Art Men and Reubens

The National Cartoonists Society held its 72nd annual Reuben Awards dinner
on Saturday, May 26th, in Philadelphia.

Reuben Awards poster with various cartoonists against a Philadelphia backdrop, such local items peppering the scene as the Liberty Bell, Art Museum steps, and a cheese steak with NCS18 in style of the LOVE sculpture

Glen Keane was crowned Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year — a prize known
simply as The Reuben — for his 2017 short film “Dear Basketball”. Past winners include Walt Kelly, Mort Drucker, Bill Watterson, Milton Caniff, and Will Eisner. It appears to be the first time the top award has been given for work in animation.

The NCS conferred its Medal of Honor, presented “in recognition of a long and distinguished career of continued excellence in cartooning that has set the highest of standards and inspiration,” upon Lynn Johnston. Johnston, creator of the delightful and often moving strip For Better or for Worse, became the first female recipient of
the Reuben in 1985.

Reubens are given in a wide range of categories in various media. This year’s winners also include Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina for their direction of the Pixar feature Coco and Emil Ferris for her debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, published by Fantagraphics. The Daily Cartoonist has a full list of nominees and winners, sure to the added to the rolls of past winners at the NCS’s own website.

“Dear Basketball” is a 5-minute film based on the open letter written by Kobe Bryant
in 2015 announcing his retirement from the game. Keane was the director and lead animator. The film, scored by John Williams, garnered Keane and Bryant the Oscar for Best Animated Short back in March. As fate would have it, Keane and Bryant were both born in Philadelphia; Bryant entered the NBA straight from Lower Merion High School on the Main Line.

Keane spent decades at Disney’s animation studios on projects from Pete’s Dragon
to Wreck-It Ralph, as staff and later freelance, contributing key character design and supervision on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and more during the 1990s Disney Renaissance. He is the son of the late Bil Keane, creator of syndicated newspaper staple The Family Circus and himself a Reuben Award recipient in 1982. Glen’s daughter Claire Keane is an illustrator and concept artist who has worked on several Disney films. His son Max Keane served as production designer on “Dear Basketball”.

A handful of special honors, revealed slightly in advance of the ceremony, were distributed by the Society alongside competitive awards. Most, like the T-Squares, are bestowed for longevity as well as quality or for activity beyond cartooning itself; quirkiest among them, however, is the Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinary award, or ACE, given to a former aspiring cartoonist who’s become renowned in another field. CNN anchor Jake Tapper, a Philadelphia native mentored by Inquirer editorial cartoonist Tony Auth, received this year’s ACE.

In addition to Johnston and Tapper, special honors went to Brendon Burford and
Rick Stromoski, each awarded the Silver T-Square “by unanimous vote of the NCS Board of Directors, to persons who have demonstrated outstanding dedication or service to the Society or the profession,” and to Arnold Roth, presented with the Gold
T-Square in commemoration of 50 years as a professional cartoonist.

Earlier this month the National Cartoonists Society Foundation announced that Zi Chen, majoring in Animation at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, was the recipient of the 2018 Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship and would be attending the Reuben Awards weekend as a guest.

The Reuben is named for Rube Goldberg, a cartoonist whose characters’ wildly complicated devices — often built to accomplish relatively simple tasks — became so well known that his name is perhaps most used now in describing such contraptions. Honorees are given statuettes based on one of Goldberg’s sculptures.

Photos from this year’s dinner are now up at the NCS Facebook page.

This post was adapted from a report for the pop-culture website Forces of Geek,
cross-published for archival purposes on my comics blog
Adventures in Comicology. It’s no longer findable at the former and has been shared here while the latter is
under reconstruction.

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