Over the long Memorial Day holiday, May 27 - 29, hundreds of professional cartoonists convened in Scottsdale, Arizona for the 59th annual Reuben Awards Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS), a prestigious professional organization composed of extremely talented weirdos. The posh Fairmont Princess desert resort played host to nearly two hundred cartoonists, whose work spans comic strips, comic books, animation, newspaper, magazine and book illustration, editorial cartoons, gag cartoons, greeting cards and more. The highlight of the three-day festivities was the Reuben Awards banquet, a black-tie affair, where a number of funny folks are recognized for artistic excellence, including the Reuben Award (named after cartoonist Rube Goldberg) 2004. This highly anticipated annual event represents the ink-slinging attendees' annual opportunity to feign sophistication - for one night, at least.
After making our long desert trek from Sherman Oaks, California (hey, at least there was no airport security with which to hassle…and Sirius satellite radio (only six months until Howard Stern!) and our iPods kept us entertained the entire trip), my family and I finally arrived at the Fairmont Princess late last Thursday night, where we were whisked across the sprawling, beautifully-landscaped (if unbelievably hot, even by Southern California standards) resort to our surprisingly villa room. (Thanks to the resort's reasonable group rates, its bathroom was bigger than some entire hotel rooms we've stayed in!) While my wife Judith, our teenage son Kirby and I settled in, across town at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Desert Inn mall, a number of bigshot NCS members were autographing their published works for a violently trembling public.
Friday morning, we arose to have an early breakfast and then it was on to the Reuben weekend registration desk, where we were handed our nametags and chock-full-o'-stuff canvas "goodie bags" bearing the familiar NCS logo; these contained a variety of cartoon-related books, CDs and DVDs, a handy sports bottle for water and that annual Photoshop-fest, "The Ncs Reuben Journal," edited by Mell Lazarus and David Folkman. (Later, we were even given bottles of "NCS" label Chardonnay wine! Woo hoo!)
Among the cartoonists in attendance at the event were Lalo ("La Cucuracha") Alcaraz, Bill ("Fox Trot") Amend, Brad ("Marmaduke") Anderson, Sergio ("Groo The Wanderer") Aragonés, Roger ("Scamp") Armstrong, Darrin ("Rudy Park"/"Candorville") Bell, Craig ("Archie") Boldman, Jim ("Zits") Borgman, Sandra Boynton, Pat ("Rose Is Rose") Brady, Chris ("Hagar The Horrible"/"Raising Duncan") Browne, Daryl Cagle, Daryll ("Sports Illustrated For Kids") Collins, Dave ("Speed Bump") Coverly, Barbara Dale, Jack ("Mad") Davis, John Deering (still inking a late installment of his feature, "Strange Brew"), Jose ("Transformers") Delbo, Roy Doty, Hy ("Popeye") Eisman, Mark ("Fanboy") Evanier, Ron ("Dennis The Menace") Ferdinand, Chad Frye, Peter ("Heathcliff") Galligher, Mort Gerberg, Ann Gibbons, Brad ("The Muppet Show") Gilchrist, Stephanie ("Hopster's Tracks") Gladden, Stan ("Archie") Goldberg, Bob Gorrell, Steve Greenberg, Cathy ("Cathy") Guisewite, Peter ("Ask Shagg") Guren, Marcus ("Dennis The Menace") Hamilton, R. C. Harvey, Irwin ("Dondi") Hasen, Bill ("Tank Mcnamara") Hinds, Bunny ("The Lockhorns") Hoest, Bucky Jones, Larry "Kaz" ("Nellie The Nurse") Katzman, Bill ("Family Circus") Keane, Jeff (ditto) Keane, Carolyn ("Pogo") Kelly, Rick ("Baby Blues") Kirkman, Mell ("Momma") Lazarus, Mike ("Newsweek") Luckovich, Jef ("Frazz") Mallett, Gary Mccoy, Glenn ("The Duplex") Mccoy, Craig ("Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends") Mccracken, Patrick ("Mutts") Mcdonnell, Steve ("The Mullets") Mcgarry, Michael Mcparlane, Nick ("Mad") Meglin, Steve ("In The Bleachers") Moore, Mark ("Citizen Dog") O'hare, Murray Olderman, Don ("Cracked") Oreheck, Mark ("Off The Mark") Parisi, Joel Pett, Dan ("Bizarro") Piraro, Jack Pittman, Michael Ramirez, Tom ("Mad") Richmond, Jerry ("Batman") Robinson, Arnold ("Trump") Roth, Bill ("P. J. Warlock") Schorr, Jean Schulz ("Sparky" Schulz's widow), Jerry ("Baby Blues"/"Zits") Scott, Stephen ("Kim Possible") Silver, David ("The Simpsons") Silverman, Frank ("National Lampoon") Springer, Jay ("Tutenstein") Stephens, Rick ("The Mullets"/incoming National Cartoonists Society president) Stromoski, Ann Telnaes, Jerry ("The Neighborhood") Van Amerongen, Sam ("Mad") Viviano, Mort ("Beetle Bailey") Walker, Bob ("Moose") Weber, Bob ("Slylock Fox") Weber, Jr. And Gahan ("Nuts") Wilson and many others - including Yours ("Captain Carrot And His Amazing Zoo Crew!"/"The Flintstones"/"Simpsons Comics"/"Oddball Comics") Truly as "the Beaver." Considering that most of these fine folks also dragged along their spouses and families - as reward for enduring the erratic lifestyle of a cartoonist, no doubt - it was quite a group, indeed. Unfortunately, my pal Dan ("The Conservation Corps") Nakrosis was unable to attend, canceling his trip due to injuries sustained after falling into an open New Jersey manhole! (That's a cartoonist for you; at least he didn't slip on a banana peel first!)
The first of many presentations over the course of the event was my Oddball Comics slideshow, presented in Keynote directly from my laptop Mac. I was very pleased to see funnybook folks like Frank Springer, Stan Goldberg, Jerry Robinson, Hy Eisman and Jose Delbo in the audience, squirming as I showed covers of Oddball issues of their "Brain Boy," "Chilling Adventures In Sorcery As Told By Sabrina," "Batman" ("The Gorilla Boss Of Gotham City!"), "Bunny, Queen Of The In-Crowd" And "NFL Superpro" comics. Even creepster cartoonist Gahan Wilson was sitting in the front row, and according to Judy, he was "mesmerized" by the utter weirdness he was seeing! Next up was a spotlight on sibling scribblers Glenn and Gary McCoy, and "Fear Of A Brown Panel" with cartoonists Lalo ("La Cucuracha") Alcaraz and Darrin ("Rudy Park," "Candorville") Bell. Then, Jay Stephens spoke about his Emmy Award-winning "Tutenstein" SatAM cartoon series, now in production for its second season on NBC. After that, came cocktails and an outdoor buffet dinner, complete with live music by the McGarry Brothers' band, "Pop Noire," As if all that weren't enough, there was a Karaoke contest - complete with elaborate costumes - until 2:00 AM the next morning. Fortunately for everyone (except my family), I confined my nocturnal performance to snoring.
On Saturday morning, after a hosted breakfast, the gathered NCS membership attended the general business meeting. That afternoon, a panel was presented, "How I Won The Pulitzer" with editorial cartoonists Joel Pett, Ann Telnaes and Mike Luckovich. The day's final presentation was a spotlight on Gahan Wilson, where he read captions to Power Point projections of his wonderful gag cartoons (a la onetime NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) and revealed that, as a youth, he was permanently influenced by the gruesome-looking villains in Chester Gould's classic comic strip, "Dick Tracy." Gahan also had some pretty amusing anecdotes regarding his first meeting with "Playboy" founder and publisher Hugh Hefner.
Then, following a formal wear-only cocktail party (13-year-old Kirby declared that he looked "damn sharp," and I agree) and an excellent, rubber chicken-free dinner banquet, came the 59th annual Reuben Awards ceremony. First, we were treated to a short film by Joe and Luke McGarry, which was edited from clips of home movies from Reuben weekends of the past fifteen years. Then after outgoing NCS president Steve McGarry delivered a warm welcome to the audience, Dan Piraro took the podium, where he presented the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award to noted cartoonist/author Gahan Wilson. Then a solemn "In Memoriam" slideshow of recently deceased NCS members (including my personal cartoonist-mentors Gene ("The Flintstones") Hazelton and Bernie ("Seventeen") Lansky), the following Division Awards - chosen by juries from local NCS chapters across the United States -- were presented.
- Greg Evans presented the division award for "Greeting Cards" to Glenn McCoy.
- Jerry Robinson presented (and accepted) the division award for "Comic Books" to Darwyn Cooke's "DC: The New Frontier" limited series.
- Sergio Aragonés presented the division award for "Magazine Feature/Magazine Illustration" to Jack Pittman.
- Jim Borgman presented the division award for "Advertising And Illustration" to Mike Lester (who unexpectedly warbled his version of Randy Newman's "Political Science" in gleeful acceptance.)
- Patrick McDonnell presented the division award for "Gag Cartoons" to Robert Weber.
- Editorial cartoonist Daryl Cagle presented the division award for "Feature Animation" to Brad Bird, director of "The Incredibles"; the award was accepted by Tony Fucile.
- Jack Davis presented the division award for "Newspaper Illustration" to Michael McParlane.
- Jerry Scott presented the division award for "Book Illustration" to Geefwee Boedoe's children's book "Arrowville"; the award was accepted by David Silverman.
- Mell Lazarus presented the division award for "Editorial Cartoons" to Jeff Parker.
- Bil Keane presented the division award for "Newspaper Panel Cartoons" to Marcus Hamilton for the daily "Dennis The Menace."
- Cathy Guisewite presented the division award for "Newspaper Comic Strips" to Glenn McCoy for "The Duplex."
Finally, Mort Walker (who admitted that he's attended fifty-five of the fifty-nine Reuben Awards ever held) presented the "Reuben Award For The Outstanding Cartoonist Of The Year" to Pat Brady for "Rose Is Rose." The other nominees were Dave ("Speed Bump") Coverly and Dan ("Bizarro") Piraro (his third sequential nomination for the award.)
Sunday began with the NCS brunch, followed by a Reuben golf tournament hosted by noted cartoon duffer extraordinaire Mort Walker. After an afternoon of lounging around the pool, "Sergio Sunday" began in earnest that evening. It featured a buffet dinner and open bar, accompanied by live music from cartoonist Jeff Koterba and "The Prairie Cats" and a slideshow of cartoons drawn by the NCS membership in honor of Sergio. (Clip-on, Sergio-esque moustaches were provided for one and all; the phony lip-shrubbery probably kept the second portions down to a minimum.) This was followed by the "Quick Draw!" show - which, for some unknown reason, was continually (and erroneously) referred to as "Quick On The Draw" -- with quiz-master Mark Evanier tossing cartoon challenges to Sergio Aragonés, Dan Piraro and Yours Truly, Scott Shaw!, with a guest-appearance by the great Jack Davis. Irwin Hasen, Chris Browne and Mort Gerberg also participated, from the audience. (As expected, the Mustachioed Maestro from Spain made mincemeat out of Dan and myself, despite the fact that Mr. Piraro is a devoted Vegan.) Next up was a stirring set of rock 'n' roll tunes by the "NCS All Star Band" (featuring cartoonists Patrick McDonnell, David Silverman, Rick Kirkman, Dan Piraro, Strummin' Rick Stromoski and Steve McGarry with his sons Luke and Joe). Winding up the three-day event was a celebrity cartoonist "roast" of Sergio Aragonés, hosted by Dan Piraro and "translator" Lalo Alcaraz, with commentaries by: Bil Keane (his dry delivery makes me think of him as "the funniest Republican alive" -- although I have absolutely no notion of his actual political affiliation); Rick Stromoski, Paul Jon Boscacci and Bucky Jones (executing a dead-on impersonation of Sergio's drawing style); Irwin Hasen (doing his interpretation of a Japanese Ex-Lax TV commercial); the somewhat bilingual Mell Lazarus; Dan Piraro (hosting a mock game show entitled "What Is Sergio Saying?" (even Sergio was stumped) and former "Mad" editor Nick Meglin, hilariously narrating a slideshow of photos taken on past "Mad" trips around the world. One of comicdom's most beloved personalities (heck, I'd nominate him as our official ambassador to the "real" world), Sergio seemed more touched than offended by his peers' affectionate derision, while his lovely (and patient) wife Charlene was more than adequately amused by the elaborately silly ceremony.
Come Monday morn, we slept in, had a late breakfast, packed and got back on the road to California. One thing is for certain; NCS President Steve McGarry and his stalwart board of directors put on a fabulous event, one of the best Reuben weekends in many a member's memory. Strangely, upon reflection, some of my favorite moments of the long weekend were the rather small ones: spending time with cartoonists (and their wives and families). I particularly dug chatting with my old friend and "Captain Carrot And His Amazing Zoo Crew!" collaborator Stan Goldberg, who once served as the lead colorist of the early Marvel superheroes -- responsible for originally designing the color schemes of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the Hulk, among others -- as well as drawing "Archie" comics for the past thirty years. We also hung out a lot with Jeff Keane, Jack Davis (the most gentle gentleman in the ever-lovin' South), Frank ("The Adventures Of Phoebe Zeit-Geist," with "Saturday Night Live's" Michael O'Donoghue) Springer, Rick Kirkman (and his ever-hilarious wife, Sukey) and Larry "Kaz" Katzman, who confirmed my theory that John ("Little Lulu") Stanley wrote and drew Dell's sole issue of "Nellie The Nurse." Another Oddball mystery is finally solved!
And speaking of "Oddball"…by far, the oddest occurrence of the entire trip was encountered on our way home, when I convinced Judy to make a quick stop in Cabazon, California (near Palm Springs). There, a pair of cement-and-steel dinosaurs, an Apatosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus rex (both seen in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"), make their permanent home. While visiting the gift shop in the long-necked sauropod's belly, I learned that the concrete critters - billed as the "world's biggest dinosaurs" -- have been purchased from their original builder and owner, and are now managed and operated by a group of anti-evolution theory Christians!
Not even a cartoonist - or an entire convention of 'em -- could conjure up something that unlikely!
For more from Scott Shaw!, read his weekly column, Oddball Comics, published Fridays here at CBR.