The National Cartoonists Society

13 June 2003

   Mentioned regularly in The Cartoonists articles, I often refer to the National Cartoonists Society website for noting a cartoonist’s awards or membership. Let’s sneak a quick peek at the NCS and its long history of supporting cartoonists.

    In 1946, a group of cartoonists were doing “chalk talks” around the United States and overseas during the war. The cartoonists would stand in front of the audience with a pad of large sheets of paper on an easel, chalk in hand, and do quick sketches along with a comedy routine. Several cartoonists came up with the idea of forming a social and volunteer club during these “chalk talks.” By 1947, the basis for the National Cartoonists Society was formed.

    Along with Rube Goldberg as the first President, the original members of the National Cartoonists Society developed by-laws for the organization, describing a cartoonist as “a graphic story teller, whose drawings interpret rather than copy nature in order to heighten the effect of his or her message.” The goals of the NCS were set out to promote the profession of cartooning in all of its forms and to encourage cartooning as an art. Their mission was challenged in 1948 when cartooning was hit with negative public opinion. Milt Caniff, society president in 1949, began an earnest effort to change the public’s view.

    Cartoonists of the National Cartoonists Society continued with the popular “chalk talks” appearing around the country in person and by radio. They aided the U.S. government by promoting Savings Bonds and helped the Boys Club by donating cartoon art, among other events. Decades later, the tradition continues with cartoonists of the NCS taking part in many volunteer and fund-raising activities across the United States and around the world.

    Elected Officers and Board of Directors chosen on an annual basis operate the NCS, providing committees on education, media relations, syndicate relations and several other issues relevant to cartoonists. Along with the central society based in New York City, there are a number of local chapters including Florida, Great Lakes, Los Angeles, Southeastern, Toronto and many more. Each year, the NCS members and families gather in a gala event to choose their new government. The list of past presidents reads like a who’s who of cartooning. Mort Walker, Walt Kelly, Dik Browne, Mel Lazarus and even Canada’s own Lynn Johnston, are among many notable cartoonists elected NCS president. The yearly event is also the springboard to honour fellow tooners for their excellence in diverse divisions of the art form.

    The Reuben, the prestigious award presented to the “Cartoonist of the Year,” was designed by (and named for) Rube Goldberg in 1953. The original award was titled the “Billy DeBeck Award” and presented in the form of a silver cigarette box. The redesigned award was very similar to some of Rube Goldberg’s renowned drawings - a stack of bulb-nosed fellows in different poses, the top one with a crown on his bum pointing toward the sky. Editorial cartoonist Bill Crawford then crafted the new award in sculpture. This year, the National Cartoonists Awards gala for 2002 was held on May 23rd – 25th in San Francisco. (It was held in Cancun last year.)

Congratulations to this year’s (2003) winners:

  • Cartoonist of the Year: Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” “Futurama” and much more.
  • Advertising and Illustration Division: Jim Hummel
  • Newspaper Panels Division: Dave Coverly, creator of "Speed Bump"
  • Greeting Card Division: Glenn McCoy
  • Magazine Gag Cartoon Division Glenn McCoy
  • New Media Division: Mark Fiore
  • Comic Book Division: Stan Sakai, creator of “Usagi Yojimbo”
  • Newspaper Illustration: Steve McGarry
  • TV Animation: Steve Hillenburg, creator of “Spongebob Squarepants”
  • Newspaper Comic Strip Division: Darby Conley, creator of "Get Fuzzy"
  • Book Division: B.B. Sams
  • Magazine Division: C.F. Payne
  • Editorial Cartoon Division: Clay Bennett
  • Feature Animation: Chris Sanders, artist on “Lilo and & Stitch”

    In special instances, the NCS bestows special honours to dedicated cartoonists; the Gold T-Square and Silver T-Square are occasionally granted for “outstanding contribution to cartooning.” More recently, Mort Walker, creator of “Beetle Bailey”received the Gold T-Square in 2000 and the Silver T-Square was given to Bil Keane, creator of “Family Circus” in 2002.

    The National Cartoonists Society enjoys a membership of over 600 professional cartoonists, devoted amateurs and others who have made cartooning their vocation. The NCS website is a great resource of information, full of data about cartoonists, news (needs updating, though), chapter links and details on how to create a comic and become a published cartoonist.

Helping to keep the joy in cartooning for both cartoonists and fans, the NCS is a perennial success.

The home site of the National Cartoonists Society:

The Great Lakes Chapter of the NCS

© Susanna McLeod 2003  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on