- Greg Cravens
Make a large enough group of people, and eventually, they’ll give each other awards. Country music artists, for instance, find the need to award one another a lavish number of times during the year. Actors give each other Academy awards, Golden Globe awards, SAG awards, Tony awards. … There are probably others.
Cartoonists, too, give each other awards. As with other organizations, cartoonists like to refer to their awards as “kind of like our Oscars” to those outside the field. It would sound presumptuous and self-absorbed, otherwise. That’s not to say that the Oscars aren’t presumptuous and self-absorbed, but if we ignore it for actors, we can damn sure ignore it in other industries. The cartooning version of the Oscar is the Reuben.
The National Cartoonist Society, which gives the Reuben Awards every year, began after the USO flew cartoonists overseas to entertain the troops during WWII. Upon returning home, the cartoonists organized into a formal group called The New York Cartoonists Society, which soon had to be changed because lots of them were apparently moving to Connecticut and "The New York and Connecticut Cartoonists Society" looked stupid on the banners. I dunno. I wasn’t there yet. Anyway, it became The National Cartoonists Society and shortly thereafter started giving its members awards.
At first, the award that the cartoonists gave was named in honor of Billy DeBeck. DeBeck created the original Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip. After he died, his widow paid for a beautiful silver cigarette case to be the Barney award each year. By 1954, that wasn’t good enough, and a new award, named for Rube Goldberg (The cartoonist who drew all the silly machines with squirrels and teapots and bowling balls on ramps.) was created. The Reuben depicts, in bronze, an artistically posed stack of naked cartoon characters, the topmost of which has an inkwell perched on his upturned butt. My wife has said that I must have the kind of career that will earn one of these, as she actually wants it in the house. Ex-Memphian cartoonist Mike Ramirez has one. I think I shall be forced to steal his. He also won a couple of Pulitzer prizes (which journalists give each other.)
One Reuben is awarded to the Outstanding Cartoonist Of The Year, but there are also plaques given for best of various particular kinds of cartooning. These plaques were, until recently, officially called "Division Awards," but as the ceremony itself is called “The Reubens,” people wrongly called the little plaques Reubens, until it became a problem. Now, the plaques are called “Silver Reubens.”
I’ve been nominated for a Silver Reuben this year for Newspaper Illustration. I’m pleased by the nomination, and if you’re a Memphis Flyer reader, you can be, too. Every piece in my submission this year came from the covers and pages of the Flyer. I’ve done work for the Flyer since its second issue, in which I had an illustration of George Bush (the first one) for a column by Lydel Sims. If you aren’t impressed by Lydel’s name, google it and then you will be. That was back in 1989.
So, technically, it’s taken me 30 years of preparation to get a nomination. I think I may have earned it. Cross your fingers for me. Or, if you’re enthusiastic enough, stack up a few friends and top yourselves with an inkwell. Good mojo, there. Thanks. — Greg Cravens