RC Harvey, writing over on The Comics Journal, raises a question about the bias of the National Cartoonist Society in awarding its top honor, the Reuben, to syndicated comic strip creators.
In this roster of the first 16 Reuben winners, only one cartooned outside of newspaper pages. Ronald Searle. All the rest were syndicated newspaper cartoonists. And all but three made their marks with comic strips. NCS’s bias in favor of syndicated comic strip cartoonists was blatant from the beginning, and it has persisted through the club’s 54 years.
You will look in vain for Jack Kirby’s name in the lists of NCS awards; ditto Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, Jack Cole, Peter Arno, Helen Hokinson, Charles Addams, George Price, the Berenstains (Stan and Janice), Robert Osborn, David Levine, Gluyas Williams, Rea Ivin, Gardner Rea, Edward Gorey, Virgil Partch (Vip). To name a few, too few.
The dubious tradition continues this year. As determined by a vote of the membership, this year’s finalists for the 2009 Reuben are: Dan Piraro for his panel cartoon Bizarro; Stephen Pastis for his strip Pearls Before Swine; and Richard Thompson for his strip Cul de Sac. All three are syndicated newspaper cartoonists.
In naming this year’s finalists, drawn from the syndicated ranks, NCS once again slights a vast acreage of cartooning endeavor, arenas of cartooning in which superior efforts have been made by highly skilled professionals typically ignored by NCS. Even a cursory perusal of the medium’s history turns up names of still living still producing cartoonists whose work is more deserving of Reuben recognition than, for instance, this year’s two newcomers, however worthy their efforts. Here are some of those neglected acres and the thus-far Reuben bypassed cartoonists who’ve distinguished themselves plowing through them: