When Memorial Day weekend rolls around each year, cartoonists from around the United States, and a few internationally, gather together to swap stories, slap each other on the back, and give each other awards. This annual ritual is called the Reuben Awards which has been hosted for the past 64 years by the National Cartoonists Society.
Each year the three-day convention is held in a different city. Conventions in the past have been held in Boca Raton, Pasadena, Kansas City, Orlando, San Antonio, Asheville, Cancun and even a few cruise ships to name a few. Last year’s event was convenient for me as it was held in Hollywood, CA just about 15 minutes from my home. Perhaps when you look at Patrick McDonnell’s (Mutts) artwork below, you can tell where the NCS met this year….
If you guessed New York City, fuhgeddaboudit. We did that eleven years ago at the World Trade Center. No, this year the Reuben Awards were held in good ol’ Jersey City, New Jersey. We all scratched our heads over that one at first, too. My father worked several decades in Jersey City in the banking industry, and after many visits to him in the heart of the city, along with spending my own summer working in a warehouse there during college, my opinion of the area was vividly unrewarding. But in the last 10 years, Jersey City’s waterfront area has undergone a transformation leading the cartoonists to find themselves at the lovely Hyatt hotel that faced the amazing New York City skyline.
Thursday, May 27
I arrived on Thursday, May 27 meeting my fellow Californian friends Stephen & Heidi Silver at the airport in Newark. We cabbed our way to the hotel where we were first greeted by the ever smiling Nick Meglin who spent much of his career running MAD Magazine. The Hyatt is literally IN the Hudson River by the way. It was built on a pier sticking out into the water. When I arrived in my room, the following sight met my eyes through the window – not too shabby, eh?
The convention wasn’t getting underway until Friday morning, so Thursday night was mine to play with. Cartoonists were already starting to gather in the lobby exchanging hugs and “hi-how-are-yas” after a year of being apart. I grew up in that part of Jersey, so I was getting together for dinner with my good friends Andy and Stephen Woetzel – brothers I have known since being in the first grade.
After my friends went home for the evening, any cartoonist in the lobby was invited up to the President’s room where Jeff (Family Circus) & Melinda Keane entertained those brave enough to stave off sleep after a day of travel. The following are a few photos from that gathering:
Friday, May 28
Daylight came much too quickly on Friday after the early arrivers spent much of the night reacquainting themselves with one another. But the first of three days of seminars was about to start with Larry Katzman (known as “Kaz” in his panel cartoons from earlier decades) spent time reminiscing about the NCS of the past showing plenty of photos of those who have gone on before us including Rube Goldberg for whom the Reuben Awards are named. Larry was followed by Yaakov Kirschen, a Jewish cartoonist from the United States who made a name for himself drawing his Dry Bones cartoons in Israel for many years.
Later in the afternoon, the amazing Steve Brodner spoke about his unique and incredible work in illustration. I first saw his work when I was a college student many years ago and have been a fan ever since. Steve brought many samples to show with stories behind his work that kept the audience of peers captivated. And not only is Steve’s work truly inspiring, but he was also a swell guy – a great combination!
Following Steve Brodner’s seminar was Bill Plympton, a man who has made a career of creating animation independent of any other studio and often doing all the drawings by himself. He’s even earned an Academy Award nomination for his efforts in the past. Bill regaled the room of fellow cartoonists with tales of his work, and even took a break now and then to sketch for the audience and to show them some of his animated short films.