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Picking up the tab to enter cartoon contests

Editorial cartoonist Steve Greenberg writes about the loss of a newspaper to cover the cost of entering cartooning contests and the forced decision making that comes with it.

So I am forced to tally up costs and estimate odds, and forced to pick and choose. Is it worth it for me to cough up $75 for the National Headliners Contest when I have very little chance of winning? The Pulitzers are cheaper, even if my odds are no better. The OPC/Nast contest (at $175) is clearly beyond my budget, even though the odds are theoretically better because so few cartoonists would be in a position to enter it. The Best of the West contest is cheap to enter, but even pulling from just half the country still has a large field of entrants, while the L.A. Press Club awards (covering all of Southern California) has a far smaller field but a far larger entry fee (something like $80 or $85). And do I spring for a nice professional-grade binder, which I’ll never see again, to present the work more attractively? Or do the judges become turned off by that and simply want to see the cartoons even if they’re in a cheap file folder?

Community Comments

#1 Derf Backderf
January/13/2010
@ 3:52 pm

Cartooning awards are worthless. Save your money for groceries. Editors could care less about them. Maybe the Pulitzer, but we all know what a joke the judging is there.

I won an SPJ Green Eyeshade Award, Best Cartoon from the Assoc of Alternative Newspapers and the Robert F. Kennedy Award in a three-year span… shortly followed by half of my weekly papers dumping my strip in budget-cutting frenzy.

Career is in the tank, But at least I have a large bust of RFK on my mantle!

#2 Steve Skelton
January/13/2010
@ 5:09 pm

Derf,

I was just looking at your strip today and recommending it to someone. I really enjoy it, for what it’s worth.

#3 Brian Fairrington
January/13/2010
@ 5:19 pm

I totally agree with Steve. If you don’t have a big newspaper as a base it becomes really hard to see the benefit to entering.

I have many colleagues who have jobs at newspapers and every year around awards season their editor as well as several assistants put together the award entries for them…not to mention the newspaper picks up the tab for the high entry fees.

If you are only nationally syndicated like I am, then you are effectively your own boss. With that great luxury comes great responsibility, like paying for fees out of your own pocket. Aside from the Pulitzer are they really worth it?

I entered the Pulitzer back in 2002. It was an arduous task trying to find tear sheets and proof of publication. Although I have hundreds of clients for my cartoons trying to find out where a particular cartoon ran on a particular day is akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I have not entered any cartoon awards since then. I get the feeling that far less cartoonists are doing so for the very reasons I stated
above. This in turn devalues the award because it simply does not represent the vast majority pool of cartoons out there. As the eligibility pool shrinks then you will get more and more repeat winners and this has certainly been evidences in recent years with the Pulitzer. This is not to say the Pulitzer winners were not deserving, they certainly were…but only among the 40 people others that were “technically” eligible and had their paper cough up the fees.

I understand fully that you “cannot win if you don’t play.” However the awards organizers need to get a grip on reality and make all awards fees a flat $10 bucks and make proof of ANY on-line content that meets editorial cartoon criteria eligible.

If they don’t adapt to the every changing media landscape, in 20 years will one guy have nine Pulitzers? Will he be regarded as the best that every lived or a joke?

#4 Roger Maynard
January/14/2010
@ 2:01 am

I think the first award counts for something. Then you can bill yourself as an “award winning cartoonist.” Beyond that, few will count your awards or look at the names.

Other than the name recognition of a Pulitzer prize, additional contests are of questionable value, especially if their entry fees are too high.

#5 Derf Backderf
January/14/2010
@ 7:04 am

That’s another thing: papers have cut out comp subscriptions so getting the necessary clips is an even bigger pain! When I started, EVERY paper sent me complimentary copies. That was a bit of a pain, too, and the local recycling crew still curse my name. Then came the budget ax. A couple years back I actually had to pay for a Village Voice subscription so I could have Village Voice clips. They refused to send me one gratis!

Some of these contests get so few entries, they’re worthless. The AAN Award now has maybe a dozen submissions. It’s a joke!

Other contests would never consider anything but the most mainstream of mainstream cartoons, so what’s the point there? And editors don’t give a rat’s ass, especially when it comes to syndicated features. But if you’re still a staff cartoonist, yeah, maybe a couple nice awards will spare the hatchet, at least for a little while.

And thanks, Steve.

#6 Ted Rall
January/14/2010
@ 11:03 am

Awards are a racket. I hate the Overseas Press Club. They change $175 per entry. The award is $1000–but you have to pay $400 to attend the awards dinner to collect it! So they’re out a net of $600. If four cartoonist/suckers enter, they make a profit.

Fewer and fewer cartoonists enter these things every year. I judge one of the smaller ones and am amazed at how few entries there are. They are meaningless.

That said, I usually enter the Pulitzer because, well, you never know.

Well, I know.

I’m dumb.

#7 August J. Pollak
January/14/2010
@ 11:34 am

Ted’s right, it’s a racket for people without publisher backing. With the caveat that, you know, me sucking factors into it as well, my major clients are websites (gasp!) so there are actually awards I’m not even ELIGIBLE for, and that I (another gasp!) draw cartoons with MORE THAN ONE PANEL means I’m clearly not of award caliber.

There are also restrictions that hinder cartoonists both in-print and online, the major one being the nonsensical “professional requirement” that mandates that if you don’t “list cartooning as your primary source of income” (aka you have a day job) then you’re not eligible either… or at best welcome at a kiddie table.

Meanwhile, the biggest accolades cartoonists are getting right now are places like the Eisners and the Ignatz and those don’t require an entry fee.

Cartoonists don’t need awards. They need readers and for non-self-run guys, editors who care.

#8 Tom Wood
January/14/2010
@ 11:35 am

Another contest racket is for screenplays. I’ve read for one of the better ones, and it’s very depressing. Imagine several pallets of screenplays in a warehouse, waiting to be read. I’m not convinced we ever got to every one.

The weirdest thing was seeing 55 gallon drums filled with brass brads waiting to be recycled. The worst screenplay I ever read was bound with yarn. I picked it out of the stack knowing it would be a fast rejection. Gotta make quota!

#9 Mike Peterson
January/14/2010
@ 12:19 pm

Plaques are for haques.

#10 Bearman Cartoons
January/14/2010
@ 3:44 pm

“However the awards organizers need to get a grip on reality and make all awards fees a flat $10 bucks and make proof of ANY on-line content that meets editorial cartoon criteria eligible.”

Brian not sure if this is what you are getting at but it seems Pulitzer now allows you to show an active link to an online news site.

“For a distinguished cartoon or portfolio of cartoons published during the year, characterized by originality, editorial effectiveness,quality of drawing and pictorial effect, in print or online or both”

“Entries for journalism awards may be made by any individual based on material coming from a text-based United States newspaper or news site that publishesat least weekly during the calendar year and that adheres to the highest journalistic principles. Magazines and broadcast media, and their respective Web sites, are not eligible.”

#11 Steve Greenberg
January/14/2010
@ 6:11 pm

Just learned the Scripps Howard Foundation Awards allows cartoons in print from non-daily newspapers… as long as they’re published three times a week. Apparently, that was written to include the Detroit papers. But people like Brian Duffy and myself, who now draw for weekly papers, don’t qualify. I do qualify from a daily blog I draw for, but that material is heavily localized.

Many of us still drawing after layoffs are either drawing for weeklies (or alt-weeklies) or creating niche or local stuff that brings in some income but won’t get you anywhere in national contests.

#12 Ted Rall
January/15/2010
@ 9:37 am

The worst thing about contests is that I don’t win all of them. What’s with that?

#13 Pat Bagley
January/26/2010
@ 1:04 pm

One contest everyone should enter is for the Herblock Prize. The entry fee has been waived and the prize is $15,000 after taxes, which generally means a check of $25,000. You have an award ceremony and reception in the Library of Congress in the room which is described in Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” as “the most beautiful room in america.” They fly you and yours out, put you up in elegant digs, and for a brief, shining moment you get to believe you’ve done something worthwhile.

#14 Derf Backderf
January/28/2010
@ 4:11 pm

Except the prize is only given to cartoonists that still draw with grease pencil.

#15 Ted Rall
January/29/2010
@ 9:36 am

As AAEC prez I talked to the Herblock people about their refusal to acknowledge modern cartoonists (who make up most of the profession now). They listened, but they couldn’t hear me.

Is it really so hard to say “OK, we’ll take all the entries seriously, not just the single-panel ones with donkeys, elephants, and cross-hatching?”

#16 Stacy Curtis
January/29/2010
@ 3:33 pm

I thought they said the cartoons they take seriously had to have less than 200 words in them.

#17 John Cole
January/29/2010
@ 3:35 pm

Will someone give an altie cartoonist a plaque and a check so we can stop having this conversation every year? %^)

#18 Ted Rall
January/29/2010
@ 4:59 pm

I doubt it.

#19 Scott Kurtz
January/29/2010
@ 11:07 pm

These awards don’t mean anything. They don’t affect your life or business. And they mean less if you have to ask, or worse, beg for them.

It feels good when you’re honored. It does. And when that happens you should dress up, accept graciously and enjoy the hell out of it.

But it’s pointless to chase them.

#20 Ted Rall
January/30/2010
@ 10:41 am

@Scott, Gotta disagree with you from personal experience. Awards matter, though they shouldn’t. My career was going nowhere until I won the RFK in 1995. Editors who needed to justify my “scary” work with the weird drawing style to their superiors suddenly had cover to sign me. My client list quadrupled.

Were I to win a Pulitzerâ??won’t happen, but a guy can dreamâ??it would no doubt increase my client list again. It would give my syndicate another reason to call on clients who’ve said no in the past. It might even have a salutory effect upon other altie editorial cartoonists, legitimizing them in the eyes of mainstream editors.

I agree, however, that chasing them won’t make any difference.

#21 Stacy Curtis
January/30/2010
@ 1:41 pm

I predict the first altie cartoonist to win the Pulitzer will be Matt Bors. And I predict it will happen in this decade. Just sayin’.

#22 Charles Brubaker
January/30/2010
@ 2:42 pm

Any attention to Matt Bors would be great. I still follow his work; they’re good.

#23 Ted Rall
January/30/2010
@ 4:17 pm

Personally, I read sadder stuff in the paper every day. Darfur, Haiti, the results of US opinion polls that indicate that most Americans believe God created the universe. But yeah, it sucks. Most editorial cartoonists hate contests.

Still, I don’t envy what webcartoonists, including you, have to do to promote your work. It seems depressing to spend so much time thinking about advertising and marketing.

Ultimately, people can get used to anything.

#24 Scott Kurtz
January/30/2010
@ 7:09 pm

I find the work sells itself, Ted.

#25 Scott Kurtz
January/30/2010
@ 7:15 pm

Also, learning promotion, marketing and advertising prevents us from ending up in a position where if larger corporations are no longer able to subsidize our work and allow us to claim their subscription numbers as their own, we don’t have to beg for award hand outs to keep our heads above water.

So I guess it’s a fair trade off.

#26 Ted Rall
January/30/2010
@ 7:16 pm

Not to start anything, but…

You go to lots of comics conventions, right? You Tweet a lot, right? That stuff is work.

#27 Scott Kurtz
January/30/2010
@ 7:40 pm

Yeah. It’s work. That’s why they call it a job.

#28 Tom Wood
January/30/2010
@ 8:02 pm

On mass entertainment: I like mass entertainment. I’ve written mass entertainment. But it’s the opposite of art because the job of mass entertainment is to cajole, seduce and flatter consumers to let them know that what they thought was right is right, and that their tastes and their immediate gratification are of the utmost concern of the purveyor. The job of the artist, on the other hand, is to say, wait a second, to the contrary, everything that we have thought is wrong. Let’s reexamine it.

– David Mamet

PvP has good artwork.

Rall’s style ain’t great art in and of itself.

But by the terms of that quote, I think it’s clear who is doing entertainment and who is doing art. Not that there is anything wrong with either. But it seems to me that the tension between the two forms of expression is embodied in the tension between Scott and Ted.

#29 Stephen Beals
January/30/2010
@ 8:13 pm

I don’t take stock in who wins what award, but from a business perspective they work. There are awards for everything.

Ford won the big awards this year. There are awards for frozen pizza. Target brand Archer Farms pie is proudly displaying that it won the award from the American Pie Council (by far, my favorite council).

If you’re in the business of selling cartoons (or whatever) and you want to solidify your reputation, it’s good sense to attach whatever award you’ve won, whether you’re working for a large corporation or not.

It gets people who don’t know you at all to buy your stuff.

Personally, though, I’m sick of awards.

#30 Stephen Beals
January/30/2010
@ 8:14 pm

You dig up the greatest quotes, Tom!

#31 John Lotshaw
January/30/2010
@ 11:37 pm

There’s an American PIE Council?

You’re kidding, right? Right?

Holy cow… piecouncil.com

#32 Stephen Beals
January/31/2010
@ 1:11 am

Yeah, I’ve been telling everybody about the pie council. Imagine the prestige of belonging to such an organization. Think of the kind of fights they get into when deciding who gets “Best Pie”.

I tend to pay a lot of attention to advertising and Target is really pushing this award they received. Go to Target, buy a delicious pie, and notice the big gold star on the box announcing the American Pie Council award.

I bet sales increased because of that.

#33 Ted Rall
January/31/2010
@ 10:51 am

That’s a great quote. Also, the job of an editorial cartoonist is to make people think. A comic strip is mostly supposed to entertain. So they have different missions, usually.

Still, let’s start over. @Scott, you were supposed to say: “Yes, Ted, you’ve got a point. I have to do stuff I don’t particularly enjoy too.”

#34 Scott Kurtz
January/31/2010
@ 3:20 pm

Oh. Sorry.

No you’re right. I do have to do things I don’t enjoy in order to make a living. Sure. I get your point. So you’re saying chasing these awards are kind of your “price of doing business” like we spend so much time at cons and stuff?

#35 Ted Rall
January/31/2010
@ 5:13 pm

Exactly.

#36 Scott Kurtz
January/31/2010
@ 9:50 pm

If that’s the case, then I have a new appreciation for what you guys have to go through. Because I’ve won an award. And I’ve been up for one and lost. And never once was “effect on sales” something I had to take into consideration during those events.

And they are TERRIBLE experiences. It’s such a horrible feeling sitting through an award ceremony you’re nominated for.

Hell, I was nervous for Brad Guigar when he was up for an Eisner.

#37 Ted Rall
February/1/2010
@ 2:23 pm

LOL, yeah, sitting through one of those dinners is a pretty depressing experience. Even if you win, you feel bad for the other nominees, who are probably–if you’re an editorial cartoonist–your good friends.

Normally, though, these awards are announced online.

Trying to navigate editorial cartooning as a business is an incredibly stressful matter. Among some of the purely financial questions we wrestle with include:

Should you follow the herd and draw like everyone else, in the Jeff MacNelly crosshatching style editors are used to? Or brand yourself as an individual with a unique drawing style (as I did) but then suffer income loss from editors who won’t give your work a chance?

Should you draw hard-hitting cartoons which readers love and are more likely to attract a fan base, or wimpy joke-a-day gags that will get reprinted in Newsweek and other high-profile venues?

When political pressure comes down hard–like in 2001 through 2004, when the US flirted with fascism–do you take the income hit by sticking with your principles? Or do you pull your punches so you can make the mortgage?

Everyone stresses over this stuff.

#38 Brenda Bronstein
June/2/2010
@ 3:47 pm

Hey Steve, congratulations on making the finals of the AAN cartoon category!

(Any idea why they separate all the other categories into papers with large and small circulations, EXCEPT for the cartoons, which have to share one, large category?)

#39 Dan
June/11/2010
@ 2:50 pm

I entered that Washington Post contest a few weeks ago. Anybody else?

#40 Bilso Burke
June/18/2010
@ 12:00 pm

I have never entered a contest, however I have been published in some local newspapers and magazines all but sporadically.
I like to draw single caption cartoons but I have to admit, but for a couple of submissions I felt like I was short changed as far as payment.
I only have myself to blame because quite frankly I never know what to set as a fee.
I have been payed, at worst $15.00 to best, $200.00 per cartoon.
Does anyone have any pointers or advice for me regarding who best to deal with in regards to selling cartoons?
I know it may be a dumb question but I just thought I would ask.

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