“We’re back!” Jeff Smith‘s excited proclamation captured the feeling in the air at Friday’s Opening Reception for this year’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival, the first in-person festival since 2019. The reception, held at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum on the campus of The Ohio State University, featured finger foods, a cash bar, and the smooth sounds of the Cliff Habian Trio playing the music of Vince Guaraldi‘s collaborations with Charles Schulz. The event was capped by the presentation of three of the four CXC Awards, including the Master Cartoonist Award, the Transformative Work Award, and the Tom Spurgeon Award.

Keith Knight

After an introduction from CXC Executive Director Jay Kalagayan and Billy Ireland curator Jenny Robb, Smith presented the first award of the evening, the Master Cartoonist Award, to Keith Knight. The award is described as one that “recognizes [the] significant and sustained professional artistic accomplishments of an individual.” Smith described Knight’s work, which includes The K Chronicles and ink, as “exposing the hypocrisies of our society,” and in his acceptance speech Knight humbly acknowledged that he’s following in the footsteps of pioneering Black cartoonists like Brumsic Brandon Jr. and Barbara Brandon-Croft, whose work shining a light on racism in America is currently on exhibition at the Billy Ireland. Knight was recently a nominee but didn’t win for Cartoonist of the Year at the Reuben Awards, and he said he thought this award was better.

(L to R) Lee Marrs & Trina Robbins

The second award, the Transformative Work Award, was presented by CXC Programming Committee co-chair Craig Campbell. This award “recognizes a work’s significant impact on the direction, quality, and expression within cartoon art.” Two recipients, Wimmen’s Comix editors Lee Marrs and Trina Robbins, took home this award in recognition for their pioneering work as and for women in comics. Accepting the award, Marrs deadpanned “We deserve this” to a huge response from the crowd.

(L to R) Caitlin McGurk, Rebecca Perry-Damsen, & Frederick Schodt

The final award of the evening, the Tom Spurgeon Award, “honor[s] individuals who have made substantial contributions to the field but are not primarily cartoonists.” This year marked the first time the award has been presented in person, and CXC Executive Committee President Rebecca Perry-Damsen introduced the award and spoke about Spurgeon and his many contributions to comics as a journalist and a fan. Perry-Damsen was joined by Awards Committee chair Caitlin McGurk to present the award, which went to manga translator and scholar Frederick Schodt. McGurk listed Schodt’s many accomplishments, which include translating works like Astro Boy and Ghost in the Shell into English, as well as writing multiple books on the form including 1983’s landmark Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics.

The Tom Spurgeon Award certificate

The fourth award of the weekend, the Emerging Talent Prize, will be awarded by Smith to an unsuspecting recipient on the floor of the CXC Expo later this weekend.

Congratulations to all of this year’s CXC Award winners!