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Jeff Keane reflects on four years as NCS President

Jeff Keane wrapped up 2 terms as President of the National Cartoonists Society. Only three other individuals in the history of the society have served more than one term. Jeff was gracious enough to submit to a few questions reviewing his tenure.

Alan: Of the 34 presidents so far, only four have served more than one term – you being one of them. How did end up serving two terms?

Jeff: I was clearly one of only four guys who the members of the NCS felt was stupid enough to say, “OK, I’ll do it again.”

Alan: In the last four years which Reuben weekend did you enjoy the most and why?

Jeff: Ah… so it is a Sophie’s choice you want from me… well, as with all children, they each had there ups and downs. I was lucky enough to have four great cities: New Orleans, Hollywood, Jersey City (yes, Jersey City) and Boston and they each were supported by our membership and each was unique. There were highlights of each: New Orleans had the Habitat for Humanity and an elegant hotel in a city that was needing of support. Hollywood was in a modern hotel smack in the middle of the entertainment capitol and as a big bonus Cathy Guisewite graciously opened her home for dinner on the Sunday. Jersey was a surprise to most, I think, because of the incredible views in another modern hotel that gave you the feel of New York City, without the cost, and the Sunday Gag Cartoon Smackdown was certainly well received. Finally, Boston was just the whole package, a gorgeous grand hotel, in a great city and the Sunday public event benefiting the BCAE… However, what was the biggest contributor to any of the weekends success? No, not the overabundance of beverages and food, but it was the people who attended and for that I was very grateful.

Alan: Looking back were there any particular challenges that stick out as needing to be addressed as an organization and are you happy with the outcome?

Jeff: Luckily, I had a series of predecessors to my job who had done such a phenomenal job that when I took over I could hit the ground without having to worry too much about doing anything except not screwing it all up… I tried to open up the society as much as I could to fields of artists that are under represented, animators, illustrators, etc,… it is a slow process but I think we are getting more and more in their view and that will cause them to have more interest… and will therefore make the NCS more relevant to the world today. I was very pleased to have furthered the outreach to our military and hospitals with the enormous help of Jeff Bacon and the USO.

Alan: Was there anything you wish you could have accomplished but for whatever reason weren’t able to?

Jeff: People still perceive the NCS as being only newspaper comic people and that needs to change. I think it is very important that we continue to grow our membership to all fields of art and cartooning but we also maintain the highest standards for membership… it is not an easy process but I know with the current board and Tom Richmond leading that will be done.

Alan: Advice for Tom Richmond and succeeding presidents?

Jeff: Don’t screw it up… and be careful about the open bars (especially if the Aussies are attending)

Alan: Where do you see the organization in 10 or 20 years from now? What do you think will change and what won’t?

Jeff: As I stated previously, I would hope we would have the top women and men from all the various fields as members and, just as importantly, that they feel it is a worthy group to be a part of. That will only happen as long as we continue to have members who are willing to look beyond their own needs and agendas and volunteer to help.

Alan: Is there anything particular about being President that you’ll miss?

Jeff: Wearing a dress.

Alan: Are there any memories that stick out in the last four years?

Jeff: Wearing a dress.

Alan: What has the NCS meant to you as a cartoonist and has that evolved over your years – especially as you’ve served as the president?

Jeff: Unlike most, I actually grew up with the cartoonists of the NCS being a regular topic of conversation (and sometimes irritation) in my family… now I know first hand why… but, I wouldn?t have missed the experience for the world. I joined the Society in 1981 (obviously, they must have been letting any schmoe in at the time) and I have been treated with the utmost respect by all the members since then and I appreciated it. Only rarely was I referred to as “Little Jeffy” and that was usually just by ex-presidents or my wife. The cartoonists are a very unique group, they have the ability in most cases to be happy for others success, and seem truly interested in how others have gotten where they are and that is a rarity in this day and age (or else they are all just really good actors… no, that can’t be it, as anyone who has seen the “Godfather take-offs” can attest to). Maybe it is because we are all starting with that blank piece of paper (or screen) and know how difficult it can be to create from there… but we all do it… and whether it is seen in 1500 newspapers or 4, or highest circulation magazines or a local rag, or by 16 million web viewers or only your kids, it is the same amount of work and effort and from there it is just a lot of luck and good fortune… the only thing that has grown more than my respect for these members over the last four years is the amount of gray hair on my head… of course, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

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