CSotD: The AAEC/CXC gets rolling

My day yesterday began at a CXC event, with a session on James Sturm, a cartoonist of substantial background and current production, best known in my neighborhood as the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, which is just across the river from me.

Oddly enough, though we’re only four or five miles apart and people assume because I’m into comics we must surely know each other, we’d never met because our fields of interest — comic books and comic strips — are so separate, so it was fun to introduce myself 800 miles or so from either of our bases.

Most of the session was about his work and life, but I did get to ask a question from the floor about the need for young artists to find their voices, to which he responded that the process of learning cartooning involves both finding your voice and learning technique, and that the two goals are inseparable.

“You find your voice by finishing things,” he explained. “You look at it, and then you move on. Craft and voice come together.”


From there, I went to an AAEC panel discussion, “Cartooning in a Post-Truth World,” featuring Kevin Necessary as moderator with panelists Marc Murphy, Tim Campbell and Ann Telnaes, which proved so meaty that I’m going to gloss over it now and center on it in tomorrow’s post.

Trust me, the wait will be worth it: Getting a group of editorial cartoonists together provides a lively combination of insight and wit.


Meanwhile, Sturm’s analysis of how voice and craft come together make for a good conceptual segue to the next panel, a CXC event with AMS Director of Comics and Acquisitions Shena Wolf leading a panel of comic strippers: James Gallagher, who inherited Heathcliff from his uncle and his father; Steenz, who took over Heart of the City from Mark Tatulli; Jim Keefe, who has a long pedigree and is best known currently as the artist on Sally Forth, and Barbara Brandon-Croft, who created the weekly strip Where I’m Coming From.

Much of the discussion was “how I do it” insider talk, though it never came down to what type of nibs anyone used, but Steenz in particular noted that, because of the constant deadline demands, “I always have something to do: Heart is always there. But Heart is always there, so if I want to take a vacation, I have to work ahead.”

That relentless demand polished her talents, she said. “The more you draw, the better you get. My skills have skyrocketed since I started doing Heart.”

But that’s not to say technique and knowledge can’t be acquired in a formal setting, and Keefe attributed his first jobs at King Features to being a graduate of Joe Kubert’s cartooning school, because the syndicate knew they wouldn’t have to teach him basic industry practices.

Keefe also related an interesting anecdote about inclusion, building on Steenz and Brandon-Croft’s remarks about seeing people “who look like me” in the comics.

Keefe happens to live in a place with a substantial Somali population, so when he had to draw Hillary Forth in her classroom, he drew upon his daughter’s experience and included a few girls in hijabs. It garnered some of the predictable hate-mail responses, but also a thoughtful, appreciative letter from a Muslim mother happy to see the girls featured “not as the focus, but just as part of life.”


Going to that presentation left me getting into the screening of the Bill Mauldin documentary, “If It’s Big, Hit It,” at the halfway point, too late to provide a full review, but I will say that the latter half, and conversations with cartoonists later, allow me to recommend it highly.

As Kal Kallaugher remarked, it would be easy enough to do a rose-colored-glasses homage to the great man, but Mauldin was complex and his life was full of hard times and some hard feelings. By portraying him unsparingly, the film is therefore far more insightful.

That IMDB page doesn’t currently show viewing sources, but keep your eyes open for it, because it’s well worth the effort to find.


All this made for a full day, but that night was awards and congeniality, and I’d repeat what I said yesterday, which is that more editorial cartoonists should join AAEC, because, while the profession leans towards a tendency to isolation, it’s a fun group on the rare occasions they gather.

First the awards, then some candids:

Kevin Necessary, AAEC’s current president, and Lord High Everything Else JP Trostle, presented the Locher Memorial Award for young cartoonists to Masha Zhdanova, as covered recently by DD Degg. Masha is exceptionally talented but has the aforementioned tendency to isolation, as you can perhaps see here, but is delightful in one-on-one conversation.


Incoming AAEC President Jack Ohman also heads up the Rex Babin Award, which is given annually for local cartooning but has been on hold through the pandemic. Here, he presents the 2020 award to Picksberg icon Rob Rogers, who is a frequent flyer at CSotD and I assume well-known to readers.


And here Ohman presents the 2021 award to Seattle’s David Horsey, another familiar name for regular readers.


The 2022 award went to Steve Stegelin, a South Carolina cartoonist not likely as familiar to Daily Cartoonist readers, but specializing in very local work, which is, after all, the point of the award, since Rex Babin considered local commentary vital both to political cartooning and to the health of papers.


Here’s sample of Stegelin’s work, which demonstrates that local cartooning can also comment on national issues, but gains relevance by featuring local faces.


And the Ink Bottle Award, an AAEC special honor for major contributions to editorial cartooning went to the recently retired Steve Sack , who couldn’t be present, so Ward Sutton accepted on his behalf.

I’m still not happy with the last-minute camera I brought, but I did manage to get some candids, which are much of the fun of these gatherings.

Here are the best of my captures:

Ann Telnaes and National Cartoonists Society President Jason Chatfield.


Keith Knight and Ruben Bolling


Kevin Necessary, Ward Sutton and Signe Wilkinson

Marc Murphy and Kal Kallaugher

Matt Wuerker and Ben Sargent

5 thoughts on “CSotD: The AAEC/CXC gets rolling

  1. A quick correction to Mike’s otherwise usual spot-on observations: It’s the Ink Bottle Award.

    The prize is given “in recognition of dedicated service to the Association and distinguished efforts to promote the art of editorial cartooning” — which Steve Sack is indeed a master at.

    (Also, that’s me working on my Gunther cosplay in honor of convention guest Keith Knight and the recently cancelled “Woke.”)

  2. Mike, it was great meeting you at the CXC/AAEC Friday night reception at the Billy Ireland. It’s always nice to put a face to a name. When you identified yourself as a “comics critic,” I was expecting the worst. But when you mentioned that you were one of the masterminds behind The Daily Cartoonist, I knew that you were one of us. Keep up the good work!

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