|Formation||March 1, 1946|
The National Cartoonists Society (NCS) is an organization of professional cartoonists in the United States. It presents the National Cartoonists Society Awards. The Society was born in 1946 when groups of cartoonists got together to entertain the troops. They enjoyed each other's company and decided to meet on a regular basis.
NCS members work in many branches of the profession, including advertising, animation, newspaper comic strips and syndicated single-panel cartoons, comic books, editorial cartoons, gag cartoons, graphic novels, greeting cards, magazine and book illustration. Only recently has the National Cartoonists Society embraced web comics. Membership is limited to established professional cartoonists, with a few exceptions of outstanding persons in affiliated fields. The NCS is not a guild or labor union.
The organization's stated primary purposes are "to advance the ideals and standards of professional cartooning in its many forms", "to promote and foster a social, cultural and intellectual interchange among professional cartoonists of all types" and "to stimulate and encourage interest in and acceptance of the art of cartooning by aspiring cartoonists, students and the general public."
The National Cartoonists Society had its origins during World War II when cartoonists Gus Edson, Otto Soglow, Clarence D. Russell, Bob Dunn and others did chalk talks at hospitals for the USO in 1943. Edson recalled, “We played two spots. Fort Hamilton and Governor’s Island. And then we quit the USO.” They were lured away by choreographer and former Rockette Toni Mendez. When she learned of these chalk talks, she recruited the cartoonists to do shows for the Hospital Committee of the American Theatre Wing. Beginning with a performance emceed by humor columnist Bugs Baer at Halloran Hospital on Staten Island, these shows were produced and directed by Mendez. The group expanded to junkets on military transport planes, flying to military bases along the southeastern seaboard. On one of those flights, Russell proposed a club to Rube Goldberg and others so the group could still get together after WWII ended. Mendez recalled:
He said, "Everybody has a club or an association or some kind—lumber jacks, undertakers, rug weavers, even garbage collectors—so I don’t see why we can’t have one, too." All during the flight, Rube kept saying, "No—leave us alone; we’re doing fine." C.D. turned to me and he said, "And no girls. Only boys." And he went up and down the aisle of the plane, repeating that this club would be just for boys.
The Society was organized on a Friday evening, March 1, 1946, when 26 cartoonists gathered at 7pm in the Barberry Room on East 52nd Street in Manhattan. After drinks and dinner, they voted to determine officers and a name for their new organization. It was initially known as The Cartoonists Society. Goldberg was elected president with Russell Patterson as vice president, C. D. Russell as secretary and Milton Caniff, treasurer. Soglow was later added as second vice president (“to follow the first vice president around”). Mendez functioned as the Society's trouble-shooter and later became an agent representing more than 50 cartoonists.
The 26 founding members came from the group of 32 members who had paid dues by March 13, including strip cartoonists Wally Bishop (Muggs and Skeeter), Martin Branner (Winnie Winkle), Ernie Bushmiller (Nancy), Milton Caniff, Gus Edson (The Gumps), Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka), Harry Haenigsen (Penny), Fred Harman (Red Ryder), Bill Holman (Smokey Stover), Jay Irving (Willie Doodle), Stan MacGovern (Silly Milly), Al Posen (Sweeney and Son), Clarence Russell (Pete the Tramp), Otto Soglow (The Little King), Jack Sparling (Claire Voyant), Raeburn Van Buren (Abbie an' Slats), Dow Walling (Skeets) and Frank Willard (Moon Mullins).
Also among the early 32 members were syndicated panel cartoonists Dave Breger (Mister Breger), George Clark (The Neighbors), Bob Dunn (Just the Type) and Jimmy Hatlo (They'll Do It Every Time); freelance magazine cartoonists Abner Dean and Mischa Richter, editorial cartoonists Rube Goldberg (New York Sun), Burris Jenkins (New York Journal American), C. D. Batchelor (Daily News) and Richard Q. Yardley (The Baltimore Sun); sports cartoonist Lou Hanlon; illustrator Russell Patterson and comic book artists Joe Shuster and Joe Musial.
More members joined by mid-May 1946, including Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie) and the Society’s first animator, Paul Terry, followed in the summer by letterer Frank Engli, Bela Zaboly (Popeye), Al Capp (Li’l Abner) and Ray Bailey (Bruce Gentry). By March 1947, the NCS had 112 members, including Bud Fisher (Mutt and Jeff), Don Flowers (Glamor Girls), Bob Kane (Batman), Fred Lasswell (Barney Google and Snuffy Smith), George Lichty (Grin and Bear It), Zack Mosley (The Adventures of Smilin' Jack), Alex Raymond (Rip Kirby), Cliff Sterrett (Polly and Her Pals) and Chic Young (Blondie), plus editorial cartoonists Reg Manning and Fred O. Seibel and sports cartoonist Willard Mullin.
Marge Devine Duffy, a secretary in King Features public relations department, had been helping Russell handle correspondence to the NCS, and in 1948, she was installed as the official NCS secretary and later given the title Scribe of the Society. Her name was on all the Society’s publications, and her address was the permanent mailing address of the NCS for more than 30 years. As the organizing secretary, she handled agendas, organization and publicity. “She practically ran the damn thing,” Caniff recalled. “A real autocrat, and everyone was delighted to have her be an autocrat because that’s what we needed.”
In the fall of 1949, the NCS cooperated with Treasury Department to sell savings bonds, engaging in a nationwide tour to 17 major cities with a team of 10 to 12 cartoonists and a traveling display, 20,000 Years of Comics, a 95-foot pictorial history of the comic strip.
Despite the contributions of Duffy and Mendez, there were no female members, as stipulated in the NCS' constitution which specified that “any cartoonist (male) who signs his name to his published work” could apply for membership. In 1949, Hilda Terry wrote a letter challenging that rule, and after more than six months of debates and votes, three women were finally admitted for membership in 1950—Terry, Edwina Dumm and gag cartoonist Barbara Shermund.
On November 6, 1951, 49 members of the NCS arrived at Washington's Carlton Hotel for breakfast with Harry S. Truman. Gathered in Washington to help the Treasury Department sell Defense Stamps, the group presented Truman with a bound volume of their comic strip characters, some interacting with caricatures of Truman.
When Al Posen originated the idea of National Cartoonists Society tours to entertain American servicemen, he became the NCS Director of Overseas Shows. On October 4, 1952, nine cartoonists left on a USO-Camp Shows tour of U.S. Armed Forces installations in Europe, traveling via a Military Air Transport Service plane from Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts and landing at Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. On the tour, the cartoonists engaged models in each country to join in their Laff Time show of audience participation stunts and gags. The cartoonists were Posen, Charles Biro, Bob Dunn, Gus Edson, Bill Holman, Bob Montana, Russell Patterson, Clarence Russell and Dick Wingert (Hubert). The comic strip Dondi came about because of a friendship that developed between Edson and Irwin Hasen during a USO trip to Korea.
Hy Eisman described the atmosphere at the NCS when he joined in 1955:
At the time I joined they were meeting at the Lambs Club in New York. It was an actor's club, which was actually a copy of an actor's club in London. When the NCS started, Rube Goldberg, Russell Patterson and Bob Dunn had become very friendly with a lot of actors. Goldberg had even done a couple of movies and Dunn was on early TV doing a program called Quick on the Draw. They had gotten the club to allow them to use the premises as a meeting place for cartoonists. When I joined, they had what they called a Shepherd—after all, the meetings were at the Lambs Club—who was the president, Billy Gaxton. The meetings were monthly, and there would be a dinner afterwards. There was always a lot of drinking going on. For Pete's sake, there was a bar right there in the meeting room. In order to get the meeting going, they would always have to pry the guys away from the bar. The first guy I met, sitting right across from me at my first dinner, was Raeburn Van Buren. He was the creator of Abbie an' Slats, and this was always a strip I liked. What was so nice was that even though he was much older, he just talked to me like a fellow professional. At that first meeting there was Al Capp, Walt Kelly, Alex Raymond, Ernie Bushmiller, Milton Caniff, all of them just sitting there, big as life. As I went to more meetings, I got to talk to a few of them. To me, it was unreal that so many legends were just standing around talking shop and gossip with each other. They were all, so, let's just say, normal. These were guys I had idolized for years.
In 1977-78, the National Cartoonists Society released The National Cartoonists Society Portfolio of Fine Comic Art, published by Collector's Press. The portfolio featured a total of 34 art prints. Each 12" x 16" print was printed on archival fine art paper.
In 2011, to memorialize and commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, many NCS cartoonists auctioned off art that gave commentary to the tragedy and raised money for families victimized by the event in a reflective homage called, Cartoonists Remember. These cartoon tributes raised over $50,000 to benefit the 9/11 families. The art was featured and displayed in both nationally syndicated newspapers and museums across America, including the Newseum in Washington, DC, the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City.
The Society's offices are in Winter Park, Florida. In addition, the NCS has chartered 16 regional chapters throughout the United States and one in Canada. Chapter Chairpersons sit on the NCS Regional Council and are represented by a National Representative, who is a voting member of the Board of Directors. As NCS president for two consecutive terms, Jeff Keane, cartoonist for the Family Circus and son of comic creator, Bil Keane, returned to the charter and spirit of the NCS by extending the society's outreach to the military by visiting and cartooning for vets who served in the Iraq War and Afghanistan War, during the years 2007-2011.
In 2008, NCS joined over 60 other art licensing businesses (including the Artists Rights Society, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Stock Artists Alliance, Illustrator's Partnership of America and the Advertising Photographers of America) in opposing both The Orphan Works Act of 2008 and the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. Known collectively as "Artists United Against the U.S. Orphan Works Acts", the diverse organizations joined forces to oppose the bills, which the groups believe "permits, and even encourages, wide-scale infringements while depriving creators of protections currently available under the Copyright Act."
The earliest NCS award was the Billy DeBeck Memorial Award, also known as "the Barney" from the character in Billy DeBeck's popular comic strip Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. After DeBeck died on Veteran's Day, 1942, Mary DeBeck remarried (as Mary Bergman) and created the DeBeck Award in 1946. She also made the annual presentation of engraved silver cigarette cases (with DeBeck's characters etched on the cover) to the eight winners spanning the years 1946 to 1953.
Mary Bergman died February 14, 1953, aboard a National Airlines DC-6 which went down in the Gulf of Mexico during a thunderstorm on a flight from Tampa to New Orleans. In 1954, following her death, the DeBeck Award was renamed the Reuben Award, also known "the Reuben." When the award name was changed in 1954, all of the prior eight winners were given Reuben statuettes designed by and named after the NCS' first president, Rube Goldberg. The Reuben Award was executed in bronze by sculptor and editorial cartoonist Bill Crawford.
The National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Awards weekend is an annual gala event which takes place at a site selected by the President. During the formal, black-tie banquet evening, the Reuben Award (determined by secret ballot) is presented to the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year. Cartoonists in various professional divisions are also honored with special plaques for excellence. These awards are voted by a combination of the general membership (by secret ballot) and specially-formed juries overseen by various NCS Regional Chapters. A cartoonist does not need to be a member of the NCS to receive one of the Society's awards.
Prior to 1983, the Reuben Awards Dinner was held in New York City, usually at the Plaza Hotel. Since then, the event has expanded into a full weekend and is held in a different city each year. Recent Reuben locations have included New York City; Boca Raton; San Francisco; Cancún; Kansas City, Missouri; Las Vegas; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2013.
Each year, during the NCS Annual Reuben Awards Weekend, the Society honors the year's outstanding achievements in all walks of the profession. Excellence in the fields of newspaper strips, newspaper panels, TV animation, feature animation, newspaper illustration, gag cartoons, book illustration, greeting cards, comic books, magazine feature/magazine illustration and editorial cartoons, is honored in the NCS Division Awards, which are chosen by specially-convened juries at the chapter level. An Online Comic Strip Award was added in 2011.
The recipient of the profession's highest honor, the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, is chosen by a secret ballot of the members. As part of the presentations and general frivolity, the NCS has produced videos to initiate the festivities, some of which have been parodies of iconic entertainment.
Billy DeBeck Memorial Award
This award was for recognition of the American cartoon as an instrument in war, peace, education and in the artistic betterment of our cultural environment. On September 22, 1965, the following were honored:
The Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded by unanimous vote of the NCS Board of Directors.
The Gold T-Square is awarded for 50 years as professional cartoonist.
The Silver T-Square is awarded, by unanimous vote of the NCS Board of Directors, to persons who have demonstrated outstanding dedication or service to the Society or the profession.
This award is presented to a person who has made a unique and outstanding contribution to the profession of cartooning. The winner was selected by the NCS Board and later by King Features Syndicate, in honor of "Popeye" creator, Elzie Segar.