NCS creates new award category for webcomics

The National Cartoonists Society has created a new and separate award category for webcomics this year in its division awards. The category is simply named “On-Line Comic Strips” and requires that the feature be a comic strip (no single panel or long-form narrative), appear on the web only at least weekly, and the creator has shown a consistent and timely publication over the course of the 2011 calendar year. The winner must also earn “greater part of their living directly from the strip/property.”

That last requirement has always been a tough one to judge. As NCS President Tom Richmond notes the NCS awards “are industry awards, not art awards.”

The tricky part is the definition of “professional” with regards to web-comics/self-published work. The NCS awards are industry awards, not art awards. One of the criteria for consideration is that the creators be a professional cartoonist, and eligible for NCS membership (they do not have to BE members, but must be eligible for membership). Without independent verification (like a syndicate, editor or publisher who pays the cartoonist for their work) of a few criteria to that end, it’s difficult to separate the pros (i.e. those who are both fully committed to their craft for a career, and who make some substantial amount of income from it) from the hobbyists. We need an independent “screening committee” to review the creators who’s work is being considered to give us their opinion on if they meet the definition of “professional”, and this is what we have put together. Our screening committee will be made up of six experts on webcomics who are deeply involved/knowledgeable in the world of online comics including journalists and professors from major art colleges who are very enthusiastic about participating.

To sift through the submissions, the NCS has created a panel of experts that include Bill Amend, creator of Foxtrot, David Allan Duncan, Professor of Sequential Art Graduate Coordinator, Savannah College of Art and Design, Andrew Farago, Curator, Cartoon Art Museum, Michael Jantze, Professor of Sequential Art and Animation, Savannah College of Art and Design, Rick Marshall, freelance writer, editor, and producer, Time Inc., MTV News, IFC,, Digital Trends, CBR and Gary Tyrrell, writer/editor of The job of the panel is to not only screen submissions, but also recommend other artists who do fit the criteria that might not have entered.

36 thoughts on “NCS creates new award category for webcomics

  1. I don’t earn squat from all my hard work so I am out!!! If anything, I am losing money!!!

    Too bad they don’t look after the little guys who are struggling……

  2. David, industry awards aren’t for looking after struggling “little guys”, they are for awarding excellence in an industry. Because of the nature of comics on the web ? showcasing amateur and pro alike ? there had to be a line drawn. I think this is a first step in the right direction.

  3. I agree that this is a step in the right direction. Let’s see how it goes before all the complaining starts. I can’t speak for any long term plans of the NCS, but I am almost certain that if this goes well, you can expect to see some recognition of gag panels in the future. You gotta crawl before you can walk.

  4. It’s nice to see webcomics getting some recognition. But if the NCS is going to limit the category to strips, I’d prefer if webcomic strips were just included in the regular comic strip category. The only difference is method of distribution anyway. I guess the split was probably made for logistical reasons, but I’d rather see Sheldon and SMBC competing against the newspaper greats like Lio and Cul de Sac.

  5. Repeating what I said over at Tom R’s blog:

    It just seems unnecessarily restrictive for what I?m assuming is an experiment to attract and showcase art and artists in an evolving medium.

  6. Probably the reason for limiting it to web strips and not panels is that since this is the first time, they’ve got to figure out the process. In the newspaper categories, strips and panels are in their own divisions. I’m assuming they probably figured they should set up only one committee rather than two, or try not to overwhelm the one committee with two categories. If it all goes pretty well, I would think they’d expand it, either by including panels in the webcomics category or by creating another category just for web panels.

    I’m curious, though, about how they would treat sites such as Andertoons and Ted Goff’s. They’re a kind of hybrid. Cartoons on those sites are offered for web use, but also print. Andertoons cartoons are offered free for web site use, but the Andertoons site and Ted Goff’s site are essentially sites for selling rights to an archive of cartoons. Does that make them web comics? Or is that just a business model for selling cartoons? Since they can be purchased for both web or print reproduction, they aren’t strictly web comics.

    Most web comics are single sites or aggregated, and the cartoon is drawn and distributed for a specific release date on the web, similar to the newspaper comic.

    I’m not familiar enough Andertoons or Goff’s site to know if their cartoons are being done for a specific release date, or if the offering of a web comic is just a rotation of comics from an archive that are distributed to clients. I think that’s a distinction that should be made.

    And this is also why this is such a difficult thing to work out in the awards process. So I’d say cut them some slack. They’re trying to work it out. The NCS has struggled with how to approach this for years. This is a good first step. They will have to draw distinctions, and I’m sure there are going to be cartoonists who fail to fit into a category.

    The best thing to do is not go off half-cocked, attacking the NCS awards, but offer some constructive suggestions for how to work out this tricky process. Suggestions from those working in that field would be welcome.

  7. OK, I see your point, Rick. Of course I’d love to see single-panel/gag cartoons included, but this makes sense for putting a toe in the water.

    Regarding scheduling, I don’t generally release my cartoons on any particular date, but the site is regularly updated with new material. And, at least as far as Reubens categories go, I agree a site like Andertoons could be sort of a confusing combination of commerce and distribution. Hopefully a category will emerge down the line that can accommodate it.

    In any case, consider some slack cut.

  8. How do the restrictions on the catagory effect cartoonists like Greg Craven who does the the excellent web-comic “Hubris” as well as the syndicated strip “The Buckets” ?

  9. I guess I worded my thought wrong. I do understand that this is not a reward for any of us amateurs. We should not be wishing we could win because, yes, we do not deserve it. If we are not making a profit, we obviously are not “outstanding in our fields”…. lol…. but soon we may be “out standing in a field” with a sign saying “will draw funny toons for food”………

  10. @ Alan & Steve … Actually, this new category is a little more restrictive than that. Item #5 on the eligibility criteria states:

    5. Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from the strip/property.

    This is obviously not true for many of the applicants for other Divisional Award categories. The cartoonists must earn the majority of their income from cartooning, but not necessarily from a category they may submit to.

    And so, some web cartoonists have been questioning why the is NCS being hard-nosed about the online category? (i.e., you must earn majority of your income specifically from the property and not other forms of cartooning).

    My gut tells me that they want to award the most deserving cartoonist. If webcomics have finally come of age, there should be at least a small handful of cartoonists that meet eligibility criteria #5.

    It’s about setting the bar as high as possible.

    A litmus test.

    Does webcomics actually offer a professional career to those who excel at their craft? If not, does it provide at least enough income to constitute the majority of one’s yearly earnings?

    The answer to at least one of those should be a resounding YES!

    Another way of thinking about it … Criteria #5 is a way for the NCS to recognize the Charles Schulz, Bil Keane, Jim Davis, Lynn Johnston, Bill Watterson, Gary Trudeau, etc. etc. etc …. of professional webcomics.

    The pile may be surprisingly limited.

    But that’s what makes each of those cartoonists one of the best.

    What the heck is wrong with THAT?

  11. Some thoughts:

    If making a profit sets the standard for what is award-worthy, then everyone is screwed, including the movie studios.

    It’ll be the same bunch of comics that always gets attention when people talk about webcomics. That’s not good or bad, that’s just what happens.

    Any start with new media (which isn’t new anymore) is a good start. I don’t envy the task of setting this up.

    I don’t like the term “webcomics”, but then “comic book” has never been my cup of tea either.

  12. @ Stephen … If a cartoonist consistently produces the best work in a category every year, should they not be recognized for that?

    If that means the same webcomic winning for the next 10-years (or more!), then that feature deserves it in my books.

    No, they’ve EARNED it.

  13. @Steve: There’s nothing that keeps a cartoonist from entering in multiple categories. The feature or category of work is the determining factor, not who the cartoonist is.

    As for the criteria. I think that does deserve some clarification. My guess is that they are trying to apply the overall rule which is that a cartoonist be eligible to join the NCS, whether or not they are a member. The eligibility requirement is that the cartoonist earn the majority of his/her income from cartooning. I think that’s a poorly worded rule. If that’s the case, then it would exclude Scott Cravens, unless his online strip made him more money than his newspaper strip. I wouldn’t think that’s the intent behind it.

  14. “My guess is that they are trying to apply the overall rule which is that a cartoonist be eligible to join the NCS, whether or not they are a member.”

    Exactly. And that helps narrow the field in this category to a manageable amount of work for us to sort through this first time out. I’m sure we’ll have some internal discussion about eligibility on a case-by-case basis, but this will be an ongoing process that gets refined as the category develops.

    As far as long-form non-strip work on the web, a lot of the best material there does get collected and published, and would be eligible for the graphic novel or comic book categories (comics like American Born Chinese, Same Difference or a lot of the content on ACT-I-VATE, for example). Maybe the category will be more all-inclusive next year, maybe it will split off into to categories, but the fact that the first step has been taken is the important thing.

  15. Mike noticed the same thing I did regarding item #5. This doesn’t seem to be a criteria in other division categories and I hope is doesn’t become a permanent condition to the webcomic category. There are many professional cartoonists who create excellent webcomics but derive little of there income from the property.

    In fact (to take the winding road), I think some of the best work being created in cartooning today is created by professionals on their downtime and often not related to anything commercial (save maybe a self published book of sketches or art). I think this is due to a shrinking cartooning industry. I makes sense to work for a big animation or gaming company for income or benefits and create your art for passion on the side. And I guess that’s why Tom made the distinction between artistic merit awards and industry awards.

    Just hoping this doesn’t create a new webcomic hegemony.

  16. We’ll hash out the bits like “full-time professional cartoonists/animators who are doing a webcomic on the side” as we go. I’m inclined to say that if you’re eligible for NCS membership and you do a comic that meets the criteria (regular updates, etc.) that your webcomic will be eligible. It would be a shame if Roz Chast or Sandra Boynton or Glen Keane drew a daily webcomic that made zero profit that we couldn’t even consider for the category, but I’m sure the panel will come up with three killer nominees regardless.

  17. “We?ll hash out the bits like ‘full-time professional cartoonists/animators who are doing a webcomic on the side’ as we go.”

    That’s what everyone needs to remember. This is just a first step ? it?s a work in progress. It?s very cool that it?s happening and I look forward to seeing the results. Good luck to you guys putting it together.

  18. @Mike,

    I have very positive thoughts about this. I guess my post looked a bit negative. It’s definitely a good start.

    There are so many webcomics that the ones that got in early and are good at self promotion are (deservedly) recognized, but not necessarily the ones I think are the best. It’s all objective, which is what awards are about.

  19. Tom Richmond has updated the wording for Criteria #5.

    Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from cartooning* in order to adhere to the NCS criteria that creators under consideration must be either full members or eligible for full membership.

    * This originally was poorly worded. As with all other divisions, you do not need to make the majority of your income from one single property or strip, but from cartooning in general. So, if you are an animator or comic book artist who also does a web-comic but it isn?t your main source of income, you still qualify for professional NCS membership, which is all the NCS rules require for your work to be considered eligible.

  20. Yes, after hearing from a few people on that and looking over the wording, the awards committee agree that is an unfair criteria. We tried to make sure the same criteria is applied to this division as it is to others, but as Mike points out the others do not require you make the majority of your living from whatever category you submit to.

    After some internal discussion, we amended require #5, so that all that is required is that the cartoonist submitting the work be eligible for professional NCS membership, i.e. earn the majority of their living from cartooning is any form.

    Thanks for the constructive input, everybody.

  21. I’m in favor of the category, but I think that excluding Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius (which won the Hugo) and Mark Fiore (ditto the Pulitzer) doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. Or Ann Telnaes’ current work for that matter.

  22. It’s nice to see what is a rarity in many cartoon discussions re: the NCS…a fairly rational discussion.

    No one vowed to boycott or threw around wild accusations or threatened to self-immolate over it. In all the time I’ve ever spent within the inner sanctums of the NCS, I’ve never run across any nefarious intentions. This has been a good example of not overreacting.

  23. @ Tom Richmond … Can you please clarify a second point?

    On, it’s been suggested that a web cartoonist who also sells their feature to “a few” papers does not qualify for this category because of the following item:

    Must be web only publication (any syndication in print would make it eligible for the Newspaper Comic Strip Division)

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve pointed out to them that the key word here is syndication.

    Does the web cartoonists “self” syndication to “a few” papers not validate their qualification for this category? That is, they are producing professional level material which editors are willing to purchase??

    After all, self-syndication is NOT accepted for the Newspaper Strips and Newspaper Panel categories.


    – Mike

  24. Perhaps most importantly … If webcomics are now included in Divisional Awards, does this open the nomination field for The Reuben?

    Provided a nominee meets the professional criteria, of course.

  25. “After all, self-syndication is NOT accepted for the Newspaper Strips and Newspaper Panel categories.”

    Yes it is, Mike. The work has to be created by a professional and must be commercially published. Whether it is distributed by a recognized syndicate is immaterial. If memory serves, one of last year’s panel nominees was self-syndicated.

    In reality, the likelihood of a minnow beating out the competition – which is huge, as these are the two categories that attract the most submissions ? is pretty slim. But that’s a different discussion.

    Bottom line is that work may not be considered in two categories … you choose to be either fish or fowl.

  26. Thanks for the clarification, Steve. I was confused with “Self-published work cannot be considered” with respect to comic strip/panel collections.

    For that’s one way webcomics DO earn income from their property.

  27. I’m in the “Good for the NCS, give ’em a break and see how it goes” camp.

    I see two separate challenges, one new and one old. The newer challenge is defining “webcomic,” and good luck with that. NCS’s requirement that an online comic look kind of like a traditional comic strip (rather than an infinite scolling canvas or something like that) is a tentative first step that I’m sure will expand with time.

    The older challenge that’s been around a long time is defining “professional,” which the NCS has *always* said means earning the majority of your income from cartooning. If you can’t put “cartoonist” on your tax form, you can’t join the NCS.

    That seems completely reasonable to me but leads to tough “what if?” questions. What if someone’s been syndicated for years, but in so few papers they hold a day job? I understand that’s quite common, and includes many cartoonists whose names would surprise you. What if Bill Gates created the greatest syndicated comic strip in history but couldn’t join the NCS because his non-cartooning income was always too high?

    I dunno.

    My bottom line on all NCS issues is that it’s a private professional organization that can make any rules and admit or exclude anyone it wants, and no one really has any reason or right to gripe about it. That said, this seems like a well-considered move toward expanding the ranks and facing the future, so good for them.

  28. I’m not a member, and not all that familiar with the other award categories, but I’m curious about leaving “long-form narrative” strips out of consideration.

    If this were applied to newspaper strips, that would exclude Prince Valiant, Mary Worth, Mark Trail, and Apartment 3G, and historically, Terry & The Pirates, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

    Not really complaining, just curious about the thought process here.

  29. By “long narrative” we mean comic book style storytelling. Whole page format. The examples you cite above are published in strip form, and would be perfectly acceptable for the division.

    We are simply testing the waters with the process here. That’s why we picked one specific format. It has nothing to do with the validity of one format over another… we could just as easily picked single panel or long narrative formats instead.

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