Monday, November 14, 2011

NCS Notes

Having a special guest attendance opportunity at the annual Southeast Regional chapter meeting for the National Cartoonists Society was insightful and informative. SCAD Sequential Art department chair Anthony Fisher gave a brief presentation on the program (pictured above), one goal of which is to be the "Harvard of comics." There's even a couple Fulbright students in the graduate program now, but thankfully as of yet there's still no cartoonist frats.
The regional NCS group has open, monthly meetings where members (and any interested parties who are always welcome to attend), and covers a wide geographical area across seven states and from such diverse areas as Raleigh, Ashville, Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis and Charlotte. Also on hand was the current president of the NCS, Tom Richmond, as well as the chair of the Florida chapter. All kinds of media are represented, from cartoonists, and comic book artists, to animators and illustrators. They will pass around samples of current pieces, work-in-progress, get feedback, gossip share industry news, do demos and organize special events in the community. Two of these that I found particularly nice were cartoonists making the rounds at Ronald McDonald Houses and VA hospitals - an exceptional idea that I'll definitely incorporate into the next group of local cartoonists that gather wherever I end up (again).

There were the usual housekeeping-in-order details, such as taking roll call, budgetary items, updates, new members, new business etc. The couple dozen attendees had some varied input on a wide range of topics, such as coming up with a functional definition of what would constitute membership for a web-based cartoonist. Such distinctions are interesting and provoke much heated debate, and to their credit they strive to be inclusive. I know from a personal perspective that the sole determination for membership in the NCS - that the majority of one's income must be derived from cartooning - is certainly understandable, but unfortunately restrictive in the sense that a practicing cartoonist who sometimes does and sometimes doesn't meet that financial threshold doesn't get to join the club or play in the sandbox with the other kids. But being a cartoonist sometimes means just not belonging, sadly even amongst other cartoonists, another hallmark of weirdo loners the Alaskan lifestyle. 
Still this is definitely a worthwhile organization to support, and the folks who are involved are all friendly, welcoming and mutually supportive of the field, and they do good things in their respective careers and communities, and these meetings provide for some fabulous networking opportunities (and yeah, there are plenty of laughs). It was one of the many events over the SCAD MAD MAD MAD weekend which rounded out an awesome experience, and appreciate them allowing the riffraff to infiltrate!


  1. Cartooning is one example of outsider art that also has a mainstream contingent. Cartoonists in the golden age of newsprint and comic books may have been scorned by the self-proclaimed elite in the worlds of art and journalism, but they often depicted mainstream values. There were always cartoonists on the fringe, but many of them struck me as very much in tune with the Connecticut commuter lifestyle that came to define success in the 1950s and early '60s. They played golf and went to cocktail parties. They wanted a nice house in a good neighborhood. Predominantly men, they griped about the old ball and chain. The jokes took off from a basis of "normality."

    The 1960s saw the sharp rise of underground comix in book form and in independent newspapers of various sizes and reputability. This political and social separation came back into the mainstream through overtly political strips like Doonesbury and strange humor (for the mainstream print media) like The Far Side and Bloom County. People's tolerance and affection for weirdness increased, even as the moss-grown traditional strips continued to hang on. Political and social edginess merged and moved closer to the normal world through humor magazines like the National Lampoon and, to some extend, Mad, as well.

    Because there is no single accepted channel for advancement in cartooning, it remains open to anyone who can draw a picture to make a point. It will be a dark day indeed when a degree from a particular institution, or indeed a degree at all, confers preferential status by the mere fact of possession. It's great to want to share the skills of a profession. It's divisive to try to create Ivy League pretensions where they did not previously exist.

    I'm not saying you are doing this. I just teed off from that idea of making SCAD the "Harvard of cartooning."

  2. I hear ya, hell yes - and, much like the medium itself, I think there's plenty of room for all. Just like the little stylistic encampments of superhero vs manga vs alt/indy vs cartooning etc. etc. one of the attractive hallmarks is the field's inherent plasticity and mutative qualities. And hell no, there will never be any other qualifying benchmark for admission other than desire and producing the work, with all the ensuing degrees of effectiveness. The fact that all you need is something to draw with, something to draw on, and something to draw, coupled with the relative affordability and simplicity of materials is what makes drawing comics so awesome - no manual, no method, no degree or certification required. The majority of the professionals in the industry are still largely self-taught. That said there is not only a shifting tide of folks taking advantage of both resources in libraries, the internet and institutions, but a current of scholarly inquiry and also a ratcheting up of, if not skill, than awareness of the medium's potential. No joke. One could argue that many of the old barriers have fallen and the profession is actually now not only undergoing a renaissance, but reflects the diversity of society to a much larger degree. Now THAT is change I can believe in...