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NCS announces first Reuben Award for webcomics


National Cartoonists Society president Tom Richmond announces a major, inevitable evolution of the comic strip with a new webcomics division for the Reuben Awards. The Reubens have traditionally honored the best in comic strips and illustration — two artforms now mostly associated with Mad Men-era martinis and horn rim glasses on the “up to date” scale. Richmond’s post has all the salient background info but here are the guidelines and the screening committee:

To this end, we are introducing a purposefully narrow-focused new division this year, which will be called “Best Online Comic Strip”, and will be judged by the NCS board in anticipation of being done by an NCS chapter in the future. Here is the criteria for eligibility we have come up with:

Comic-strip format only (no single panels, long-form narrative. etc.)
Must be web only publication (any syndication in print would make it eligible for the Best Syndicated Comic Strip Division)
Must be at least a weekly
Must have shown consistent publication based on determined time-schedule (i.e. it being a daily, twice-a-week, weekly, etc) over the course of the 2011 calendar year
Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from the strip/property

Submitted work itself must be:

No more than 12 samples, submitted as physical prints along with submission form and bio or as PDF with 2-4 strips per page and including bio/submission form
Work must have been published (posted) during period from Dec. 1, 2010 to Dec 31, 2011 (archive.org links must be provided for each strip for verification).

The screening committee is a very knowledgable one:

• 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, San Francisco
• 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, Movies.com, Digital Trends, CBR
• Gary Tyrrell — Writer/Editor, Fleen.com

Eyebrows have already been raised over the “Comic-strip format only” which eliminates several tens of thousands of the hundreds of thousands of webcomics out there, but baby steps.

  1. I’m pretty sure that the NCS is gritting its teeth in doing even this. I don’t want to say that they hate webcomics, it’s just that the Powers That Be over there don’t do them, and are likely JUST starting to read them.

    Sure, this frankly eliminates a huge majority of webcomics from consideration (mine among them, on two counts), but I consider it to be a POWERFUL first step.

  2. One requirement for membership in the National Cartoonists Society is that you must be earning a living from your cartooning. Eligibility for NCS membership (whether you’re a member or not) is a prerequisite to qualify for a nomination in the NCS division awards, and it was decided that same standard should be applied to the webcomics division as well.

  3. Tom Richmond actually sums it up really well at his blog:

    “Because, again, the NCS awards are not art awards. They are professional industry awards. By the rules of the awards a cartoonist must qualify for membership to be eligible, meaning they earn a living as a cartoonist. That doesn’t put the NCS “several years behind” anything. It simply means we aren’t changing the requirements of eligibility for any new divisions. As for being arbitrary with strip format only, all divisions are arbitrary… That’s why their called “divisions”. We had to start somewhere, and adding 6 new divisions to encompass forms like single panel, comic book narrative, etc. was logistically impossible.”

  4. Since when are “comic strips” and “long form” mutually exclusive?

    Thimble Theatre, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Achewood, Bob White, Doonesbury, Octopus Pie, Mary Worth, et cetera, etc.

  5. That new joint :Ace Kilroy: is basically the best adventure strip on the block. It clearly doesn’t earn its creators money, but it shouldn’t be blocked from contention on the format criteria.

    I don’t understand you, NCS.

  6. Here’s the call for entries:

    They do differentiate between comics strips and comic panels. There’s also a category for comic books, and one for graphic novels. (Jill Thompson “Beasts of Burden”, and Joyce Farmer “Special Exits” won last year.)

    I’m sure as this new category matures, and NCS members grow comfortable with this new form, there will be more digital categories included.

    The “newspaper strip” category was once split between “humor” and “story”. As story strips began to die off, the two categories were combined in 1989.

  7. And Tom’s already updated the wording so that the artist needs to be eligible for NCS membership (earns a majority of his/her income from cartooning) but doesn’t have to make his/her living solely from their webcomic.

    On the longform vs. strip debate, that might very well evolve over time, and this first category may branch off into two or three, but first things first.

    And while works like American Born Chinese, Mom’s Cancer and Same Difference would be excluded from the “web strip” category during their online syndication, those (and a lot of great longform comics) were collected and eligible for the graphic novel category. It’s a work-in-progress, and we’re all excited to see where it’s going to end up.

  8. I do recognize this as wonderful news and a big step forward, but I am conflicted.
    While possibly the most prestigious in the wider artform, it isn’t and never has been an award for the wider artform. The print strip cartoonist carved out this nook for themselves and I don’t think anyone else really has any intrinsic right to poke their heads in. I’m sure at least part of the reason it took them this long to include web comics was a fear that they might one day take over the award. I think that’s a legitimate concern.
    The Eisners, The Isotope, The Ignatz, the Pulizer, and all the rest are generally focused on a few aspects of comics, never the big picture.

    I really do recognize this as a very good thing, but part of me is still thinking, “why don’t the web cartoonists just start their own darn awards?”.

  9. In one of Scott McCloud’s books, he says that single panel strips are not Comics since they are not sequential. This idea seems mirrored in the Webcomics award. It seems lind of silly that if Peanuts were a Webcomic it could win but a Dennis the Menace webcomic could not. Silly

  10. The Pulitzer has one comics award, Editorial Cartooning, within their journalism awards.

    The Eisners are for American comics only. (The Eisner Hall of Fame excludes comic strip cartoonists, unless they have influenced the comic book art form.) The Eisners are “big picture” as are the NCS awards. (NCS is more geared towards illustration, less towards writing.) The Isotope considers mini-comics. The Ignatz is a juried festival prize which is voted by attendees.

    Lots of comics awards have a web comics category:

    The Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards have not be awarded since 2008. (Sounds like an opportunity there…)

  11. So this would mean Dan Pizarro’s Bizzaro strip is ineligible because it’s A) already syndicated in newspapers, B) a single panel and not sequential.
    In turn this stops Family Circus, & Marmaduke from winning if they ever went web only.
    On a different note where would this leave long form tales like Vielia, Dear or The Devil’s Panties?

  12. Velia, Dear is in strip format, and Rina Piccolo is eligible for NCS membership (and is, in fact, a longtime member), so this is eligible for the webcomics award as it’s not syndicated in any newspapers. If Jennie Breeden is making a living as a cartoonist, her strip’s eligible for nomination.

    Velia, Dear and The Devil’s Panties are both strips, so they don’t count as “longform,” despite their continuing storylines, anymore than Dick Tracy or Judge Morgan would be ineligible for the regular strip category. “Longform” here is just our shorthand for “full page” or “comic book format” or “non-strip.”

    Ironing out the language is going to be an ongoing process, and I’ll make sure that we address semantics like this to make the submissions process as straightforward as possible as all of this develops.

  13. “Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from the strip/property.”

    I agree that this is a first step, but this rule is just crappy. They want to make sure they only associate with a certain group. They would want to taint their awad by giving it to someone who only cartoons at night..Elitists.

  14. I would love to submit our daily strip Ace Kilroy for possible nomination, but the whole “Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from the strip/property” really kills us.

    Its awards like this that would help make that happen, talk about a Catch-22!

    Thx to Darryl for the shout-out!

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