Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Best of 2010/Year In Review

Six selected panels for the National Cartoonist Society Division awards

Time once again to look back over one's shoulder at the mess you've made during last year. Every once in a while I get asked when teaching a drawing class about the reasons for compiling a portfolio at the end of each semester. This dovetails quite nicely with cultivating skill and ease at selecting one's own work for submitting to a show or any other competition. Being able to objectively assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of a given body of work is challenging, and I don't mean that in a classic "egomaniac with an inferiority complex" way: determining which pieces best exemplify your efforts over a particular timespan calls for critiquing your own art that will more often than not edit out your own personal favorites. To say nothing of what other people always think about which ones are the best or their favorites - everybody's got their opinion and perspective.

Two sets of three submissions to the Alaska Press Club (for The Ester Republic)

The criteria is preempted by one overriding factor: is it funny? Craftsmanship can play a role, but is at best complimentary, if not subservient to the point of a cartoon. Use of value, quality of line, compositional elements and more all factor in what makes it "work." That said, is there a bias, personal or professional, yours or theirs, towards well-drawn panels versus crude-but-effective? What's the ratio of dog funnies to include in the mix - and what if the judge or review committee are cat lovers? Should there be a balance of local or regional humor alongside national issues and/or topics? Or should the unique identity of what makes these cartoons work given their specific context be showcased at the expense of appealing to a wider audience? Will the jurors even get them if they haven't been to Alaska? Color or black & white? Single or multi-panel? Too dumb? Not dumb enough? Etc. etc....

Two sets of three submissions to the Alaska Press Club (for The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

These questions and more percolate away in the background while making choices about which panels make the final cut, and why. Like most things in life, obviously the quickest and easiest way to lose is not to enter anything, or be too late, and the other would be to not correctly submit the entries (for example, discovering at the last minute that I had culled only half the required number in one category). And then it seems there's always the stuff like "Snowmageddon" (as opposed to "Icepocalypse") - random events will conspire to throw up inevitable obstacles. Knowing full well that there will always be somebody better, and always be somebody worse, plus the fact that there might not be any other entries, makes your selection an entirely relative accomplishment. Also knowing it might not be the best examples of your work you've ever done, maybe it was a bad year, can cast a shadow or undermine confidence. So what. Do it anyways. Now I sound like an art teacher...

Six selected panels for the National Cartoonist Society Division awards

Second-guessing the judge or jurors, either before or after, is pretty much a pointless exercise in futility. Usually one will never even know why, one way or the other: win or lose, it just disappears into the Void of Mystery, which is familiar place for those who toil in obscurity anyways. Being a winner isn't high on the list of priorities for most artists anyways, fame and fortune being rare enough as it is. True to the lessons expounded upon over the course of a semester, anesthetization to rejection or accolades is crucial for humility, or maybe just getting used to ignoring everything and getting on with it anyways. There is a strong sentiment that such competitions are in and of themselves useless, but this is tempered by the desire for some potential degree of validation by one's peers in the professional community. That said, you are throwing your hat in the ring with some of the biggest and best names in cartooning, so to even be considered against such other talents is alternately challenging and/or intimidating in itself.
So for what it's worth, entries were compiled for both the annual competitions by the National Cartoonist Society ("Newspaper Panel Cartoons") and the Alaska Press Club Awards ("Editorial Cartoons" and "Best Commentary Blog" categories). Once these are all mailed away and forgotten, it's right back to the drawing board: on to another year of output.

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