Who Will Win? Our 2019 Reuben Award Predictions
In a matter of days, members of the National Cartoonists Society will gather in Huntington Beach, California, for the annual meeting of the NCS. Friendships will be renewed, shop will be talked, and enough alcohol to float Daddy Warbucks’ yacht will be consumed. And as always, Reuben Awards will be given in more than a dozen categories. (Divisional awards are known as Silver Reubens, and the evening’s top award, the Reuben Award, goes the year’s most outstanding cartoonist as selected by the NCS membership.) Never being shy with our opinions, we’ve made it a tradition to predict each division’s winners and handicap the nominees. So without further ado, we present our picks in each category:
NOMINEES FOR THE COMIC BOOK DIVISION AWARD: Daniel Acuna (“Black Panther”), John Allison (“Giant Days”) and Greg Smallwood (“Vampironica”). Image Comics publishes two of the three nominees (Paper Girls and Monstress), a reminder of how far the company has moved from its 1990s superhero roots. SHOULD WIN: Every issue of “Giant Days” is a giant delight. The Allison-created title is the perfect counterweight to the dystopian worldview so prevalent in comic books. WILL WIN: It’s Marvel’s world, we just live in it. Marvel Comics and its universe’s characters, including Black Panther, are ubiquitous cultural fixtures. And Acuna’s stylish, sophisticated take on the Price of Wakanda earns him a vibranium plaque.
NOMINEES FOR THE EDITORIAL CARTOON AWARD: Clay Bennett, Michael Ramirez and Rob Rogers. Bennett and Ramirez repeat as nominees, an impressive feat when so many editorial cartoonists are producing marvelous work. SHOULD WIN: We’ve always been fans of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bennett, who cloaks his insightful, lacerating ideas in a velvet-smooth exterior, but…. WILL WIN: The NCS membership will want to honor Rogers for holding to his principles, leading to his being fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette rather than conform to his publisher’s ideological dictates.
NOMINEES FOR THE GAG CARTOON DIVISION AWARD: Joe Dator, Pia Guerra and Amy Hwang. Two of the three nominees are female, suggesting the growing diversity of practitioners in the historically male-dominated gag cartoon realm. SHOULD WIN: Guerra’s gags are rapier-sharp, and she can draw like nobody’s business (she has won an Eisner Award for her comic book work). WILL WIN: Statistically, a woman is likely to take home the plaque in this division, but Dator’s consistently excellent gag cartooning work over a long period has made him familiar enough to the voting members to put him in the driver’s seat.
NOMINEES FOR THE ANIMATION FEATURE DIVISION AWARD: Shiyoon Kim (character design, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”), Peter Ramsay (director, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and Justin K. Thompson (production design, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”). We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that the nominating committee was composed of fans of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” SHOULD WIN: Kim’s utterly unique character designs—weaving a diverse cast of characters seamlessly into the narrative—played a central role in making “Into the Spider-Verse” the stunning visual experience that it was. WILL WIN: Directors often receive outsize credit for the work of a small army of professionals, but in this case, Ramsay’s acclaim is fully merited.
NOMINEES FOR THE TELEVISION ANIMATION DIVISION AWARD: Samuel Deats (character design, Netflix’s “Castlevania”), Scott Lewis (character design, Netflix’s “Hilda”) and Chris Mitchell and Keiko Murayama (character design, Amazon Prime’s “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle”). Streaming services have opened up new vistas for all TV genres including animation, as evidenced by the shutout of the traditional network and cable channels in this category. SHOULD WIN: We’re big fans of “Castlevania,” the engrossing horror-fantasy series that made the jump from web series to its new home in the big leagues, on Netflix. WILL WIN: It’s Amazon’s media landscape, we’re just consuming it. Although we don’t think Jay Ward’s crown jewels, Rocky and Bullwinkle, should be remade, the characters’ familiarity, and the appealing series design, will win enough votes to take the plaque.
NOMINEES FOR THE MAGAZINE/NEWSPAPER ILLUSTRATION AWARD: Tom Bunk, Amy Kurzweil, and Jim Woodring. Three first-time nominees appear in this category, which has in recent years been dominated by the talented Australians Anton Emdin and Glen LeLievre. One scarcely knows how to process their absence here. SHOULD WIN: Woodring’s MAD work has been excellent, another feather in the cap of the rebooted venerable magazine. WILL WIN: Bunk’s work in MAD has been a veritable feast of detail and sight-gag overkill that would make Will Elder envious. His work always bears repeated scrutiny, and the execution is as skilled as the content is uproarious.
NOMINEES FOR THE NEWSPAPER PANEL AWARD: Dave Blazek (“Loose Parts”), Mark Parisi (“Off the Mark”) and Jerry Van Amerongen (“Ballard Street”). Parisi and Blazek have become fixtures in this category, nominees for the third year running. SHOULD WIN: We’ve always been big fans of Parisi, who has been producing funny, imaginative newspaper panels since the (gasp!) 1980s. WILL WIN: Van Amerongen’s recent announcement that he is retiring his venerable “Ballard street” will give his NCS peers a well-deserved opportunity to send him off in style.
NOMINEES FOR THE GRAPHIC NOVEL AWARD: Rick Geary (“Chester & Grace: The Adirondack Murder”), Peter Kuper (“Kafkaesque”) and Brenna Thummler (“Sheets”). One of cartooning’s fastest-growing categories offers an impressively diverse crop of nominees. SHOULD WIN: Kuper’s 14-story cycle reinterprets works from Franz Kafka in hauntingly effects ways, using the source material without being slavish to it. WILL WIN: Kuper has already amassed a big fan following based on his large and influential body of work, and that following will be eager to reward his undeniably innovative approach to the graphic novel with the Silver Reuben.
NOMINEES FOR THE ADVERTISING/PRODUCT ILLUSTRATION AWARD: James Lyle, Luke McGarry and Johnny Sampson. For the second year in a row, Sampson receives a nomination in this category. SHOULD WIN: If there’s any idiom Lyle can’t work in, we haven’t seen it. WILL WIN: We predicted (wrongly, as it turned out) that Sampson would win last year, but we’re big fans of his work and feel confident that we’re not putting the ol’ Hogan jinx on him this year.
NOMINEES FOR THE NEWSPAPER STRIP DIVISION AWARD: John Hambrock (“The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee”), Will Henry (“Wallace the Brave”) and Mike Peters (“Mother Goose and Grimm”). The generational divide among nominees is quite apparent, with the graybeard “Mother Goose” (syndicated since 1984) facing off against the relative whippersnappers “Edison Lee” (syndicated since 2006) and “Wallace” (syndicated since 2018). SHOULD WIN: Henry’s strip evokes fond memories of the late, lamented and much-loved “Cul de Sac,” with its gently whimsical and occasionally trenchant perspective on growing up and navigating the world. WILL WIN: Hambrock’s clean, seductive drawing style pulls the reader in, but it’s the heart and intelligence (and occasional political jab) that carries the day.
NOMINEES FOR THE VARIETY ENTERTAINMENT DIVISION AWARD: James Allen (“Mark Trail”), John Graziano (“Ripley’s Believe It or Not”), Bucky Jones and Dave Klug. This year marks the debut of this category, which honors work not conforming to a conventional cartoon format. (We look forward to nominations for crossword puzzles and horoscopes in coming years.) SHOULD WIN: Allen’s Sunday pages carry on a long “Mark Trail” tradition of educating readers about wildlife and nature conservation, separated from the daily strip’s continuity. WILL WIN: With more than a century of freaks and oddities under its belt, Ripley’s brainchild has enough nostalgia going for it to pull off the win for Graziano…believe it or not.
NOMINEES FOR THE GREETING CARD DIVISION AWARD: Scott Nickel, Maria Scrivan and Dan Walsh. After a one-year hiatus, this division returns to the fold. SHOULD WIN: If we had a nickel for every time we laughed at a Scott Nickel gag, we’d have a lot of nickels, and his greeting cards convey the same knack for adapting a witty message to a greeting card, no mean feat. WILL WIN: We’re second to no one in our respect for Scrivan’s work wherever it appears, greeting cards included, and we suspect her NCS peers feel similarly.
NOMINEES FOR THE BOOK ILLUSTRATION AWARD: Genevieve Godbout (“Mary Poppins”), Eda Kaban (“Even Superheroes Make Mistakes”) and Rafael Lopez (“The Day You Begin”). SHOULD WIN: Lopez’s book, about the challenges of feeling like an outsider, has critics falling all over themselves to praise the beautifully rendered book, with its powerful storytelling and resonant message. WILL WIN: In the comics biz these days, it’s tough to beat superheroes, and Kaban’s energetic, stylish illustrations (in the book written by Shelly Becker) elevate the material to a level a kid of any age can appreciate and enjoy.
NOMINEES FOR THE ONLINE COMIC STRIP/LONG FORM AWARD: Vince Dorse (“Untold Tales of Bigfoot”), Tom Parkinson-Morgan (“Kill Six Billion Demons”), and Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh (“Barbarous”). SHOULD WIN: Parkinson-Morgan’s webcomic saga, with its philosophical and spiritual undertones, is unlike anything else on the internet (though it’s popular enough to have been collected into book form). WILL WIN: There’s a reason Dorse is a frequent nominee in this category, and his unfailingly appealing stories and characters show that he is gaining even more sophistication in his execution and confidence in his narrative voice.
NOMINEES FOR THE ONLINE COMIC STRIP/SHORT FORM AWARD: Dorothy Gambrell (“Cat and Girl”), Lonnie Millsap (“bacön”) and Zack Weinersmith (“Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”). Congratulations to Millsap for his repeat nomination in the category. SHOULD WIN: Millsaps’ web panel is consistently inventive, funny and even occasionally thought-provoking. He’ll be a fixture in this category for a long time, we’re confident, but... WILL WIN: Gambrell’s “Cat and Girl” takes common webcomic tropes and ingeniously inverts them, by turns literary, autobiographical, and self-referential. With years of output, she has a passionately devoted fan base—including in the NCS.
NOMINEES FOR THE REUBEN AWARD: The nominees for the NCS’s top award as Cartoonist of the Year are Lynda Barry, Brian Bassett, Stephan Pastis, Hilary Price and Mark Tatulli. Except for first-time nominee Bassett, the other nominees competed in this category last year. SHOULD WIN: Longtime readers of our predictions already know how this prediction goes: We insist that what a revitalized comics page needs is more of Pastis’ brand of envelope-pushing humor and commentary. We still hold this observation to be true, although voters never agree in numbers sufficient to land him the statuette. WILL WIN: The third time’s the charm for Barry as a nominee for the NCS’ top award. Her status among her peers, her enormously influential body of work and her innovative work in making cartooning a tool for education and cognition garner the votes to win.
OK, we’re on the record. You can see how we did in real time on Saturday, May 18, when we’ll be live-tweeting the results of the award ceremony. So start following us now to get ready!