Wiley Miller won what he calls “a once-in-a-lifetime award.”
Miller means that both wryly — because a cartoonist can win this honor only once ever — but also sincerely, because he appreciates the prize’s rich past.
The quirky statue that Miller hoisted was for the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, presented during a black-tie ceremony in downtown San Diego emceed by cartoonist/screenwriter/producer Tom Gammill (“Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons”).
Winning the Reuben means adding one’s name to a seven-decade line of great cartoonists, Miller tells Comic Riffs contributor Tom Racine, and “to be part of that pantheon is very important.”
“At my age, I’ve been around long enough [to know] that this doesn’t mean I’m going to make more money or, like an Oscar, I’ll get more plum roles,” Miller tells Comic Riffs. “Pretty much the only ones who know about it are in [this] room. But it’s important to be part of that legacy.”
Miller launched “Non Sequitur” in 1992 — through the Washington Post Writers Group — as primarily a single-panel strip. Over time, “Non Sequitur” — now syndicated by Universal Uclick — began to mix single-panel gags with character-driven dialogue.
“I developed the strip to go into any direction my creativity would take me,” Milker tells us. “[It’s] very open-ended. It’s like creating a new strip all the time.” “Non Sequitur” is the only comic to have won NCS divisional awards for both best newspaper comic strip and best newspaper panel.
Miller, a former editorial cartoonist, is also a virtuosic artist who began to take advantage of evolving digital technologies in the ’90s, notably developing a painterly quality in his Sunday strips. “I’m always trying to push things,” says Miller, noting that he doesn’t ask permission before experimenting. “I haven’t had to apologize yet.”
“Cartoonists get browbeaten by the suits,” Miller tells Comic Riffs. “(You’re told:) ‘This is the way it’s done.
“Being the obstinate SOB that I can be,” Miller says he asks: “Why can’t we do this — why can’t we do that?”
The other finalists for the Reuben were Stephan Pastis (“Pearls Before Swine”), Hilary Price (“Rhymes With Orange”) and Mark Tatulli (“Lio”).
Among other honors, “Weird Al” Yankovic received the A.C.E. Award (Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinaire); Russ Heath got the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award; and Bunny Hoest Carpenter and John Reiner (“The Lockhorns”) were presented with the Gold Key (Hall of Fame) Award.
“Speed Bump” creator Dave Coverly won the Newspaper Panel award for the third time, and Michael Ramirez of Investor’s Business Daily won for Editorial Cartoons.
“To a certain extent, we’re slapping ourselves on the back,” Coverly tells Comic Riffs of the peer-voted awards, “but also, that’s who you want to slap your back.” Coverly, a past Reuben Award winner, says he’s motivated by this “self-imposed peer pressure.”
The only woman to win an award this year was Isabella Bannerman, who received the Newspaper Strip prize for the rotating-creator feature “Six Chix.” Tatulli was also nominated in that category.
The night’s other multiple nominees were Mike Twohy and Dave Whamond; the latter won for Magazine Illustration.
The National Cartoonists Society also said that next year’s Reuben Awards ceremony and conference — typically held during Memorial Day weekend — will be in Washington, D.C.
REUBEN AWARDS: A keen memory about one past “outstanding” cartoonist.
Here is the full list of NCS divisional honorees:
NEWSPAPER COMIC STRIP: Isabella Bannerman, “Six Chix.”
NEWSPAPER PANELS: Dave Coverly, “Speed Bump.”
EDITORIAL CARTOONS: Michael Ramirez.
FEATURE ANIMATION: Hayao Miyazaki, director, “The Wind Rises” (Studio Ghibli/Disney).
TV ANIMATION: Paul Rudish, “Mickey Mouse” shorts, Disney Channel.
MAGAZINE GAG CARTOONS: Matt Diffee.
GREETING CARDS: Mark Parisi.
COMIC BOOKS: Sergio Aragones, “Sergio Aragones Funnies.”
GRAPHIC NOVEL: Andrew C. Robinson, “The 5th Beatle”
MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION: Dave Whamond.
BOOK ILLUSTRATION: William Joyce.
ADVERTISING/PRODUCT ILLUSTRATION: Rich Powell.
NEWSPAPER ILLUSTRATION: Miel Prudencio Ma.
ONLINE–LONG FORM: Jeff Smith, Tuki.
ONLINE–SHORT FORM: Ryan Pagelow, Buni.