The National Cartoonists Society held its 72nd annual Reuben Awards dinner on Saturday, May 26th, in Philadelphia.
Glen Keane was crowned Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year — a prize known simply as The Reuben — for the 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 For Better or for Worse, became the first female recipient of the Reuben in 1985.
“Dear Basketball” is a 5-minute film based on the open letter written by Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement from the game in 2015. Keane was the director and lead animator. The film, scored by John Williams, garnered Keane and Bryant the Oscar for Best Animated Short earlier this year. As fate would have it, Keane and Bryant were both born in Philadelphia.
Keane spent decades working for Walt Disney Animation Studios on films from Pete’s Dragon to Wreck-It Ralph, as staff and later freelance, notably 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 Bil Keane, creator of syndicated newspaper staple The Family Circus and himself a Reuben Award winner in 1982. Glen’s daughter Claire Keane is an illustrator and concept artist who has worked on several Disney projects. His son Max Keane served as production designer on “Dear Basketball”.
Keane’s feature debut as director, Over the Moon, is being produced at Pearl Studio for theatrical release in China and internationally on Netflix in 2020.
A handful of special honors, revealed slightly in advance of the ceremony, were distributed by the Society alongside competitive awards in various disciplines. Most, like the T-Squares, are bestowed for longevity in addition to quality or for activity beyond cartooning itself; quirkiest among them, however, is the Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinary award, a.k.a. the 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.
2017 winners of the NCS’ Division Awards:
Advertising / Product Illustration — Dave Whamond
Book Illustration — Adam Rex for The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, published by Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins Publishers
Comic Books, Series or Collected — Sana Takeda for Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood, published by Image Comics
Editorial Cartooning — Mike Peters; Michael Ramirez [tie]
Feature Animation — Lee Unkrich (director) & Adrian Molina (co-director) for Pixar Animation Studios’ Coco
Gag Cartoons — Will McPhail
Graphic Novels, Original — Emil Ferris for My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, published by Fantagraphics Books
Magazine Illustration — Peter Kuper
Newspaper Illustration — Dave Whamond
Newspaper Panels — Mark Parisi for Off the Mark
Newspaper Strips — Mike Peters for Mother Goose and Grimm
Online Comics, Long-Form — John Allison for Bad Machinery
Online Comics, Short-Form — Gemma Correll
Television Animation — Alan Bodner (art director) for The Disney Channel’s Tangled
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 such a trademark that his name is perhaps most used now in describing such contraptions. Honorees are given statuettes based on one of Goldberg’s sculptures.
A full list of this year’s Reuben nominees is available at The Daily Cartoonist. You can find past recipients, information about the NCS Foundation, and more at the National Cartoonist Society website, and photos from this year’s dinner on its Facebook page.
The “Dear Basketball” website currently has the film available to view.
Brian Saner Lamken is a lapsed comics journalist and extremely infrequent contributor to Forces of Geek.