Must Read #3: Scott Kurtz on the Reubens and evolving comics culture

beaton reubens1 Must Read #3: Scott Kurtz on the Reubens and evolving comics culture
This year’s Reuben awards weekend — the traditional yearly gathering of traditional comic strip cartoonists — saw some special guests from the webcomics world specially invited, like Kate Beaton, Randall Munroe, and Scott Kurtz. Kurtz has written up the weekend in an absolute must read on the changing of the guard from a world where creators live by the structured patronage of big media companies in exchange for exclusivity, to a much more fluid world where entrepreneurship is as important as content and living by your wits is literally the way to the big payoff.

It’s also a sharp portrait of two generations that have to learn what they have in common:

It took a while to break the ice, but before long we were all fast friends. Talking, drinking, laughing, arguing and sharing stories. We were all peers before the first evening of cocktails had a chance to wind down. Universal Press Syndicate was kind enough to invite us to their hospitality suite. We even got to attend a short lived after party in Jeff Keane’s presidental suite, complete with cartoonists all seated around a table drinking and drawing.

From what I observed, the members of the NCS are a community bonded in a passion for the art. In the same way that I think the webcomics community is bound by a sense of independence from traditional business models. They are all about the craft and they have a strong passion for the history of the medium. Imagine being a cartoonist and never once being asked “How do you make money at that?” It seems unheard of for someone in my position. But nobody wonders with them. The models are so traditional that they are universally understood. Ours….not so much. Everyone who approached me about the webcomics panel asked why they didn’t talk more about how they make money. “Everyone wants to know how you guys make your money.” During the Reuben Award ceremony, I overheard a couple discussing the panel at our table. “Someone asked them how they build their readership and they said ‘word of mouth’ which means they don’t even know.”

Comments

  1. Kurtz’ assessment of the National Cartoonists Society jibes with what I’ve always heard about them — a fun group of people pulled together by a love of the medium. Cartoonist hasn’t always been a respected profession by society in general, but people who draw recognize dedication and craft when they see it, so you can imagine where the camaraderie comes from.

    Of course cartoonists are interested in any success outside of the traditional business models — we all know newspaper readership is down and, if I were working for a syndicate, I’d be exploring other avenues, too!

  2. While I didn’t make it to the Reubens this year (or any other so far actually) I am a member of the NCS and also vice-chairman of the Southeast Chapter of NCS (SECNCS) so if I could I’d like to mention that the various regional chapters are really the way to get hooked up with NCS in the long run. In the Southeast we have several local meetings that go on monthly (Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville…) and we’re very casual about who we hang out with–if they’re passionate about cartooning and comics we welcome them to come out and see what’s going on.

    The best part of the “pizza and gossip” evenings is seeing everyone’s latest samples. We ooh and ahh over what we see and talk shop. Advice is given when someone requests it, but we try really hard not to be condescending in our tone–it’s not about “me”.

    All of this camaraderie is hopefully getting people ready for the next step, of chapter “non-membership” followed eventually with full NCS membership for those who qualify. We hold seminars from time to time to help folks know more about the craft. But frankly, we just like hanging out with others who love the medium as much as we do!

    Glad to know that other people are interested in the NCS and what it has to offer. If you’re in the Southeast look us up (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_173535636005561&ap=1). We’re always happy to share tips and anecdotes about our business.

  3. Andrew Farago says:

    Scott’s headcount of webcartoonists was off by at least one. Shaenon K. Garrity’s been a member of the NCS since 2008, and there might be a few more webcomickers in there, too.

  4. “Scott’s headcount of webcartoonists was off by at least one. Shaenon K. Garrity’s been a member of the NCS since 2008…”

    Looks like you forgot the power of the clique in comics.

  5. Scott Kurtz says:

    William, you are such a bitter tool.

    Andrew, of course. And I’m sorry for forgetting Shaenon. I wasn’t trying to exclude anyone. Just mention who I was hanging with.

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